Of all the comic book characters played by multiple actors on the big screen, more so than Spider-Man, Superman or even Batman, it seems like Joker receives the most scrutiny. Perhaps it is because of Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight and the circumstances around it, but whoever plays the Clown Prince of Crime is always under a microscope, as Joaquin Phoenix will be when he wears the painted face in this fall’s Joker. But Joaquin Phoenix isn’t worried and says to ‘knock yourself out’ with Joker comparisons:
All I can do is approach the character the way I do and that’s it. I just tried to do something that we felt was honest and unique. However you guys want to talk about it, knock yourself out.
In his comments to the Los Angeles Times, it is pretty clear that Joaquin Phoenix is not at all troubled by how his performance in Joker will be compared to and weighed against the actors and portrayals that have come before him, like Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and Jared Leto. He knows and understands that this will be a point of discussion among the fans and he’s basically telling us to go for it, it’s fine with him.
The comparisons don’t bother Joaquin Phoenix because it’s not the kind of thing he thinks about. He wasn’t approaching his performance in Joker with the express goal of topping someone else’s Joker, so it’s irrelevant to him where he stacks up in the Romero-Leto continuum. As he said, Joaquin Phoenix just played the character in a way that felt right and true to him, and strove to create something honest and unique.
It’s unsurprising that Joaquin Phoenix feels this way and is fine with his Joker entering the ‘Who’s the best Joker?’ debate because it just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he would care about. I don’t know if Phoenix has even seen any of the other big screen Jokers, and although he previously said that he was scared of playing this character, that was about the character, not how his performance will be judged against others who’ve played the villain.
Joaquin Phoenix has also said that he felt no pressure for this film because he doesn’t care what people think, so of course he's fine with Joker comparisons and won’t be too bothered whether people consider him the best or the worst to do it.
This seems like the right attitude to have because there’s no sense in stressing over something he can’t control, and knowing that the comparisons will happen regardless, he might as well tell us to ‘knock yourself out’ with them. Besides, I don’t imagine Joaquin Phoenix will be reading too many articles or watching too many videos (see: any) about how his Joker stacks up.
Even if Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is disappointing, which seems unlikely, as director Todd Phillips has reassured fans, there will always be another Joker and the character will be reinvented over and over again onscreen.