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5 Joaquin Phoenix roles that make him perfect for The Joker

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You may have heard that Joaquin Phoenix is in talks to become the new Joker in a Martin Scorsese-produced origin story. Set in the 1980s and directed by The Hangover's Todd Phillips, it's being positioned as a "gritty crime story" separate from the DC Extended Universe series of movies. That means Jared Leto's interpretation of the character as seen in Suicide Squad is temporarily on hold.

Still, we're here to talk about why Phoenix is perfect for the role of Batman's cackling nemesis. Here are five roles that demonstrate why he'll do an excellent job.

1. Gladiator (2000)

The Joker is of course a villain, so we therefore need an actor who already has bad guy chops. Fortunately Phoenix has form with his role as merciless Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott's Oscar winning epic. As the scheming, whey-faced opposite to Russell Crowe's burly hero Maximus, Phoenix is brilliantly hissable, ordering the death of our hero's wife and child before meeting his suitably grisly end in the gladiatorial arena. If Phoenix' Joker can be half as detestable as this, then we're guaranteed a memorable performance.


2. Walk the Line (2005)

The ability to act unpleasant is one thing. But the Joker needs to convince us as a whole character – he needs to be invested with the sort of nuance and contradiction that keeps us interested. Phoenix's performance as country music legend Johnny Cash demonstrates the kind of complexity that makes him ideal for the Clown Prince of Crime. He plays the 'Walk the Line' singer as a tightly wound ball of raw talent, ambition and barely concealed demons, a captivating turn that was Oscar nominated.


3. I'm Still Here (2010)

Actors who play the Joker tend to disappear inside the part. Heath Ledger famously locked himself inside a hotel room for several weeks while preparing the voice and mannerisms for The Dark Knight. Jared Leto sent dead animals to his Suicide Squad co-stars. But these pale next to Phoenix's elaborate prank for mockumentary I'm Still Here, in which he emerges as a bearded, mumbling version of himself set on establishing a career as a hip hop star. Everyone thought he'd lost the plot but it turned out he was acting all along. We can only hope his Joker performance is as immersive – and we dread to think of the preparation involved...


4. The Master (2012)

Phoenix's first collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson (whose new movie Phantom Thread is out now) reaches genuinely alarming depths of animalistic anger. It's a cryptic, baffling story of one man searching for himself amid the landscape of post-World War II America, with Phoenix's character Freddy coming across as an unpredictable loose cannon barely in charge of his own body language. His scenes opposite Philip Seymour Hoffmann, playing duplicitous mentor figure and cult leader Lancaster Dodd, crackle with tension. If you want to imagine how savage Phoenix's Joker could possibly be, just take a look at the following clip.


5. Inherent Vice (2015)

Of course, we expect the Joker to be scary and unpredictable. But it's important the character also has an eccentric, off-beat air of black comedy. Phoenix demonstrated this in his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice. A woozy, drug-addled story of small-time, mutton-chopped private eye Doc Sportello (Phoenix), it drifts along high on its own utterly weird atmosphere, and the actor digs deep into a character by turns peculiar and weirdly likeable. 

What Joaquin Phoenix roles do you think make him perfect for the Joker? Let us know @Cineworld.