Everything We Know

Everything We Know About Todd Phillips' Joker So Far

Who's in the cast? What do the Waynes have to do with it? How are they playing with DC mythology?

by | April 2, 2018 | Comments

This October, one of the odder and, in some ways, most ambitious projects in Warner Bros. Pictures’ attempts to turn DC Comics characters into feature films will debut: Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips  (The HangoverOld School) from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix in a new origin story for the typically origin-less Clown Prince of Crime. It will also be the first of Warner Bros. Pictures’ recent DC Comics-based films to completely eschew the notion of an interconnected film universe. Here is what we know about the project so far.


Joker Stands Alone

Despite Warner Bros’ efforts to create a cohesive film universe for its superheroes and assorted villains, Joker will not be part of the same story continuity as Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or Shazam!. Instead, it will stand alone as its own separate reality. The concept is not unlike DC Comics’ own Elseworlds brand. Though long discontinued, Elseworlds told remixed superhero stories featuring such concepts as the Waynes finding the infant Kal-El instead of the Kents or Batman as an actual vampire. Though published before Elseworlds became a formalized concept, The Dark Knight Returns was considered one of these tales. In the years since, DC returned to the idea with the “Earth-1” line and “DC Black Label,” which could be a very good name for a line of films separate from the Justice League continuity.

Meanwhile, the Joker of that universe, Jared Leto, is developing his own Joker feature film.


He Has a Name This Time, And It’s Arthur Fleck

Heath Ledger’s Joker was nameless in The Dark Knight (Photo by © Warner Bros. )

There might be a punchline embedded in that name, but Joker is dispensing with the mystery surrounding the character’s real name. This sets it apart from previous Joker tales like The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, the defining Joker comic book story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. In each, the character is treated as unknowable – even in The Killing Joke, the extended flashbacks of a failed comedian embarking on a life of crime are later revealed to be unreliable – with his name obscured. In 1989’s Batman, he was given the name “Jack Napier,” which became the character’s real name in comic-book continuity for a time. But in giving Joker this new name, Phillips and Silver boldly announce the movie will not be as ambiguous about the character’s background as The Dark Knight. Which is probably a good idea as The Dark Knight was the definitive screen take on the unknowable, force-of-nature character.

In the film, Arthur (Phoenix) will be a “man disregarded by society,” in a story the studio considers both a “gritty character study” and a “broader cautionary tale.” Marc Maron, who also appears in the film, recently echoed the sentiment, adding that the story is more “intimate” and specific in scope than superhero films he made fun of in the past. Additionally, the studio made clear Arthur is a failed comedian who, through the events of the film, becomes the infamous criminal mastermind.

Joker poster
(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

According to Maron, Phoenix lost himself in the role, as often seems to happen when actors play the Joker. Prior to Phoenix, Leto made headlines with pranks “perpetrated” by his Joker on the set of Suicide Squad. Heath Ledger’s iconic take on the character was lauded with an Academy Award, but decompressing from the role left him unable to get more than an hour’s sleep in the months leading up to his tragic and untimely death.

Maron said Phoenix remained in character between takes. He added that he respected the actor’s process and left him alone to maintain the character.


It’s a Big Departure for the Director

In fact, the “gritty character study” phrase used by the studio has been floating around since the time Phoenix confirmed his participation in the project. According to the actor, part of the film’s appeal is its $40 million “low budget” nature. The modest spend is both a departure from the tentpole sort of films Joker appears in and even the sort of films Phillips makes.

The director came to prominence with The Hangover series, which started with a seemingly modest $35 million budget – granted, that figure is on the higher end for comedies of the time – but spending on Hangover films ballooned to $103 million by The Hangover 3. And though Joker appears to be a return to smaller budgets, the subject matter as described in interviews and press releases suggests Phillips will be leaving the zany comedy of Old School or Starsky & Hutch (and even the darker tinged action-comedy of War Dogs) behind for something much more contained and potentially serious.


Robert De Niro Is Part Of Joker’s New Origin

De Niro in The King of Comedy (Photo by © 20th Century Fox)

In the earliest reports on the project, legendary director Martin Scorsese was said to be attached as a producer. The scuttle around that report centered on Scorsese securing the participation of his frequent collaborator Robert De Niro. Though Scorsese’s name is absent from official press releases – in fact, he seems to have been replaced by Phillips’ old Hangover compatriot, Bradley Cooper – De Niro is a confirmed part of the film’s cast. Reportedly, he will play a Gotham City talk show host whose action or inaction will lead Arthur toward his destiny. Many are seeing the casting as an inversion of his role in Scorsese’s 1982 film, The King of Comedy, in which he played a man like Arthur who takes a talk show host (Jerry Lewis) hostage.


