The Joker’s Wild…
A lot of the focus for Suicide Squad is being put on Jared Leto’s portrayal of Batman villain The Joker, even though he never had much to do with the Suicide Squad in the comics. Even so, the Joker is easily one of the most popular comic book villains of all time, so it does make some sense to include him. In this case, the Joker may still be the villain of the movie compared to the other characters as he even has his own band of henchmen, all wearing outlandish costumes.
Unfortunately, Jared Leto wasn’t on set the day we visited—not that we’d be able to get much out of him if he was remaining in character while on set, as some had mentioned.
Both Roven (who produced The Dark Knight that generated an Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger) and Ayer had some thoughts on the fourth live-action take on Batman’s most popular villain. “Heath and his work is in a Pantheon that shouldn’t preclude reinvention,” Ayer began when asked about Leto becoming The Joker. “It’s the most iconic bad guy in any media. For me, what an incredible opportunity to reinvent, to have some fun with a character, and to use him in the role of Suicide Squad. That’s what’s so fun about what Warners is doing with the DC Universe now is cross-connecting these films, so that different characters can enter and leave and go through these doors and have these worlds link up. We came at it with an incredible respect for the history of the Joker and I’ve read every freaking comic. I grew up on the Batman TV show, the Adam West TV show. Look at the incarnation of the Joker in that. Look at how the Joker has evolved. I don’t think we should freeze him in ice and never let him evolve with us as we evolve as an audience.”
“The Joker’s certainly one of the great, iconic bad guys,” Roven agreed. “Since we were starting from ground zero with ‘Man of Steel’—Ben Affleck isn’t picking up the Christian Bale role, he’s going back to ground zero. If we’re going back to ground zero, we really shouldn’t have any individual character that can’t play, particular if they’re iconic—he’s one of the most iconic villains in all of literature. He was certainly on the table. We wanted to make sure that we had a part that was worthy of a great actor and we wanted to make sure we had a great actor who would play that part.”
“The Joker is sort of the third rail of the DC Comics world, right?” Ayer said when asked about his take on The Joker as a character. “The more plausible the Joker can be, the more well-rounded as a person, the more accurate his psychology can be, and the scarier he becomes. There’s something very primal and ancient about that. You simply have to look at what the Joker represents as a force of chaos. Even as a criminal and an organizer in the criminal world, he’s still chaotic, which Chris Nolan tapped him to in a great way in ‘The Dark Knight.’”
“Jared was one of the first people I cast in this, so I understand how he’s built the character,” Ayer responded when asked about working with Leto and his infamous method acting. “I understand what he’s doing. I know the magic trick–I know how the rabbit is hidden in the hat before you pull it out. He’s very professional and we’ve had a lot of discussions about his journey and his mindset in what are the pieces that become this character.”
“I treat every actor differently according to their needs,” he continued. “With Jared, when he shows up, he’s very much kept in isolation and then he shows up and you really feel the energy change. He’s scary. He’s a scary dude. He’s in character. I mean he’s knocking it out of the park. He’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. What he’s doing is really powerful. Plus the guy’s a bonafide rock star and so he has this incredible sense of presence in a performance but also an incredible musicality about what he’s doing. I just think it’s a sense of he understands how to drive a crowd and that there’s just something very, very real and very honest about having that ability he’s able to bring to the character.”
And what about the look of the new Joker? The first photo of Leto as the Joker with all his tattoos really caused a stir on the internet when the first picture was revealed. Ayer explained the tattoos. “As far as the visual development of Joker. I wanted a guy who felt like he had history and he wears his history. This is a guy with some prowess and presence in the criminal world and I want him to feel like a modern day criminal. I wanted him to feel like someone that you believe could emerge from today’s underworld.”
When we visited costume designer Kate Hawley’s department, she showed us some of the concept art that went into creating the Joker’s look, who was heavily influenced by Ninja from the South African rap group Die Antwoord (who appeared in last year’s Chappie), but also had a lot of tattoos similar to Mexican cartel gang members. She also took a lot of influence from the clown image of the Joker on playing cards, mixed in with quite a bit of devil imagery, in case one wasn’t sure on which side of good the Joker falls.
“This is an extroverted Joker,” Ayer remarked. “This is a Joker who really puts himself out in the world and is very socially adept and uses his presence. Jared is definitely drafting on his own abilities in that regard. He’s really found the voice of this character and I think people are going to be surprised because even though there’s some new visual elements to the Joker, when you see him on screen in aggregate as a character, I think it’s going to be hard for anyone to ever imagine anyone else as the Joker.”
…But Harley Quinn is Wilder
Many eyes will also likely be on Margot Robbie and her portrayal of Harley, since she’s such a popular character in the DC Universe, going back to the ‘90s cartoons written by Paul Dini.
