Curse of The Joker – how Batman’s arch-nemesis messes up actors who play him

Joaquin Phoenix has taken on the role of The Joker, Batman's arch-nemesis and the head of his rogues' gallery.

The Clown Prince of Crime has stuck in the public imagination because he's across from honourable, loyal Bruce Wayne – and he's a complete psychopath.

The role of The Joker has taken on a sombre tone since the 2008 suicide of Heath Ledger, aged 28, who was playing the character in director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.

His performance earned him a posthumous Oscar and the adoration of fans who'd been sceptical about his casting.

Since then, the role has been taken on by Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix – and prior to Heath, Jack Nicholson gave a definitive performance.

But the fun of the character is also its curse – so deranged and cruel and manipulative is The Joker that he tends to mess up whoever he plays.

Let's take a look at what each of them have said about the most coveted character in Hollywood.


Nicholson's era was one of a much goofier Batman, but the sinister undertones shone through.

Nicholson was certainly used to playing nutters – like in The Shining. But The Joker was special.

After Heath's tragic suicide, Nicholson darkly commented: "Well, I warned him."


Heath's Joker is a fan favourite now, and it's generally accepted that he's the best. His process of keeping a diary in character as The Joker has become the stuff of legend.

He said it was his favourite ever role , but he added that The Joker's character is a deeply troubling one.

Heath said: "So far he's definitely been the most fun I've had with any character. He's just out of control, he's got no empathy, he's a sociopath, psychotic, mass-murdering clown."

Heath's sister Kate insisted it was not the clown who drove Heath to suicide.


Jared Leto has a tough task of filling Heath's boots. The world Jared's Joker was set in a different tone to Nolan's films.

Still, Jared relished the ironic bleakness of his character's outlook. He indulged in method acting too, sending his cast mates some unwelcome surprises to stay in character.

He's no stranger to controversial roles, playing a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club.

He said of his process to GQ : "There was a point where I was researching violence and was watching a lot of things…things that it's arguable if anybody should even see. And I noticed that started to have an impact on me that I didn't like, so I stopped.

"It just starts to just get inside you, violence and some of those things. But you know, I've made some pretty dark films."

The lengths Jared went to were pretty severe – Will Smith, Jared's co-star, said he never met him, only The Joker.

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