The Wayne Factor, Plus A Deadpool Surprise

Other actors in the film include Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz as Sophie Drumond, a cynical a single mother who becomes “involved” with Arthur, American Horror Story’s Frances Conroy as Arthur’s mother Penny, and a wide group of performers including Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Maron, Josh Pais, and Shea Whigham.

Brett Cullen will also appear as Thomas Wayne, father of Arthur’s eventual nemesis, Bruce Wayne (Cullen also appeared as a congressman in The Dark Knight Rises). According to reports circulating at a time when Alec Baldwin was in early talks to play the part, Wayne will be re-envisioned as a spoiled 1980s land baron. The rather obvious pastiche of a role Baldwin regularly plays on Saturday Night Live may have led to the actor withdrawing from negotiations, though he later said scheduling was the primary cause. It remains to be seen if Cullen will play a vain version of Wayne, but a wild change to the charitable and caring Wayne patriarch would represent one of the great leaps in DC Comics mythology the film intends to make. It may also indicate more changes to the lore are on their way.


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.


Joker is in theaters October 4, 2019

#1

Joker (2019)

#1
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: "Joker" centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big... [More]
Directed By: Todd Phillips

Tag Cloud

Sundance Now Syfy FX Ghostbusters children's TV President LGBTQ Schedule Women's History Month strong female leads Emmy Nominations Rocketman TCA 2017 Rock Pirates DC Universe Sundance travel SundanceTV Pop History boxoffice IFC Adult Swim Christmas unscripted police drama Horror cars 21st Century Fox El Rey comic Watching Series Amazon Prime Video Elton John Spectrum Originals Paramount Oscars Valentine's Day E3 ghosts See It Skip It Reality Competition Masterpiece Fantasy Bravo Photos Quiz Set visit revenge spinoff Britbox casting Character Guide Apple CW Seed finale Trophy Talk American Society of Cinematographers Red Carpet Nat Geo Best and Worst quibi Action harry potter 2017 SXSW Nominations TCM TruTV psychological thriller Extras Binge Guide Election doctor who Calendar sequel Family what to watch APB Logo Martial Arts VICE Warner Bros. Disney streaming service WarnerMedia award winner green book festivals DC streaming service Rom-Com Holidays Crackle docudrama IFC Films Comic Book Fox News Comedy transformers spider-man zombie Dark Horse Comics Nickelodeon Shudder Fall TV Tumblr HBO SDCC theme song crime Ovation Sneak Peek Captain marvel cooking facebook The Witch Film Festival historical drama Starz Interview Cannes adventure Amazon discovery aliens Cartoon Network cops crossover politics Teen Western NBC animated mockumentary Freeform natural history streaming robots elevated horror GLAAD Pet Sematary A&E zero dark thirty television BET game show TV Land Walt Disney Pictures Netflix jamie lee curtis NYCC Chilling Adventures of Sabrina science fiction dc TIFF Animation Cosplay Disney Channel Showtime MTV romance Musical CMT Brie Larson Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Reality Columbia Pictures RT History Infographic witnail Trailer YouTube Premium HBO Max TBS golden globes Musicals Star Wars Awards Lifetime Premiere Dates Certified Fresh dceu thriller true crime USA Network ABC AMC series BBC Tomatazos singing competition Spring TV Amazon Prime hist toy story GoT Creative Arts Emmys Comedy Central sports richard e. Grant Comics on TV psycho Drama LGBT disaster ratings PBS DirecTV biography anthology Marathons DC Comics Sony Pictures Lionsgate CNN Stephen King cinemax zombies DGA FXX 24 frames Kids & Family Disney Grammys Shondaland Marvel Superheroes crime thriller social media talk show Esquire Mindy Kaling Pixar period drama war Epix Biopics binge Black Mirror ESPN cats First Look Chernobyl Food Network TV Countdown comiccon Superheroe crime drama Winners Mary Tyler Moore Heroines Acorn TV justice league political drama CBS RT21 2019 Music Tarantino Summer Mudbound vampires Trivia San Diego Comic-Con Video Games CBS All Access serial killer PaleyFest Ellie Kemper Universal Super Bowl supernatural space Paramount Network nature Box Office YA Mary poppins Song of Ice and Fire E! GIFs Vudu ITV TCA book medical drama 2016 anime Rocky MCU movies 2015 X-Men MSNBC Year in Review tv talk Polls and Games The CW Writers Guild of America Mystery teaser Star Trek USA Lucasfilm WGN mutant Emmys dramedy TLC based on movie dragons The Arrangement technology Thanksgiving Hulu composers adaptation diversity Awards Tour blaxploitation kids 45 ABC Family Mary Poppins Returns Opinion Pride Month Spike cults Sci-Fi 20th Century Fox Toys VH1 BBC America Country 2018 Podcast YouTube Red Anna Paquin National Geographic TNT sitcom Film miniseries Winter TV OWN 007 spy thriller New York Comic Con FOX