“Fortunately, everything moved at such a quick pace and I was working on some other projects at the time, that I didn’t have as much time to think about it, which I think was definitely a blessing in disguise,” Robbie said when asked about the pressures of taking on the role. “Definitely I’ve had a lot of moments of panic, where I’m like ‘Oh God, they’re gonna hate it.’ There’s just so many people to please, and you can’t ever really make everyone happy. I do as much research as possible, and put as much of myself into the role as possible. As long as I do my absolute best and prepare as much as I physically can, hopefully people are happy.”
“When I see Margot out of wardrobe now I literally don’t recognize her,” Ayer told us. “She’s an example of somebody who has totally become the character and transformed herself and embraced this. That’s part of the fun, just speaking about Harley Quinn specifically, is there’s a sexuality, and there’s a physical attractiveness to the character. But when you understand how that character thinks, she almost uses that as a weapon to disarm people and as a ‘visual’ judo to get what she wants. That’s a big part of how Margot is playing the role. I think there’s an intrinsic sort of wink and awareness that’s part of her game.”
“In real life, if there’s ever tension, I find myself trying to diffuse the tension, and that’s just a natural reaction for me,” Robbie said about how she differs from Harley. “Where for Harley it’s the complete opposite. David’s really encouraged me to hone in on that aspect of her, because it’s something that doesn’t come to me naturally. But she feeds off that, so any opportunity in the rehearsal process where we did lots of improvising and stuff that’s not even in the script, but you end up delving into quite deep places. And you’re pretty aware that whoever’s doing that scene at the time, you know the co-stars I’m working with, they’re kinda feeding off real things, so my natural reaction is to kinda like, leave it be or talk over it, so that we don’t have to… but that’s not what Harley would do. If Harley saw that they’ve shown a weak spot, she would be like a little scorpion tail just like psst, get in there. And I felt so awful and so many times we did these scenes and I was just saying awful things. And seeing that someone’s struggling with something in particular, and David’s looking at me like, ‘you better get in there, that’s your window of opportunity right there, take it.’ It feels really awful sometimes.”
“I spent a lot of time trying to figure out their relationship,” Robbie told us about Harley’s relationship with the Joker. “It’s kinda like when your friend is doing something stupid in a relationship, and you’re just so frustrated. You’re like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing that?’ It kinda feels like that when you’re reading comics and Harley goes back to him. So I was like, this is really important that I understand, and I want to do the things that she does. I need to really feel like that’s how I would react in a situation. And I ended up landing upon codependency as the tact to take with that. And it turns out it’s far more… It’s like a compulsion, I suppose. It’s kinda when you start looking at it the way an alcoholic is compelled, you know, needs to have a drink. When you think of it in those terms, like it’s an actual psychological problem, which codependency actually is, in really severe cases of codependency. So just, the more research I did, the more it made sense for me to behave the way she behaved.”
“Oh, it’s a fantastic relationship,” Ayer agreed. “Without getting too much into it, their relationship is dysfunctional. It’s very accurate to the source material, and that’s something that Harley has to deal with and grow and how does she empower herself? What does he mean to her? What does he mean to us? It’s all rather complex and I think rather honest how I’m dealing with it.”
Fans of the Joker/Harley relationship will be excited to know that for one scene, they’re recreating the famous Alex Ross painting of the Joker and Harley with costumes that were influenced by that iconic image.
“I think you’re gonna get lots of shades and colors of their story, which really explores a tremendous breadth of the relationship,” Suckle said. “I don’t think it’s just destructive, I think really you’re gonna see lots of shades and lots of colors of what’s happening with them, why they’re together, and why they have issues like many relationships whether they be part of a comic book story or anywhere else.”
“Pretty wild and crazy” is the way Robbie discussed her scenes with Leto. “I’ve never seen scenes like it before, personally—it’s next level. People better brace themselves. It’s really weird, and they’re a fascinating couple. Honestly, I find their stuff the most exciting out of everything. I’d watch a dialogue scene between them over buildings blowing up and guns, which I love that stuff as well. They’re messed up.”
“I was kinda banking on the fact that when Harley isn’t around Joker, she’s slightly less crazy than she is when she is with him,” Robbie said about Harley’s relationship with the rest of the Squad. “There’s a lot of plot points you need to get across, and there’s a whole lot other list of characters that have their story lines and stuff. I find acting 1000 percent crazy all the time, it’s just totally gonna distract from what we need to be focusing on in that particular scene. When it’s a Joker scene, she’s pretty nuts, because he brings that out in her for sure. When it’s the rest of the Squad’s scenes, she has her moments for sure, but she’s a little–I wouldn’t say sensible, she’s never sensible—but she’s a little more focused, I suppose.”