This is the transcript of a 15-minute interview I conducted with Jared Leto in the run-up to the release of Suicide Squad (and before anyone had seen it). Bits of it were used for an Empire feature, but this is the whole conversation. For what it’s worth, I quite liked Leto’s Joker.
What sort of conversations did you have with David Ayer going into the project? How much of the method stuff came from him?
I’ll answer the second question first: none. David is really respectful of the way different actors want to work. And every actor works differently. He wasn’t dictating a certain methodology or implementing any sort of specific way of working into the process. But he also has very specific ideas, like the tattoos: they came from David. I think that he was very interested in a modern take on The Joker, and also in something otherworldly. He talked a bit about The Joker being a shaman, and some of the mythical sides to this universe. David wasn’t just the director here: he was also the writer, so he had quite an idea of how he saw this world. What he did very well – and I saw this from afar with the rest of the cast – he created quite a community amongst the other characters. Through a series of experiments and exercises I think he brought them all very close together.
Was it difficult for you to be outside of that?
I think it was actually really perfect for the character and the part. I think it created the separation and the isolation that was necessary and appropriate to the script. The Joker doesn’t spend very much time with the rest of the characters. He has a specific storyline that has much more to do with Harley. So it was actually a really good thing to feel the rest of the cast bonding. It created a really appropriate dynamic.
How does The Joker work with Harley in the film, and how did you work with Margot on the set, given that you were keeping yourself distant? Was your dynamic very different with her?
I think it was. The Joker has quite an attraction to Harley Quinn, and I think it’s something that maybe even he doesn’t understand. In some ways he’s mystified by this connection that he feels with another being. I think that Harley and The Joker, because there was that connection, Margot and I had a really special relationship to the characters and the filming. It was a lot of fun. It wasn’t just darkness. There was a lot of light. The Joker is perversely funny and I appreciated that sense of humour.
Was there anybody that you broke character for, or were you The Joker the whole time?
No, I don’t believe there was. I take it as far as I can go. I did what I needed to do in order to do the very best that I could. I felt an enormous responsibility to the character. There’s been such incredible work done in this world, and on the character of The Joker. It’s been 75 years! So it was really important to me to keep focused. But at the same time we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of laughter on the set. The Joker is great because he says whatever is on his mind. His subtext is on the outside. He almost has Tourette’s syndrome. He’s very inappropriate at times, but also really funny. Maybe I shouldn’t say that about Tourette’s. That might be insensitive. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And I actually I would disagree with myself there anyway, because he doesn’t compulsively say things. He says things because he likes to see how it affects people that are around him. He loves to manipulate. For him, manipulation is a really good time. He loves to strike a chord of fear and uncertainty in people, and he loves to make himself laugh. He’s his own favourite comic. He’s a very funny guy and he has his own sick and twisted humour. So there was a lot of laughter on set, and from my experience the crew of people that worked so hard for six months and more really appreciated it. There was a lot of darkness in the film, but when The Joker was around there was a lot of laughter. He was just so nuts that people had fun watching the madness. It was kind of a bit of comic relief that was needed for people that were working so relentlessly all the time. So that was really fun. The commitment wasn’t some sort of dark, overly serious thing. It was really just to help create a new reality.
Was it hard to let go of him when you were finished?
It was hard. He still pokes his head out sometimes. I keep coming out with a line or two that sounds like something he would say. But he’s incredible. If he was on the phone with you he would probably either hang up the phone or show up at your house and cut your tongue out. I think I said to someone else that he’d probably pick up the phone and say, ‘Fuck you!’ That’s the fun of it. Sometimes you feel like doing that inappropriate thing, but you don’t, because you’re polite and you don’t want to make people feel bad. But he doesn’t really care. I found that really refreshing and intoxicating.
Can you tell us anything about his gang?
Umm, y’know, there’s a lot of very strange people around him. That was David’s creation… You’d have to ask him about them.
You mentioned that he talked about The Joker as a shaman, but he’s also talked about him in terms of drug cartel gangsters…
David told you that? Yeah, we talked a lot about that: people that are so close to violence these days and kind of have the ability to do whatever they want to. For me, I keyed in on some dictators and we talked about drug lords and cartel bosses. It was certainly a world that David was excited about exploring. There’s so much death in that world that it seems to be a place very similar to where The Joker may live. There’s an enormous amount of death and destruction and madness and murder in some of those places around the border. I think that was an appropriate place to look for some inspiration.
Is it right that The Joker’s tattoos tell a story? And what is it?
That’s another David Ayer question!