Don’t Send in the Clowns:

Jared Leto Isn’t Cool Enough to Be Joker

Remember when The Joker was cool? Do you remember how gratifying it would always be to see him reimagined for a new video game or cartoon? Or better yet, to see him re-adapted for another live-action performance on the big screen? I remember in 2007 when Heath Ledger’s Joker was revealed to the world, and I was so enamored with the new character design that I found myself obsessed with owning the action figure of him, which was super hard to find at the time. I was crazy about it. I even wrote blogs about how hard it was to find this toy. That’s how freaking psyched I was about getting a new Joker.

But things have changed. In the years since The Dark Knight, Joker’s movie career was shelved once again following Ledger’s untimely passing, and the Nolan Batman trilogy closed out without any further mention of the clown prince. Then, as a result of Marvel’s unmitigated underdog success with The Avengers during the same year that Nolan was wrapping up his self-contained Batman opus, Warner Bros. decided to launch their own shared cinematic universe with fresh interpretations of its characters, including those that make up the Bat-family.

In some cases this was exciting, like when it allowed for the role of Alfred Pennyworth to be passed from Michael Caine to Jeremy Irons. Fun choice. And you know, Ben Affleck is the first actor since George Clooney to be a star before being Batman, so it does make Batman feel a little less grounded, which might work well for the new films. Plus he is about as far as you can get from Christian Bale while still staying within the parameters of the character, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing after that actor’s last outing in the cape and cowl.

Then, with the production of Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad movie, came out new Joker casting announcement. After years of hoping another actor would pick up the role after Heath and end out the Dark Knight Trilogy proudly, fans were finally given their successor to the baby doll-steeped throne. This time, the role of the Joker (who I keep wanting to call Mr. J in this article, but which doesn’t sound right coming from anyone but Harley Quinn) would be played by Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto. Yay?

I mean, Jared Leto is an alright actor. I thought he did a great job with Dallas Buyers Club. He was also… in other stuff. He was the pretty boy in Fight Club who no one liked. He was… he did something else, too. And this isn’t a version of the Joker we’ve ever seen before. So maybe, being (relatively) fresh off an oscar win and eager to immortalize himself by delivering his interpretation of one of the greatest villains in screen history, Leto would bowl us over with a side of Mr. J that we’d never seen before.

As time went on, however, that started to look less and less likely. The earliest buzz was little tidbits here and there about Leto’s physique along with photos depicting a gradual change in Leto’s appearance, going from Jesus of Nazareth to Thin White Duke. The speculation was that we were going to see something similar to the Bowie-ish Joker from the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which makes sense because Ben Affleck is very much doing the DKR Batman as his Batman.

This was mildly interesting at first, but then the pictures kept rolling in. Pictures of Leto on his social networking accounts dicking around with green hair and flexing his muscles and teasing his “transformation.” It began to seem like Leto wanted the news to be more about him and his hair than about the Joker. Like the Joker is just a way for Leto to get some publicity. And that’s when it started to become painfully obvious that Jared Leto is just simply not cool enough to play this character.

See, Leto is a method actor. Which, to my non-actor brain, is a term that basically means that the actor embraces his role as a persona of himself, and then lives within that persona to some degree even when the cameras aren’t rolling. Whether or not this is the best way to go about acting or being the Joker or whatever, I couldn’t tell you. I do recall, back in 2008, stories of how Ledger would use method acting to bring the Joker to life, doing things like staying in character throughout the shoot and even keeping a Joker diary at home of things he thought the Joker would find funny. Things like children being born with AIDS and whatnot. Creepy stuff.

The thing with Leto is, he has a pattern of making a big deal about his “transformations” into characters instead of just letting the work speak for itself. Back in 2007 when the actor spoke to MTV about his role as John Lennon’s murderer in the film “Chapter 27,” they delved into some of his methods for playing the out-of-shape shooter.

“We talked at the beginning about whether I should wear a fat suit or not, but it was really important to me to gain the weight for a few specific reasons,” Leto told MTV. “It changed every single thing about who I was as a human being. It changed the way that I walked, it changed the way that I talked, it changed the way I felt about myself and the way people looked at me and treated me.”

Leto also mentioned that during his time on set, he chose not to speak to his co-stars, a decision he made in order to experience the character’s feeling of isolation. For the record, I never saw the movie and still don’t really want to see it, so maybe Leto did turn in a really good performance for all of his hard work. It’s just that interviews like this one make the guy sound pretentious and up his own ass. My older brother, who has done quite a bit of acting in his time, says that this interview is indicative of how Leto “inflates the importance of his craft to show how deep he is.” Not saying my brother is an authority on acting or anything, I just really loved that line and wanted to use it in this piece.

