There were mixed reactions to Jared Leto’s casting as the Joker in the Suicide Squad movie from the outset. He had some massive clown shoes to fill after legendary performances by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and, of course, Heath Ledger, who perhaps cast the longest shadow of all. Nevertheless, Leto is an actor known for disappearing into challenging roles, so it made sense, and while reaction to the role has been split, he certainly made an impression.
But the boat was really rocked when the first image of Leto as the Joker was unveiled. This wasn’t a dapper “clown prince of crime,” but a hardened criminal, covered in tattoos, and with a metallic grill taking on his trademark grin. As it turns out, this wasn’t an attempt to make the Joker, already one of the most notorious supervillains in history, into a character with more of an edge. Suicide Squad director David Ayer had a very specific vision in mind.
“A lot of it has to do with creating a character with some kind of history and footprint in our world,” Ayer told Yahoo UK back in June. “And not have this sacrosanct being outside of our continuum, our reality. If a guy like him really existed today, where would he come from? How would he do business? Who would he know? What would he look like? In my mind, I took a lot of inspiration from drug lords on Instagram. It’s a great way to understand the lifestyle of a villain.”
You can see some of that “drug lord” vibe in things like Joker’s customized car and gun, for example. But what about those tattoos? “The tattoos tell a very specific story,” he said. “And eventually people will decipher them and understand what’s going on, but obviously they’re contentious, any time you do something new it’s contentious. There’s very specific stories and easter eggs in those tattoos. And even his teeth, there’s an entire story behind that which is absolutely canon. It’s putting his history on his body. This Joker is a little more working class, who I believe could live in our world.”
Empire has shed further light on this in their own chat with David Ayer. “Joker killed Robin and Batman basically smashes his teeth out and locks him up in Arkham Asylum,” Ayer said. “It’s in the asylum where Joker would have done the ‘damaged’ tattoo as a message to Batman saying, ‘You’ve damaged me. I was so beautiful before and now you’ve destroyed my face.’ That’s where the grill comes from.”
So, yeah, in the event that we ever see any “earlier days of Batman and Robin” type stuff in the DCEU, we’ll have a more traditional looking Joker.
Since it was established in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that Batman is a crimefighting veteran with roughly ten years of experience under his belt, it stands to reason that the Joker has been operating nearly as long. I’d like to think that Joker now has metal teeth because Batman knocked them all out after the murder of Robin.
A version of this story first ran in June of 2016. It has been updated with new information.