It appears that Warner Bros. may have had a bit of an ulterior motive in courting Martin Scorsese to produce a Joker origin story movie for the studio. Indeed, most were surprised last week to hear that WB is developing a Joker origin story movie that will be unconnected to the DCEU, featuring a different actor in the lead role and potentially launching a brand new line of one-off DC movies that do not take place in the DCEU. Todd Phillips, the filmmaker behind The Hangover trilogy and War Dogs, is writing the screenplay and intends to direct, but the heavy hitter in this news was Scorsese, who has been linked to the project as a potential producer. His deal is far from done, and it’s possible he doesn’t sign on in the end, but now a new report sheds some light on one big reason Scorsese was courted in the first place: Leonardo DiCaprio.
Yes indeed, THR reports that Warner Bros.’ top choice to play The Joker in this untitled gritty origin story movie is the Oscar-winning The Revenant actor. As we all know, DiCaprio has a strong relationship with Scorsese, and so bringing the Silence filmmaker into the fold not only adds his talents to the mix, but potentially (hopefully, on WB’s part) provides an “in” to finally get DiCaprio to star in a comic book movie.
DiCaprio has been a major part of the WB family for years, but although he’s one of the biggest actors on the planet, he has thus far eschewed the superhero genre in favor of original projects and working with acclaimed filmmakers. There’s no offer in front of DiCaprio yet, and Scorsese’s deal is not closed, so THR does make mention that the chances of DiCaprio actually saying “yes” to this could be “slim to none.” Still, WB is trying, and if they don’t land DiCaprio they still want an A-list star to topline this Joker movie—they’re not looking for a young upstart.
The conceit of this Joker film is to paint the clown prince as a gritty crime boss in a Scorsese-esque Gotham underworld, with Taxi Driver having been bandied about as a specific influence. With this new line of non-DCEU DC films, for which Joker could be the first out of the gate, Warner Bros. aims to bring in top-tier filmmakers and performers who may not normally go for the “superhero movie” genre due to its limitations and need to appeal to a mass audience. Clearly by going after DiCaprio WB is sending a message—they want to make a film here, with no franchise strings attached. As I argued in my editorial, that’s one of the strongest aspects of this whole non-DCEU idea.
Curiously, THR notes that Jared Leto—who was cast as Joker in Suicide Squad and is set to reprise the role in Suicide Squad 2 and a developing Joker/Harley Quinn movie opposite Margot Robbie—was none too pleased by this Joker origin story news, especially considering he won’t be in it. That’s one potential downside to this non-DCEU label, that WB could ruffle some feathers of its talent that is committed to multiple DC movies, but is then excluded from the “bold” and “ambitious” take on the character in this new DC arm.
So will DiCaprio bite? My instincts say no. Again, Scorsese’s deal is far from over, and at the end of the day it’s possible he simply takes a mostly hands-off producer role, so it’s not like DiCaprio would be working with Scorsese as a director here. And DiCaprio has been offered every superhero movie under the sun I assure you, so if he hasn’t jumped into the genre yet, it just feels a bit unlikely that he’d do so now, with a Joker origin movie no less. But never say never I suppose, and regardless, this news confirms that WB is aiming very high for the casting of this one. If DiCaprio doesn’t sign on, expect another big name instead.