Later, for his Oscar-winning turn as a transgendered character suffering from HIV in the touching biopic “Dallas Buyers Club,” Leto went the opposite way and lost about 40 pounds. He also, according to one article made the film’s director “terribly uncomfortable” (as the article puts it, although I’m sure that wasn’t entirely the case) because he was in character as a female from the moment he arrived for the shoot. To be sure, this is all pretty ballsy stuff, especially the toll that such transformations must have had on his body.

“Really, the weight is about how it affects me on the inside,” Leto said in an interview that ran on the Toronto Sun’s website with the title “Jared Leto took method acting to the extreme with ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club.’” “But it also changes how you walk, how you talk, how you laugh, how you breathe, your choices in a scene. You may lean against somebody as you’re talking because you’ve got no energy.”

That’s incredible. To put yourself through that kind of physical distress in order to better empathize with the kind of human being that your character is representing, that’s determination. He deserves credit for that. It just seems like he knows he deserves credit for it, like he wants credit for it, which is not as cool.

With his role in Dallas Buyers Club, Leto’s style of method acting definitely seemed to pay off. He did a fantastic job and received the highest award in acting as a result. However, his constant posting about his transformation into the Joker is just getting annoying at this point. All these Instagram pictures of his hair and his muscles and like little teases of what his makeup might or might not look like, and the fanboy blogosphere is peeing its pants every time he does it.

Remember when they revealed Ledger’s Joker to the world, and they did it by revealing a bizarre, low-lit headshot of him in his Glasgow grin makeup on a viral marketing web site, and only after fans had found all these little IRL clues that removed clusters of pixels from whatever was laid over the image? That was epic. And when the picture was finally revealed, we were blown away.

At the time of this article, the latest look into Leto’s transformation has been a full-on promo pic of Leto in his final Joker make-up, sent out across the social media landscape by David Ayer, the director of Suicide Squad. The picture depicts a Juggalo-esque Joker covered from head to toe in tattoos, some saying “hahaha,” while one is a terribly designed skull-face jester, and another is the word “damaged” in pretty script typeface across his forehead. Because in case you didn’t know, The Joker laughs a lot and likely has serious mental health issues. Not sure if a lot of people were aware of that before…

Yeah, this is not a cool Joker. On any planet. It’s garish, unimaginative and goes completely against the character. I mean, I know the Joker is at least a little different every time we meet him, but as many have pointed out, can you really imagine any reality wherein the Joker would sit still in a tattoo artist’s chair for hours on end so he can have these ugly yet very deliberately applied designs drawn over his skin? I really don’t think so. And if he did, they’d be way cooler tattoos.

To be fair, I did see a photoshop image of this new Joker with the classic purple suit on, which covered a fair amount of the tattoos, and even left a little showing, and it looked fine (those awful face tattoos have still got to go, though). You could even excuse his grill as just being a result of Batman knocking his teeth out over time. That’s a fan image, however, not the image the filmmakers gave us of their vision for this character, so I can’t just give the Leto Joker a pass just based on that.

This is all to say that Leto’s hype about his “transformation” has been for naught. Worse than that, it has been for an interpretation of a beloved character that is at best horribly garish and at worst proof that the filmmakers have no idea how to handle the characters that they’ve been entrusted with. It’s also proof that this whole time Leto, a casting choice that I wasn’t thrilled about in the first place, has been spending his whole time transforming into some kind Insane Clown Posse reject. Did he do any research at all while he was getting his hair bleached and going to the gym? Or was he too busy playing around on SnapChat?

Ayer, Leto and Co. have successfully done the improbable. They’ve made the Joker uncool. I don’t want to buy his toys. I don’t want to read his comics. I certainly don’t want to see him in any movies in the near future. As a kid I adored the Batman TV show, and always had fun watching Cesar Romero cutting up as the show’s yellow haired, moustachioed lead villain. Not long after, Jack Nicholson won me over as a dark, vampiric, love-crazed lunatic. Later, Heath Ledger blew me away as the devil in a purple trench coat. I am not ready for Leto to show up with his Clown Prince of Crystal Meth. The character himself might very well be immortal, but for now he’s dead to me.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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1 Comment

  1. ...David Whittaker says:

    Thanks Mike,

    Enjoyable at the very least because I did not realise Jared has been flogging the dead horse of teasing this via social media.

    Personally I don’t doubt Jared as an actor and like you say am hoping for something between Miller’s DKR Joker and Morrison’s RIP Joker. From a marketing perspective the constant teases and reveals via various social media may well work to curry the interest of new fans, but it’s a double edged sword. Hyping up the final product to the point where I can’t do nothing but disappoint and fail in the eyes of more established fans.

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