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‘Deadpool 2’ Breakout Zazie Beetz Joins Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Joker’

The DC villain origin movie is lucky to have her. 
By  · Published on July 20th, 2018

The DC villain origin movie is lucky to have her.

Nobody really wants an origin movie about The Joker. But Warner Bros. is sure we’ll like one anyway. Despite the ridiculous idea to announce a separate, standalone feature focused on the iconic DC Comics villain, even while another version of the character is running around the DC Extended Universe franchise, we keep getting reasons to look forward to Joker. Or at the very least be curious.

First, they teased with the supposed involvement of Martin Scorsese, whose own gritty New York City crime films (such as Taxi Driver) as well as his The King of Comedy were inspirations for the project. Now it’s unclear if Scorsese is actually going to be a credited producer on Joker, but his regular partners Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Richard Baratta (both collaborators on The Wolf of Wall Street and the upcoming The Irishman) are on board. Their record is reputable enough.

Next, there was the casting of Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. That’s right, the prestigious actor lately known for working with auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson, Lynne Ramsay, and Gus Van Sant and not so much a tentpole movie star, is set to put on the makeup and creepily happy face to play a famous comic book character. The guy who was teased for Doctor Strange before passing on that superhero movie seemed unlikely to commit.

But Phoenix is signed on, and he thinks the Joker “could be an interesting character” to play, according to a Fandango interview, while seeing this thing “as any other movie.” That’s intriguing. He’ll approach the part of the Clown Prince of Gotham City the same as he’d approach the roles of Abe Lucas or Johnny Cash or Jesus. Phoenix playing the Joker isn’t any weirder than the time he pranked the world into thinking he retired from acting to become a rapper all for a documentary.

Could we non-diehard DC fans avoid Joker, still? We can easily opt out of watching Phoenix in a Woody Allen movie, and we can skip his portrayal of John Callahan, so we can pass on this little diversion, too. Well, every time I think I’ve managed to push this project away as something possibly decent that, for now, I’m not totally excited about, Warner Bros. pulls me back in. This week it’s with the casting of Zazie Beetz.

The Hollywood Reporter got the scoop that the Atlanta regular and Deadpool 2 breakout is in negotiations to join Joker in the part of a single mother who “catches the interest” of the man who will become the maniacal title character. That sounds like a love interest to me, but I hope there’s a lot more to the part than that. Joker will apparently be done as a dark, character-driven drama more than a comic book movie, so Beetz’s role may have weight.

The casting is interesting because on paper it looks like the actress is quickly jumping to another major comic book brand franchise after stealing scenes in the Marvel-based X-Men universe entry Deadpool 2. But that super-anti-hero sequel and Joker seem to have nothing in common. Deadpool 2 is bright and broadly comedic, and Beetz’s portrayal of the luck-powered Domino is an absolute joy, charming her way through banter and Rube Goldbergian action sequences.

Joker sounds almost, in comparison, like she’s following up the silliness with an awards-ready drama (thanks to the newly announced fall release date, there’s already talk among the movie news media about its Academy Awards potential). Beetz has shown more of a dramatic side on Atlanta and she’ll have more opportunities to show her range in the upcoming truth-based movies Pale Blue Dot and Against All Enemies and Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird. Joker could still prove to be one of her greatest challenges.

Not that we’ve seen anything of too much heaviness from Joker director Todd Phillips, best known for the Hangover trilogy and Old School. But working with screenwriter Scott Silver, who received an Oscar nomination for The Fighter, is promising for the level of seriousness we can anticipate. The only real disappointment for the movie’s caliber might be that Frances McDormand reportedly dismissed the project by passing on playing the role of Phoenix’s Joker’s mother.

We’ll be hearing about some other big name for that part soon, though, as the movie is set to begin filming in a couple months. Warner Bros. will release Joker in just over a year, on October 4, 2019.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.