When creating a new version of an iconic character, there are several directions an actor can take... and several avenues they'd want to avoid. The Joker, for example, can't be too much like any of the previous interpretations that came before it. Jared Leto, who plays the maniacal Clown Prince of Crime in David Ayer's Suicide Squad, can't borrow from Heath Ledger's psychotic troublemaker, Jack Nicholson's menacing crime boss, or Cesar Romero's cartoonish prankster. As it turns out, Ayer and Leto reached ever further back into the Joker's catalogue to create a vision of terror for the new millennium.
I was lucky enough to speak with David Ayer during a recent press day for Suicide Squad, and we started discussing his take on The Joker, and where the inspirations came from. The Joker in this story is a criminal kingpin, a lunatic with immense power who's unpredictable, and feared. Ayer says that the touches came from the earliest days of the DC character, explaining to me:
I went back to the very first Joker comic. I think it was 1941 or something like that, which is also coincident with the first Batman comics. Batman the detective from the '40s had Joker as this insane gangster. When you look at the '40s and what was going on in the world, this concept of an insane gangster begins to make sense in regards to the time. So by then taking the insane gangster idea, the minimal seed, the core seed of Joker, bringing him into the modern world, what would an insane gangster look like today? That's when you get the tattoos, the car, and the clothes, and the attitude.
And you know, Jared, what courage. I mean, to take on such a character that had been done so well in the past -- the best-known villain in modern fiction. So yeah, it was scary. It was really, really scary. Because I'm a fan. And if you sit there as a fan, you're like, 'Wow, ok, someone is going to reinvent The Joker? WTF?' But I'm really proud of what he did. It is The Joker. His performance as The Joker feels like The Joker. He became The Joker, and brought The Joker to life. So that worked. That really worked.
Following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger, who took home a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, had to be a daunting task. But going all the way back to the earliest days of the character certainly was an inventive notion for David Ayer and Jared Leto, and it's clear (having seen the film) that this interpretation of The Joker is nothing like any performance that came before it.
You can see for yourself how Jared Leto interpreted The Joker for a new generation when Suicide Squad opens in theaters on August 5.