Since the casting announcement way back in 2014 Jared Leto’s interpretation of the notorious Batman villain The Joker has been all anyone promoting Suicide Squad could talk about. Leto says he did extensive research and preparation for the role, and stayed in character for the full length of filming. We could only assume after all that the performance would be worth it. Well, now that Suicide Squad is out we know! All that’s left to ask is where he (and director/writer David Ayer) could have possibly found the inspiration for such a Joker? What were his artistic influences?
A lesser actor would have tried to rehash Nicholson’s iconic turn as The Joker in Batman, not Leto. He went much deeper to this rightly unappreciated performance that says, “I already have an Oscar, fuck you.”
From the mistaken assumption that appropriating black culture is “gansta” to the mistaken assumption that violence against woman is “gansta” it’s clear that Eminem was a big influence on Leto’s performance. But the radio edit version of Eminem because the film is PG-13.
To really nail the tone on the Joker being both incredibly abrasive and incredibly boring we have to assume Jared Leto did meticulous research with actual real life douchebags. It took incredible bravery to get into their twisted minds. So if you think this Joker seemed like its own bad impression you’re right! That is called method acting.
Clown make up on the Joker would be derivative at this point, Leto looked not forward but back to his youth for a look that says, “I spent years learning how to properly apply foundation but I refuse to look in a mirror to apply my lipstick.” It’s the most chilling aspect of the performance.
Let us not forget that this is the first movie to show The Joker’s iconic relationship with long term comic girlfriend/victim Harley Quinn. And what better network to look to for DC Universe love stories than The CW? You can see Leto really take to heart Chuck Bass’ intensity, power, weird mannerisms, and silly voice. Yet where the influence really shines through is walking that fine line between husband material and ceaseless tormentor to the point of it just being very muddled narratively, almost as if the creators never had the balls to pull the trigger either way.
This is the most logical explanation for the laughing face tattoo on his hand.
If you want to see truly courageous acting then look no further than Netflix series Hemlock Grove. No one gives a braver performance than Skarsgård who is asked to convincingly play a teenager tricked into fucking his sister on two separate occasions in the show’s brief 3 season run. Skarsgård has been cast as pop culture’s other most famous murder clown: Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, so if anyone could have taught Leto how to turn poorly written lemons into violent psychopath lemonade, this was it.
Leto and director/writer David Ayer really tapped into the zeitgeist of today’s meme culture with this homage to a beloved youtube clip from 2007. A bold new take for this generation.
Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is an iconic anthem of female independence, but what it’s always been lacking is a man interrupting. Enter white rapper G-Eazy who has been described as, I’m quoting here, “The James Dean of rap.” His contribution to the song provides the unnecessary reassurance that a confident woman can still be cool in the eyes of the man she’s sleeping with and you can clearly see that attitude reflected in The Joker role in Suicide Squad. This cover can be found on the Suicide Squad soundtrack.
It’s important to remember that Suicide Squad aimed to be not just a critical success, but a financial success. That’s why every aspect of this film was carefully curated by Hot Topic focus groups. While other actors in the film stubbornly maintain their own signature voice you can tell Leto really played ball with corporate on this one.
Jared Leto says his performance was inspired by David Bowie, but frankly I don’t see it.
Sara Ghaleb is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. She takes pop culture much too seriously. You can see her sketch team The Burbs perform at The Nerdist School Stage every month @theburbsnerdist.