'Suicide Squad' Star Jared Leto on Following Heath Ledger as the Joker

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Jared Leto in ‘Suicide Squad’ (Warner Bros.)

Of all of Suicide Squad’s supervillains, none is more iconic than the Joker. Given that the character was previously embodied by Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, it may have also been the most difficult role to pull off. And according to the man who took on that task, Jared Leto, the only reason he agreed to do so was because of the Clown Prince of Crime’s long, multiple-incarnation history.

In a new, lengthy Rolling Stone profile, Leto praises Ledger’s Joker as “an impeccable, perfect performance… It’s one of the best performances ever in cinema. I had met Heath before. I didn’t know him well, but he was a beautiful person.” (Ledger was only 28 when he died of an accidental drug overdose in 2008.) Nonetheless, the fact that so many others had also put their spin on the ghoulish character — including, memorably, Jack Nicholson in the 1989 Batman — helped convince Leto that playing the part was a viable option.

“I think had it only been portrayed by Heath and it was never a comic book, maybe I would have felt that would be inappropriate. But I thought that given the history, it was OK. The good thing about other people having done this is that you know what direction not to head in.“

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Heath Ledger and Christian Bale in ‘The Dark Knight’ (Everett)

To get into the headspace of Batman’s most famous nemesis, as well as to provide his own unique spin on the bad guy, Leto says that he immersed himself in copious footage of brutality.

"The Joker is incredibly comfortable with acts of violence. I was watching real violence, consuming that. There’s a lot you can learn from seeing it. Not every act of violence is committed with frenzy, either. I remember learning that. People can be calm. They’ve made their choice and go and do something, and it’s not in a frenzy. It’s methodical and sometimes even hypnotic and deliberate.”

It’s not the first time Leto has revealed details about his twisted process. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly earlier this year, the 44-year-old actor confessed that he had spent face-to-face time with some legitimately insane individuals.

“I did meet with people that were experts, doctors, psychiatrists that dealt with psychopaths and people who had committed horrendous crimes, and then I spent some time with those people themselves, people who have been institutionalized for great periods of time. I guess when you take on a role, any role, you become part detective, part writer, and for me that’s my favorite time of the entire process, the discovering, the uncovering, and the building of a character.”

To read more about Leto’s role as the Joker — for which he stayed in character throughout production and gave his castmates all manner of gruesome gifts — as well as his unorthodox approach to his acting and music career, check out Rolling Stone’s feature here.

Suicide Squad debuts on Aug. 5.

Watch Leto talk about Suicide Squad director David Ayer: