To prepare for his role in Suicide Squad method actor Jared Leto went full Joker.
“I had to be committed beyond belief,” he says. As the third Oscar winner to play The Joker, after Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, he said, “We knew we had to strike new ground. There had been such great work we knew we had to go in a different direction.”
An adaptation of the DC Comics antihero series, Suicide Squad sees supervillains like El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) as well as Leto’s Harlequin of Hate perform perilous black ops missions in return for clemency. Director David Ayer describes it as a “comic-book version of The Dirty Dozen.”
Leto immersed himself in the role to the point his cast mates didn’t know where the actor ended and the Joker began. Jai Courtney said, “Let’s put it this way. I haven’t seen him, since we started working, out-of-character.” Margot Robbie and Scott Eastwood, who is Leto’s friend in real life, both say the actor’s on-set behaviour scared them.
To create his take on the Clown Prince of Crime he mixed-and-matched influences from the Batman comic Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth along with shamans and Mexican cartels. “The Joker is fantastic because there are no rules,” he says.
The only rule Leto subscribed to was to never break out of character, whether he was filming or not. His conduct made headlines when it was reported that he gave the cast and crew some Joker inspired presents.
“He did some bad things, Jared Leto did,” said co-star Viola Davis. “He gave some really horrific gifts.”
Robbie, who plays the baseball bat-wielding villain Harley Quinn, received a love letter and a live rat in a black box. She kept the rodent, which she named Rat Rat, for the duration of the Toronto shoot because, “If Harley got something from Joker, she’d probably cherish it.” When filming was complete Guillermo del Toro adopted the rodent renaming it Vestuniano.
Will Smith, who plays sharpshooter Deadshot, was also sent a letter accompanied by a bullet and Killer Croc portrayer Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje received a “used” Playboy magazine.
Leto’s first day of the shoot gift was an eye opener. He missed the first few days of filming, so to let everyone know he was thinking of them he sent over a dead hog and a video of the Joker.
“Basically, what he said was, ‘Guys, I can’t be there but I want you to know I’m doing my work as hard as you guys,'” Adam Beach said. “The video he showed is in character. It blew our minds away. We realized that day, this is real.”
Viola Davis was spared Leto’s twisted gift giving. “I did not receive any personally, or else I would have got my husband, who was called ‘Headache Ball’ when he played football, and I would have said, ‘Take care of the Joker,’” she said.
Did his methods pay off? Seems so. Ben Affleck describes Leto’s performance as “genius” and Ayer declares, “I think it’s going to be hard for anyone to ever imagine anyone else as the Joker.”
Leto thinks his process was worth it. “Other people can show up and are genius but I did what I needed to do to deliver. And we had a good time with it.”