Out of all the actors who have taken on the infamous role of the Joker, it appears that many of them never manage to escape the lasting affects of the iconic character that lingers with them.
Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker, has been played by a range of Hollywood A-listers, including Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix – and before Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson gave a career-defining performance.
The Dark Knight premiered on July 14, 2008, and 14 years later, Heath Ledger’s definitive performance still looms large in the memory. Let’s consider the actors who have played the Joker and what effect the role has had on them.
The Curse of playing the Joker
The role of the Joker has had a sombre existence since the 2008 death of Heath Ledger, who had wrapped filming as the character in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and who had also only completed half of his role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His outstanding performance in The Dark Knight earned him a posthumous Oscar in 2009, but, it is clear the role had a deep effect on its portrayer.
When Heath was initially asked about the character of the Joker he responded: “So far he’s definitely been the most fun I’ve had with any character. He’s just out of control, he’s got no empathy, he’s a sociopath, psychotic, mass-murdering clown.”
To prepare for the part, he studied for the role through the works of Francis Bacon and A Clockwork Orange. Ledger had a deep commitment to the role and used ‘method’ acting, documenting his thoughts in what he referred to as a “Joker journal”.
Heath acknowledged that playing the character of the Joker had drained him both physically and mentally. Working on the character put his mind through extreme psychological preparation. This caused him to have trouble sleeping where he got less than two hours of sleep a night. To combat this he took sleeping pills which are the drugs that ultimately contributed to his fatal overdose.
On January 22, 2008, Heath was found dead on his bed by his housekeeper as he had suffered an accidental drug overdose. A mixture of sleeping pills, prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety medication were found in his system, according to reports. Ledger was just 28 years old at the time of his death.
Following Heath’s death, Jack Nicholson was reported to have said: “Well, I warned him,” reports Fox News. Nicholson played The Joker in the 1989 Batman movie.
How the Batman role affected Jared Leto
Jared Leto also tried the method acting technique to get into the role of the Joker for The Suicide Squad. The actor remained alone for the majority of the shoot and got the character’s iconic laugh down by watching videos of people who suffered from pathological laughter.
Leto also got into the role by sending his cast mates bizarre gifts, including a rat to Margot Robbie and a dead pig to other co-stars.
Talking about the role, Leto revealed to GQ : “There was a point where I was researching violence and was watching a lot of things…things that it’s arguable if anybody should even see. And I noticed that started to have an impact on me that I didn’t like, so I stopped.”
Leto continued: “It just starts to just get inside you, violence and some of those things. But you know, I’ve made some pretty dark films.” He admitted as well that the role “scares the f****** s***” out of him. Joaquin Phoenix was given the journal and the jokes that the character keeps, on how “you start to go mad” as a gift from the director Todd Phillips.