When Robert De Niro took on the role of a young Don Corleone, his approach to the character was quite different than that of Marlon Brando. Yet both actors won an Oscar for portraying the same character. And yet when you think of Don Corleone, the only guy that comes to mind is Marlon Brando.
For example, RDJ will always be Iron Man and Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada will always be Meryl Streep.
But when you think about Joker and all the great actors who have portrayed the character, Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and Joaquin Phoenix, and all you can still picture is the Joker.
The DC comics character has long been portrayed on screen and in the comics at the discretion of the actors, directors, and the writers.
Mostly because the Joker doesn't really have an origin story. There is a method to his madness but the character operates at such a degree of super sanity that it can't be comprehended by laymen. Because he is so far ahead of the curve that society barely recognises him.
He is a madman. He is ruthless. He is an agent of chaos. He is an antidote to the subjective conscience of society.
The character of Joker is an empty canvas with the only constant being the smile, and the artist can choose to draw it any way he likes.
Joker is the Hamlet of villains. Every actor has interpreted it differently.
Back in the 60s when Adam West was Batman, Cesar Romero brought a lot of the comic book to the character, making him cartoonish, so to speak. But it worked. His clown was quirky and distinctive, something that nobody had ever seen on screen before at the time.
And even though Romero did quite a few movies in his long career, the Joker is the character he will always be remembered for.
Similarly, Mark Hamill, fresh off the success of Star Wars took over the character in the animated version and voiced him for a very long time in Batman: The Animated Series.
Hamill's portrayal of the Joker was nothing sort of legendary. While, much had to do with how brilliantly the episodes were written, Hamill's voice made us kids hide under our beds.
Ironically, this Joker managed to replace Darth Vader in our minds as evil in a corporeal form. Hamill's voice had a tempo of madness about it, which made the character even more terrorising, even though the show was meant for children.
And for more than a decade, Hamill's voice was the only Joker we knew, even though Jack Nicholson's version of Joker had released a few years before this series.
Speaking of which, director Tim Burton used Nicholson's menacing presence to its complete use when he wrote the Joker as a menacingly malevolent figure, the clown prince of crime.
Nicholson played Joker the way its creators Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson had meant it to be played - a remorseless serial killer incapable of empathy.
While the Joker had already become one of the most popular villains in pop culture by this time, the duo of Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger changed the game with The Dark Knight.
Much has been spoken about the well-documented process Ledger went through to portray the anarchist Joker in the film. So we have all heard stories about how used to lock himself in a room and try different things with the character.
But what made his version truly special was that Ledger managed to capture the psyche of the Joker at heart.
And you could see it in his performance. He was unpredictable, menacing and funny. He was the true adversary to Batman.
Because he didn't engage Batman in a fistfight. He would have lost, as he did. His was fascinated by the Bat and his morals that made him save a city that truly hated and feared him.
TDK's Batman and Joker were essentially the same people, locked in an insane battle of ideologies. They were both a product of the dark underbelly of Gotham. They lived in the shadows. The only difference that truly existed was that the Joker believed that the city had no conscience, with or without either of them.
He wanted to introduce anarchy into a system that lived under the terror of Batman. He wanted to bring out a better class of criminals.
From his clicking of the tongue to his growling voice, to his uncomfortable twitches, Ledger personified lunacy with terrifying authenticity.
And so he is going to remain the greatest madman that ever lived until someone else replaces him, with, something different, a different mould, with another story to tell.
Jared Leto could have been that man. I mean, he went to extraordinary lengths to get into the character's skin. But all he could manage was getting under his castmates' skin and adapt the quirks of the character, and just the quirks.
It would be a massive understatement to say that people were divided over the character. But the fact that an actor like him felt the need to do what he did, makes you understand the complexity of the character.
Now, the new Joker movie hasn't released yet, but from the reactions it has been receiving at film festivals, one can never know.
Have a look at some of the reactions for yourself.
#JokerMovie is a brilliant, terrifying character study. Joaquin Phoenix will haunt you with a performance for the ages, letting you see and feel the darkness within #Joker from head to toe. It's disturbing because it's supposed to be, leaving you uncomfortable yet fascinated. pic.twitter.com/AQbpoKlcFs— Sean Gerber (@MrSeanGerber) August 31, 2019
#JokerMovie is wild, crazy, and intense, and I was left speechless by the end of the movie. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a spine-chilling performance. Director Todd Phillips has done to the Joker what Nolan has done to Batman by crafting an origin story that feels very real. pic.twitter.com/PabUSYJpPo— John Spartan Nguyen (@JohnSpartan300) August 31, 2019
I saw #Joker — and it is unlike anything before it. The movie is dark, thrilling, and chilling. An insane masterpiece.— Brandon Davis (@BrandonDavisBD) August 31, 2019
The movie absolutely transcends being a comic book film and acts as a character study which, at times, will make audiences uncomfortable in wild ways. 10/10 pic.twitter.com/2B2mCkzbZy
#JOKER will change superhero cinema forever. Sure to be controversial. The film is a literal riot. I just flipped a car with two of the guys from IndieWire. A Guardian reviewer fell down and we all kept running. I stepped on his hand. REALLY impressed with Todd Phillips— Ben Mekler (@benmekler) August 31, 2019
So here's to the clown prince of crime! Joker releases in theatres on the 4th of October, 2019.