The Joker, often referred to as the clown prince of crime and by far Batman’s greatest nemesis, has seen many changes since making his debut in the comics way back in 1940, exactly a year after Batman’s first appearance. At first he was meant to be a one-time villain that would be killed off in a single issue, but a wise editorial choice at the time ensured his survival. The Joker’s initial character was that of a sadistic psychopath but that changed towards the 1950s when the comic code of conduct enforced certain rules which resulted in a more whimsical, comical and sanitised version of the character. This trend continued well into the 1960s, and in fact culminated with the incredibly camp Batman television series. Change came about in the 1970s, which saw the character start returning to his roots and by the time Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) rolled around, the Joker had largely come full circle. One part psycho, one part chemical engineer, one part trickster and on part villain with no clear history, the Joker is much more a force of nature than a person, and is the yin to Batman’s yang.
The Joker has enjoyed notoriety on all platforms he’ been used on – comics, TV, movies and console games. However, credit belongs to a certain group of actors, namely Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger and most recently, Joaquin Phoenix. But writer of this article, how could you fail to mention Cesar Romero and Jared Leto. Excellent question fellow reader and would-be online casino player. No mention of Romero is made, but then neither is any mention made of Adam West or the rest of the cast members of the embarrassing 1960s TV series. That show sucked. Jared Leto will not get credit from this writer either as his performance of the Joker was laughable and just plain awful. Take into account all the method acting that he apparently injected into his take on the Joker and one has even more reason not to mention Leto’s turd-inspired performance. The years are not going to be kind either!
Joaquin Phoenix – Gotham’s New Golden Boy!
icholson, Hamill, Ledger, all three of these actors brought something new, better or different to the party. Nicholson gave us the first and proper movie rendition. Hamill may have only lent his voice, but his was and remains the best balanced take on the Joker, and we all know that Heath’s performance was so good, it got him an Oscar after his tragic passing. Now in October 2019 we have the latest take on the character, compliments of director Todd Phillips and multiple award nominee and winner, Joaquin Phoenix. If there was going to be an actor who would do this character justice, it was going to be Phoenix. His ability to infuse himself into a character is uncanny and completely justifies the extent to which he’s often found himself among those in line to be lauded. Phoenix has been in film for a very long time. He made an impact in 1989’s Parenthood alongside Steve Martin and played a believable juvenile lead astray alongside Nicole Kidman in 1995’s To Die For, but the role that really skyrocketed him and placed him on his current trajectory was 2000’s Gladiator alongside Russel Crowe in which he played the insidious Commodus. This writer suspects that the filmmakers of Joker made their call based on his role in Gladiator.
A truly good acting role should present the actor with a challenge and Joaquin Phoenix certainly had a fair amount of challenges in making Joker. This role required the actor to explore new psychological as well as physical spaces in order to inhabit the character while giving audiences something they had not seen before, and boy did he deliver! One could argue that even Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight was somewhat stylised. In the same breath one could have an academic discourse pertaining to Jared Leto’s over-stylised take on the subject matter. However, when it comes to Phoenix, there is no stylised or even sanitised take on the character. Phoenix dives deep and comes out tops. The actor has said that the first thing he did was to drop 52 pounds (23.6 kg). While he has not availed his diet plan (think of how much cash he could pocket if he did!), he has claimed that the loss was quickly achieved and with it, a level of craziness.
“The first thing for us was the weight loss—I think that’s really what I started with. And, as it turns out, that then affects your psychology. You start to go mad when you lose that amount of weight in that amount of time,” said Phoenix.
The weight loss and the mental requirements of playing the Joker went hand-in-hand as Phoenix further crafter the character by means of a notebook that he kept in which he jotted down thoughts and jokes pertaining to the nihilism of the character’s existence. In Joker, Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a man who moonlights as a clown by day and a stand-up comedian by night. He’s also a man afflicted by a series of mental issues during a time when the state is cutting back on financial resources to treat those in his position. Combined with a society that constantly scorns him, the die is cast and the perfect storm is created for a man to transform into what Mr Phoenix claims has been there all along waiting to emerge. One of the most important qualities for the Joker to have is the laugh and it’s something that Joaquin Phoenix achieved with great effect. In the movie, part of Fleck’s condition is pathological laughter, something he displays at the most inopportune time and something he simply cannot help. Director, Todd Phillips showed Phoenix videos of people afflicted with a condition that causes them to laugh uncontrollably to the point of the process being painful. The actor then proceeded to mimic what he saw in these people. Finally, he elected to take nothing from past performances or any pop culture references to the Joker. In essence, Joaquin made the transformation in the Joker completely and utterly his.