How’s this for a bit of superhero news: Three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix is in talks to play The Joker in a standalone DC movie for Warner Bros. Yes indeed, Variety reports that the Inherent Vice star has entered talks to lead the untitled Joker origin movie co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, the filmmaker behind War Dogs and The Hangover trilogy. Per the trade, Phoenix was Phillips’ top choice to star and after thinking it over, the actor has agreed to the role. Although now studio negotiations must begin, so this is far from a done deal.
Indeed, talks fell apart with Phoenix’s last brush with the superhero genre. The actor was in extensive talks to lead Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange for director Scott Derrickson, but he ended up backing out over concerns about the extensive press requirements that come with signing on to a Marvel movie. Although given Phoenix’s caliber and the position Warner Bros. is in with its DC properties, one imagines concessions could definitely made for the press-shy actor as a stipulation of signing onto this project.
We first learned of Phillips’ Joker movie last year, when word broke that a new banner was being formed at Warner Bros. to created DC Comics adaptations that would exist outside the continuity of the DC Extended Universe. This is how Jared Leto can still reprise his role as The Joker in Suicide Squad 2 without infringing upon this project, and how Phillips is able to lure actors of Phoenix’s caliber. Since these movies aren’t necessarily made to be franchises but instead ambitious one-offs, Phoenix may not have to sign an extensive contract that ties him to franchise obligations for years on end.
Leonardo DiCaprio was the first actor approached for this role, but that casting didn’t work out. The take for this Joker origin story is a 1980s-set gritty crime drama, more in the vein of Taxi Driver than a superhero movie. The story will delve into “what it took for the Joker to become a mastermind criminal.”
While reports swirled that Martin Scorsese was in talks to produce this film, he’s not mentioned in Variety’s most recent story so one imagines that’s either still in the works or won’t be panning out. Regardless, Scott Silver working with Phillips as co-writer on what has now become one of the most interesting DC projects Warner Bros. currently has in the works.
As for Phoenix, he has the Gus Van Sant dramedy Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, the critically hailed thriller You Were Never Really Here, and the in-limbo Weinstein Company drama Mary Magdalene—in which he plays Jesus—in the can right now.
Other “standalone” DC movies have yet to be announced, but in the DCEU Warner Bros. has Shazam! currently filming, Aquaman in the can, and Suicide Squad 2, Flashpoint, and Wonder Woman 2 in active development to start production within the next year or so. But if this casting works out, it’s quite possible Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker movie might eclipse them all.