Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto … Joaquin Phoenix?
Yes, according to a Variety report, Phoenix has agreed to play The Ace of Knaves in Warner Bros.’ untitled Joker origin movie, directed by Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover) and produced by Martin Scorsese. Co-writer and director Phillips reportedly met with Phoenix before the new year and settled on the actor as his top choice to star in the film, with sources saying that Phoenix has now decided to agree to the role, although studio negotiations have not yet begun. Warner Bros. had no comment on the casting.
The Oscar-nominated Phoenix seems like a fantastic fit for The Joker, as he has a proven track record of playing twisted and unhinged characters—The Master’s Freddie Quell, for instance. But our excitement is capped by the convoluted context in which Phillips’ Joker film is meant to fit. Variety says the project would be the first under “a yet-to-be-announced new banner of DC Comics,” stressing that Leto, whose Joker was meant to be one of the big draws of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, will still play the character in the DC Extended Universe. Phoenix’s portrayal will in no way connect to the events of future DCEU films, such as Suicide Squad 2 or the planned Joker and Harley Quinn standalone feature. Leto, by the way, has expressed “displeasure” at the idea of another parallel Joker in theaters alongside his. What a mess this all is.
Last fall, reports indicated that Warner Bros. badly wanted Leonardo DiCaprio in the Joker role, hoping to leverage Scorsese’s involvement in order to land the Oscar winner. Needless to say, Phoenix is one hell of a consolation prize. The Inherent Vice and Her actor has been a target for numerous superhero film roles in the past: He passed on the chance to play Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with that role ultimately going to, of all people, Jesse Eisenberg (why it was anyone but Bryan Cranston is beyond us), while he also turned down a role—presumably the titular one—in Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
Scott Silver cowrote the Joker origin film with Phillips, and it has the sound of a hard-boiled, ‘80s-set crime drama (much like a 2007 Phoenix project, We Own the Night), rather than the typical comic-book movie. The gritty film is said to focus on what it took for The Joker to become the Clown Prince of Crime. We can only imagine how many pencil magic tricks he did along the way.
Phoenix will next appear in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here and Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. Watch a trailer for the former below and the latter here.