‘Joker’ Director Breaks Down The Difference Between Heath Ledger’s And Joaquin Phoenix’s Versions


Warner Bros.

I’ll be the first to admit that when news came out that the director of The Hangover III was making an “origin story” about the Joker, I had very little faith in the project.

Not only has Warner Bros’ track record with DC Comics properties been utterly shit in recent years, but an origin story about a character who infamously has no discernible origin just seemed like an idea destined for disaster.

Luckily, it appears I couldn’t have been more wrong, as not only is Joker receiving rave reviews but is even being heralded as a game-changer in the comic book movie industry.

Naturally, though, no matter how successful the film is or how beloved Joaquin Phoenix’s performance may be, it was obviously going to be compared to Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight (sidebar: I LOVE that everyone essentially ignores the existence of Jared Leto’s downright awful take on the character).

However, according to Joker director Todd Phillips, while it may be the same renowned character, Ledger’s and Phoenix’s versions are actually quite different.

Speaking at the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Phillips explained the major differences between Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker and Joaquin Phoenix’s updated version:

“I don’t think it was this Joker’s goal to watch the world burn. This Joker had an entirely different goal in mind. In the beginning of the movie he’s sitting here doing this (forcing himself to smile and frown) in the very first scene, and it’s a guy searching for identity,” Phillips said.

“I think he becomes, mistakenly, a symbol, and really what he was looking for was adulation. He was never looking for the world to burn, this Joker. As for the past ones, that’s a different thing. But our guy, that wasn’t his goal.”

“He thought he was put here on this Earth to make people laugh and bring joy to the world, and he made a few bad decisions along the way, but no, his goal was not that. I think he became a mistaken leader, so to speak, or a symbol. Even (Robert) De Niro, (who plays) Murray (Franklin), says it to him. And Arthur says, ‘No, I’m not political.’ He just didn’t get what he was creating.”

Given that Ledger’s Joker was more purposefully anarchistic than most portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime, it should come as no surprise that Phoenix’s version is more personal and apolitical.

What should come as a surprise, though — considering Warner Bros’ recent DC projects — is the early reception to Joker, which received an eight-minute standing ovation at its Venice Film Festival premiere. It’s been widely lauded by critics thus far, as it currently has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

‘Joker’ will be released in theaters in the United States on Friday, October 4.


Eric is a New York City-based writer who still isn’t sure how he’s allowed to have this much fun for a living and will tell anyone who listens that Gotham City is canonically in New Jersey. Contact him: eric@brobible.com.

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