Taking on the role of the Joker is no easy feat in the wake of Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance from “The Dark Knight” — just ask Jared Leto from “Suicide Squad” — but Joaquin Phoenix looks like he’ll successfully pull it off in the upcoming “Joker.” The actor excels at playing characters struggling to keep their sanity (see “You Were Never Really Here” and “The Master”), and that’s exactly the arc he finds himself tackling in the Warner Bros. tentpole, co-written and directed by “The Hangover” filmmaker Todd Phillips.
“Joker” is set in 1981 and stars Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a stand-up comedian whose failed attempts to become famous force him into the criminal underworld of Gotham City. The supporting cast includes Robert De Niro as a talk show host who factors into Arthur’s psychological downfall and “Atlanta” and “Deadpool” favorite Zazie Beetz as a single mother who is Arthur’s love interest. Frances Conroy, Bill Camp, and Marc Maron co-star. The film has been described as hewing to the tone of Martin Scorsese’s 1970s gangster movies, including “Mean Streets.”
While “Joker” is a Warner Bros. release, the film is a standalone origin story for the Joker and does not connect to the studio’s larger DC Extended Universe, which includes franchises such as “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman.” Phoenix has described the movie as feeling more like a low-budget indie than a giant comic book movie, while Marc Maron recently shared “Joker” is the “character study of a mentally ill person.” The role brings Phoenix to the comic book movie genre for the first time. The actor previously was in talks to lead Marvel’s “Doctor Strange.” Phoenix’s recent credits include “The Sisters Brothers” and “You Were Never Really Here,” and his religious epic “Mary Magdalene” opens in U.S. theaters April 12.
Warner Bros. will release “Joker” in theaters nationwide October 4. Watch the first official trailer below.