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What I Worry About When I Worry About Jared Leto’s Joker

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Jared “have a live rat” Leto has been a pretty effective one-man Suicide Squad hype machine for months now, and his confidence isn’t wavering; at Dubai Music Week recently, Leto allegedly told a fan that his portrayal of the Joker is so real, “They’re going to lock me away in a box after this movie comes out.” Ahem:

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If Leto actually said that, he’s got a whole lotta hubris (and an admirable knack for self-promotion). But even if he didn’t, the kind of attention that rumored comment is garnering from fans and media says a lot about the specific aspects of the Joker that many viewers are excited to see from Suicide Squad. Aspects of the Joker that, quite frankly, squick me the heck out.

It’s exciting to see how the Suicide Squad cast has thrown themselves into their parts, both collectively and individually (in some ways, it even seems like they’re more excited for fans to see the movie than Warner Bros. is). But even though I appreciate their enthusiasm, I’m super done with implications that actual suffering is somehow necessary in order to do the Joker “justice.”

There’s something uncomfortable for me about the way the Joker “mystique” has grown since Heath Ledger’s death. After Ledger passed away, former Joker Jack Nicholson famously told reporters that he had “warned” Ledger about taking on the role, and comments like that one (or “they’re going to lock me away in a box”) seem–to me at least–to further conflate the Joker with the actors who play him.

Talking about the Joker and the people who portray the Joker as if they are interchangeable seems to happen more frequently since Ledger passed away, which says a lot about the assumptions we’ve made about Ledger’s death–assumptions that feel uncomfortably speculatory.

It also positions the Joker role as a sort of litmus test for an actor’s ability to push their boundaries, which I find disconcerting in the context of Leto’s portrayal, partially because of my feelings about The Killing Joke.

Although it obviously remains to be seen what role (if any) The Killing Joke will have in Suicide Squad, both Leto and director David Ayer have referenced the story repeatedly in social media posts for the movie. It’s frustrating, then, to see so much importance placed on the Joker (and Leto’s emotional experience embodying him), while comparatively little attention is paid to the emotional toll it might take on an actor to play any of the women in the Joker’s life.

Again, there’s no denying that depicting The Killing Joke iteration of The Joker is probably remarkably draining for most actors — I just wish the women in those adaptations were given the same amount of credit for their emotional labor.

Leto’s actual performance as the Joker might not change how I feel about the specific ways in which he (and the media/many fans) are anticipating seeing him in the role. I’m on the hype train for Suicide Squad, but when it comes to imbuing the Joker part with an undeserved or problematically-earned importance, I might have to disembark. Thoughts?

(via The National)

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