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The Actors Behind the Jokers

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

By Jacqueline Riddle

The film version of the character Joker has been around for nearly 55 years, starting in a Batman movie in 1966 and recurring most recently in the movie Joker (2019). Joker, in his most recent portrayal by Joaquin Phoenix, progressively lost his sanity as the movie went on, due to isolation and bullying. This two hour rated-R movie allegedly broke the record for the October opening and made around $178 million, even though the movie took only $55 million to make. Even though this movie wouldn’t be shown in your English class, it has still created hype for itself, as this movie has been sold in the States and overseas. Although this role has been incorporated into many films, one wonders why this character is still such an iconic role to play when previous actors have been known to suffer from playing this character.

In the past, the movies that involve the Joker have been deemed controversial. David Sims, a writer for The Atlantic says, “...because it’s a violent, R-rated thriller featuring a murderous psychopath, but also because much of the prerelease chatter about Joker has centered on fears of mass shootings at screenings…” Why is that? The scenes that the role portrays, such as sexually harassing women or abusing other characters, deems these movies controversial. Time Magazine states about the 2019 film, “Others worry that the script does not do enough to make clear that the Joker’s acts of terrorism are evil, not heroic.”

The Joker is known as “The most disturbed character in all of modern literature,” according to the Looper staff. Viewers and fans of the Joker cannot comprehend the weight the actors have to bear when playing Joker. The actors go to great lengths to embody this role. There have been actors that have completely dedicated their time, both on and off scene, to get perfectly into character. Jared Leto, who played Joker in Suicide Squad, remained in character throughtout the whole shoot. When asked about his role, he described it as “very challenging.” In order to stay in his role, he frequently isolated himself and he was known to send unusual ‘gifts’ such as dead pigs and rats to the rest of the cast, according to Rachael Grealish, a writer for Lad Bible.

Heath Ledger, another memorable actor who played Joker in 2008, had also been known to effectively get into the role. Heath Ledger’s death has been blamed on the role he played by many. Prior to getting cast in the movie, Ledger already had sleep insomnia. However, as the movie progressed, he reported only getting two hours of sleep a night. He had also locked himself in a hotel room for six weeks in order to perfect his acting voice, which he believed would set him apart from the other Jokers, according to Looper. Ledger insisted on pushing his mind and body to the limits to fully captivate the viewers. He pushed his co-workers to not fake physical violence, he wanted them to actually throw punches and assault him.

Joaquin Phoenix is another character that is known to go to great lengths to get into character. Phoenix was told by the director, Todd Phillips, he needed to lose weight. This had not been the first time he needed to lose weight for a role, and he is already a man in shape. For this role, he lost more than 50 pounds. Phoenix describes becoming the Joker, noting it “wasn’t exactly a cakewalk.”

There have been countless movies where the actors have been affected by their roles. Some actors and actresses try so hard to completely become their character that they lose sight of who they are. You probably connect Zac Efron to High School Musical, but he has also played some dark roles. Most recently, he played Ted Bundy. He said that the role caused him mental strain. Anne Hathway played a character that looked close to death. Prior to the shoots, she had to go on a diet. She claims that she didn’t feel herself for a while; “When I got home, I couldn't react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed. It took me weeks till I felt like myself again."

Though you wouldn’t be able to tell based on their performance in the movie, actors and actresses roles put a strain on their mental health. The next movie you watch, put yourself in the casts shoes, try and understand what they have to do to get into character.


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