There was definitely a period of detachment. I took a pretty deep dive. But this was a unique opportunity and I couldn’t imagine doing it another way. It was fun, playing those psychological games.
—Jared Leto on playing the Joker
Much has been made in the press about Jared Leto’s possible mental state while playing the Joker in Suicide Squad—with talk of him sending rats to co-stars and a therapist needed on-set.
How much of this was real and how much was just movie hype? The elephant in the room seemed to be the fate of the previous actor to take on the role, Heath Ledger.
Was the stress of channeling such a dark character all too much for Leto as well?
Then again, Jared Leto has had far more experience than the younger Ledger in inhabiting edgy roles. Perhaps he had built up, to an extent, an “anti-body” to it—in a manner similar to Jack Nicholson, who has emerged from such formidable characters as Joker, Jack Torrance and the Devil relatively unscathed.
The connection between Leto and Ledger is not only the Joker, but the actor Christian “Batman” Bale, whom the former famously faced-off against in American Psycho.
In this crucial scene between “Batman’s” Bateman and Leto’s Paul Allen, we have the ultimate showdown of the Caped Crusader versus the Clown Prince Of Crime, before the characters were even a glimmer in each other’s eye:
Both Bale and Leto are famous for their method-acting and punishing their bodies in preparation for roles…losing and gaining great amounts of weight:
In a Hollywood dominated by CGI and realistic muscular body-armor, these two actors still insist on physically embodying their characters, forcing their flesh to literally transform. They are subconsciously…or to a degree, perhaps even consciously…choosing to turn their performances into shamanic acts through which the populace might process and exorcise their own demons.
In a way, you can say that Bale/Leto are “mirror images” of each other, which not only echoes the Batman/Joker dichotomy (as alluded to in The Killing Joke and deeply underlined by the 1989 Batman movie) but illuminates the context of the American Psycho scene in question.
Paul Allen is who Patrick Bateman wishes he could be…Allen can get the dinner reservations and perfect business cards Bateman/Batman longs for. Both Allen and Bateman look similar to each other, and even their names resemble each other. So Bateman, deep in his feelings of inadequacy, kills Allen—his mirror image.
The “mirror image” theme comes up again in the 30 Seconds To Mars video “The Kill,” as Leto resonates yet another Batman connection…playing Joker Jack Nicholson’s role in a “remake” of The Shining.
In the video, Leto confronts his mirror image—literally, himself:
And we get the mirror-image motif one more time in Fight Club, in which Leto, as “Angel Face,” looks almost like a hyper-perfect version of Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden:
As in American Psycho, the mirror must be shattered: Beaten-up and newly-ugly, he is no longer the “reflection,” the “double.”
He has been transformed into a new being, as Leto himself transforms into new beings—away from his mainstream “perfect” looks—in order to play various movie characters. In a similar manner, he metamorphosizes himself into John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman—and renders himself almost completely unrecognizable—in the movie Chapter 27…
The key in all of this is to “escape” the man in the mirror—to obliterate the Self and become a wholly new individual. Which brings us to his role as the Joker in Suicide Squad. Leto brings us our first glimpse of his Joker not in the official press photo, but this “selfie”-type shot on Snapchat…a reveal that looks as if he is peering into a mirror:
This echoes the classic Joker “reveal” in the comics and movies, where he first realizes he is scarred:
Again: has Leto’s constant willingness to confront the Dark Side—as in the cases of Nicholson and Bale—allowed him to “flirt” with this most explosive of movie roles and come out relatively unharmed? And is the secret to that resilience the act—both ritualistically portrayed on-screen, and also playing out in real-life—of obliterating the Self, the Ego?
As he passes from one intense role to the next, does he cast the husk of the previously-embodied identity off as easily as a change of hair color—or are these transitions instead a far messier affair, past lives forcibly removed and discarded like the diseased arm in Requiem For A Dream?
Perhaps the key is to be proactive with playing all those psychological games…so the demons never fully have the upper hand.