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Freaks Dressed Like Clowns: The Faces of The Joker

Written by James Leggett

The arrival of Suicide Squad has now solidified Jared Leto in the hall of cinematic Jokers. The number of on-screen versions of the character will soon rival that of Batman, as his popularity is far from dwindling. There are many reasons why The Joker is often at the top of any Greatest Supervillains list and why any actor playing him dives straight into method preparation. The appeal of this character comes in the range of interpretations. Whether you go for a more whimsical take like that of Cesar Romero or a more psychotic, menacing one like Heath Ledger‘s, The Joker is a character whose colorful, maniacal attributes let him steal the show and gives the actor plenty of fun to have. As such a wildcard personality, there’s very little restraint when playing The Joker and every actor has found an angle in injecting originality to the performance.

There’s certainly a challenge for an actor like Leto, following the astronomical footsteps of Ledger, to bring something new to the character. Giving The Joker a gangsta, thuggish look with tattoos and grillz added a new visual aesthetic. The contention around his look and performance is about as wild as that of this film itself. With the amount of preparation Leto devoted to the role, I think everyone was expecting something a little more rambunctious. Sending used condoms and dead pigs to the cast is as repulsive as you can probably get, and yet the performance in the film maybe doesn’t reflect that level of debauchery. Leto’s voice sounded like Jim Carrey circa 1994 yet more physically reserved. As the doting lover searching for Harley, The Joker’s role in the film is rather limited.

The most notable difference between Leto’s Joker and the other Jokers is this is the first film where he is not the main adversary. Screen time clocking in around ten minutes, this Joker is far away from the spotlight. Leto has already expressed that many of his scenes were cut, but when he’s on screen he gets your attention. There is an unpredictable nature to him, highlighted in a scene when a henchman comes into his room to tell him about Harley’s whereabouts. The Joker, sitting on the floor, has an aggressive look on his face. He then lies back, surrounded by perfectly placed circles of knives, and unleashes his infamous laugh. It remains uncertain if the scenes that didn’t make the final cut where more egregious (Suicide Squad Ultimate Edition?) but Leto certainly committed to the role. Because his appearance is so minimal some may find it difficult to judge this Joker, especially compared to the others. But Leto certainly gave us a laugh that left an impression with a drawn out “HA-AH-AH-AH-AHHH.”

The tonal approach to The Joker often reflects that of the film. Jack Nicholson‘s classic gangster Joker, with plenty of wit, matched the Gothic pop style of Tim Burton‘s film. Many fans will say that Mark Hamill is the definitive Joker, finding not only the perfect voice for the character but the fine balance of funny and scary. Debuting in the animated series from the 1990s, Hamill certainly leaned closer to funny, which was appropriate for a kids show but also to stand out in an otherwise dark cartoon. However, his voice acting in the Arkham games is one with more intimidation and terror. The Joker has the command to grab your attention and evoke any sense of wonder possible. Whether you’re frightened or amused by him, he strikes you in a way very few villains can. Part of what makes The Joker so limitless is he doesn’t have to be tied down to motivation. As an embodiment of evil, his only commitment is to chaos and is not disrupted by strategy. The actors playing him have successfully taken on this mission, showing that even when The Joker’s “plan” doesn’t go accordingly, he either laughs it off or tries something new.

Like the comics themselves, the diversity in the portrayal of The Joker on screen helps to maintain the enthusiasm in the character while never straying from his basic appeal. The Joker is usually given fun dialogue for the actors to sink their teeth into and add an extra flavor of fun. Even against Adam West, who gave us as goofy a Batman as humanly possible, The Joker still stood out as a witty prankster. The more recent versions of the character, most notably in The Dark Knight, have gone into darker territory where The Joker acts as a terrorist more than a flamboyant supervillain. Even in the dark adaptations, The Joker will always have something to laugh about. If there’s one challenge any actor faces when taking on the role of The Joker, it’s getting a laugh that will resonate.

Which Joker is your favorite? Do you want to see Jared Leto play the character again? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

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James Leggett

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