The news that Martin Scorsese is conjuring up a “Young Joker” film set against a gritty Gotham backdrop is already drawing comparisons to his seminal masterwork, Taxi Driver, which saw him introduce the world to one of the most notorious antiheroes ever seen, Travis Bickle.
While the director may seem like an unlikely helmer to enter the DC universe, it is perhaps the first indication that the studio wants to get back to the tone of what Christopher Nolan established with his trilogy.
Needless to say, after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, Scorsese may be the type of established voice to truly right the ship.
While little is still known about the project — other than the initial concept was conceived by Todd Philips (The Hangover) and Scott Silver (8 Mile) — the film will focus on The Joker during the 1980s and won’t see Jared Leto reprising his role as the Jester of Genocide.
But which young actors would be particularly well-equipped to be The Joker? Here are our five favorites.
There are few actors working in Hollywood like Jesse Plemons, who have the ability to portray the “every man,” while also dipping into depraved areas of madness.
Having first entered the zeitgeist for his turn as the lovable underdog, Landry, in Friday Night Lights, subsequent darker turns in Breaking Bad and Fargo have cemented him as a true force.
His role in Breaking Bad was particularly memorable because he was able to showcase the attributes The Joker would have to be able to emote if Scorsese and co. do opt for a darker reimagining. Even casual fans of the show will recall him killing a child and chaining Jesse up like a dog in order to cook meth — while also attempting to offer empathy to Walt after Hank was murdered.
Plemons had some direction as to what his character, Todd, was like before meeting Walter and Jesse, but he was able to fill in many of the motivational gaps which would seem to prove vital in bringing The Joker to life.
“He probably didn’t have a father figure, and his mother was probably an addict or something,” he recalled.
While some could offer up that he hasn’t established himself as a movie star yet, Steven Spielberg cast him in both Bridge of Spies and his upcoming film, The Papers, where he is opposite of heavyweights like Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.
While no one wants to get typecast — certainly not as a demonic clown — there’s no denying that Bill Skarsgård is about to become a household name following his portrayal of Pennywise in the forthcoming film, IT.
Much in the same way that Heath Ledger was able to introduce The Joker to a more streetwise audience who had grown tired of cartoonish depictions of villains, the numerous trailers insinuate that Skarsgård is aiming for a similarly realistic interpretation of an otherworldly entity hellbent on tormenting members of The Losers Club in Derry, Maine.
Similarly, both he and Ledger both brought their own fears and insecurities to each respective roles, with Skarsgård describing, “an important thing for me in terms of preparing and creating the character was thinking ‘What are the things that I would find really unsettling?’ And then explore that. Your own kind of fears and what you find disturbing and amplify that in terms of the performance. Essentially, what you’ll end up seeing in the film is my own deepest fears embodied in this character.”
Even with a crowded lineup of villains in Game of Thrones, Iwan Rheon’s portrayal of Ramsay Bolton remains the gold standard for evil.
The crux of any good Joker origin story relies on an actor embodying the role for a substantial portion of the film before he is forced to don the makeup. In turn, we may get our best understanding of what drove a seemingly regular person to such depravity and why The Joker relishes chaos.
Rheon considered that very idea when crafting Bolton’s swagger-filled evil, telling GQ, “The thing about Ramsay is that because he’s actually happy, it’s weirdly easier to play than characters that are introverted, carrying all their darkness inside.”
He has also provided the origin story for one of, if not the most evil man in history — stepping into the shoes of Adolf Hitler when he was a teenager with a temper, strange dress sense and desperate ambition to become an artist.
There was a time not too long ago where Robert Pattinson was just that “Twilight guy.” However, he’s currently being showered in praise for his latest film, Good Times, which finds the 31-year-old Londoner abandoning any teen melodrama for a hard-boiled crime film which mixes themes not currently seen together; mental illness, brotherly devotion and bank robberies.
As Connie, a two-bit New York hustler, Pattinson dove in heard first and literally decided to walk several days in his shoes as he attempted to nail the motivation behind the character — going so far as to lose weight, dye his hair and get his ears pierced as he disappeared into the Yonkers backdrop.
But whereas Jared Leto’s method portrayal of The Joker felt elevated to the point of a farce, Pattinson reads more like a commitment to the character. If a Joker origin story is truly going to work, we need to empathize with him more than fear him. Pattinson’s approach to Good Times suggests that making bad choices don’t always make you a bad person.
The first season of Westworld provided one of the most memorable origin stories in recent memory. Jimmi Simpson’s character, William, began as the moral entity in an otherwise immoral world where guests were urged to live out their most depraved fantasies. But for those that have seen the show, his white knight attitude wouldn’t endure.
Although William’s arc is handled by two different actors, it was Simpson’s heavy lifting as the doe-eyed version which resonated because there’s little entertainment value in a character who has always been bad.
Much in the same way that Westworld poisoned his mind, it would be similar line of thinking to explore how Gotham City itself could have turned The Joker from normal citizen into a monster.
Now find out how The Joker evolved from Cesar Romero to Jared Leto.
- Main & Featured Image: Andreas Rentz / Getty Images