From the pages of comic books to a popular video game, and from a hit telly-series to the cult “Batman” movies, the Joker has been one the most eccentric and the eclectic supervillains in fiction. As Joaquin Phoenix stars in the title role of “Joker”, an explosive new film dedicated to the clown prince of crime, he joins ranks with several distinguished actors who have made a mark imparting their own style to the villainy of the character.
Phoenix is the latest screen Joker in line, after Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto scored as the iconic villain before him, besides, of course, Mark Hamill, who gave voice to Joker in an animated series. The supervillain created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson, first appeared in the debut issue of “Batman” in 1940, published by DC Comics. Over time, the criminal mastermind and psychopath with a warped and sadistic sense of humor has emerged as a maestro of malevolence, and a crazy yin to Batman’s intense yang.
We take a quick trek down memory lane, to list the memorable stars who made an impact with peculiar mannerisms to bring Joker alive on screen:
* Cesar Romero in “Batman” television series (1966-1968)
Popular character actor Romero played the Joker in the 1960’s campy “Batman” live-action series. Like the Joker, he maintained his Latin lover moustache, topping it with the trademark white make-up and green hair of the character. Apparently, Romero insisted nothing could make him give up his signature appearance statement.
* Jack Nicholson in “Batman” movie (1989)
Nicholson was a huge star at the time of film’s release and was given top billing on the posters, ahead of Michael Keaton, who played the title role of Batman. After Romero’s gleeful supervillain in the sixties series, Nicholson re-invented Joker with a dark, psychotic spin in Tim Burton’s film. In an interview, Nicholson had said he was “particularly proud” of his performance as the Joker.
* Mark Hamill in “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-1995)
Unlike the others, Hamill’s Joker in the animated wasn’t restricted to evil traits only. He was, by turns, angry and sad, scary and funny — very loyal to the original comic book creation. He managed to create a supervillain who got adults interested, too, in the primarily kids’ series.
* Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” (2008)
By every yardstick, the greatest act as Joker ever. Ledger’s portrayal gave goosebumps, raised consternation and sympathy at the same time, and made you angry as much as it made you laugh. Ledger received numerous posthumous accolades for his performance as Joker including an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. The actor had an untimely death of drug overdose in 2008. His untimely death affected the subsequent promotion of “The Dark Knight”, but the legend of his performance only grew.
*Jared Leto in “Suicide Squad” (2016)
Leto faced a staggering challenge — he was taking up a role that the late Heath Ledger had made iconic only years ago, and pre-release comparisons and prejudices were invariably stacked against him. Leto’s version of Joker pushed the character’s psychopathic tendencies while flaunting a rockstar persona. His chemistry with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn impressed many. For the first time in Hollywood’s live-action history, the Joker was seen falling in love and having a girlfriend.
* Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” (2019)
The film got an eight-minute standing ovation at its Venice film festival premiere in August. It is a standalone origin story focussed on the early days of Joker, and what led to the creation of the ruthless, psychopathic villain, and therefore the film does not have an appearance by Batman. Through Phoenix’s performance, we get to know Arthur Fleck, the person that the Joker was before he became a societal menace, as a sad sack and a mentally-troubled man who transforms into an icon of violence. The film is directed by Todd Phillips. (IANS)
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