Rumor: DC’s Joker origin movie targeting Robert De Niro for supporting role

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Robert De Niro at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Michael Zorn/Invision

Over the past few years, Marvel has fully eclipsed DC as the leading peddler of superhero-related television shows and movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown to include the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, not to mention the five Marvel series currently on Netflix.

It looks like DC is finally starting to fight back, though. A decade after Heath Ledger’s incredible turn as the Joker, it looks like the iconic Batman baddie will be making his next return to the silver screen (if you can pretend Suicide Squad never happened), with Joaquin Phoenix starring as the Crown Prince of Crime. Todd Phillips (known for directing comedies like the Hangover trilogy) will write and direct, and Martin Scorsese may be involved in a producer role of some capacity.

The Scorsese effect

Rumors are flying hard and fast around the film right now, and one could be big if it turns out to be true. Per That Hashtag Show — not the most reliable source, to be clear, so take this with several grains of salt — Phillips wants Robert De Niro to play a supporting character in the movie. De Niro has a lengthy history of collaboration with Scorsese, so if Marty is really attached as a producer, it could happen.

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Actor Martin Scoresese

The rumor is part of a big info drop about characters in the film; THS also reports that Phillips and casting director Shayna Markowitz have released details about eight characters. The details are vague — probably to prevent fans from reading too much into the movie’s plot — but they’ve all got names and ages, and some have lengthier descriptions. The character De Niro is associated with, Murray Franklin, is the most anonymous of the bunch, described simply as “Male (65-75), Caucasian.” De Niro, 74, certainly fits the bill there.

Where’s Juliet?

According to rumors from That Hashtag Show, the Joker stand-alone film — planned as an origin story, perhaps set in the 1980s — is slated to begin shooting in September, with the working title of Romeo. The name could refer to the Joker’s home life before he became the villain we all love to hate, and the film might even be set in an alternate universe (which could be called DC Dark or DC Black), clearing up some confusion regarding both Phoenix and Jared Leto playing the Joker concurrently.

Several Hollywood heavyweights have joined the project’s production crew, including cinematographer — and former Phillips collaborator —

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Cinematographer Lawrence Sher

(War Dogs), designer Mark Friedberg (Selma), and casting director Shayna Markowitz (Ocean’s 8), who hopes to have the cast filled out by the end of the summer.

As with the above De Niro news, remember that these are strictly rumors, and nothing has been confirmed.

No Leo? No problem

A report from Variety suggests that Leonardo DiCaprio is out of the running for the Joker film, due to his decision to take a role in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Charles Manson flick. So, what do you do if you’re director Todd Phillips?  Shift focus to another Hollywood legend: Joaquin Phoenix (He Won’t Get Far on Foot).

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[Image courtesy of Everett Collection/Shutterstock]

Apparently, Phoenix is “in talks” to play the deranged clown criminal, though studio negotiations have not yet officially begun; sources say the actor has agreed to the role “after thinking it over.” Notably, the Variety article doesn’t mention Scorsese’s name at all, so it’s difficult to say whether he plans to stay on board with DiCaprio out of the picture.

This isn’t the first time Phoenix has been considered for a comic book role; reportedly, he turned down the lead in Marvel’s Doctor Strange before Benedict Cumberbatch got the nod, and Warner Bros. reportedly also wanted him as Lex Luthor for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (the role went to Jesse Eisenberg).

Shooting for the stars

Some were confused when Scorsese was announced as part of the project — why would such a legendary director latch on to one of Hollywood’s numerous superhero reboots? — but now it looks like Warner Bros. may have included Scorsese in hopes of nabbing DiCaprio for the lead role, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

This is an interesting development, considering early reports suggested that Warner Bros. was hoping to find a younger actor for the role, to portray the villain in his formative years. It’s possible the movie ends up covering different parts of the Joker’s life, though it seems counterintuitive to pursue a guy like DiCaprio without expecting him to spend most of the movie on-screen.

The Joker … before he was The Joker?

Earlier this month, Deadline reported that the Joker will be getting the origin story treatment, with Todd Phillips (Old School) and Scott Silver (8 Mile) as screenwriters. Warner Bros. (which owns the film rights to DC Comics) has already created its own shared universe for its characters, which included Suicide Squad, alongside Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the forthcoming Justice League.

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Jared Leto in Suicide Squad

Given that Jared Leto (Blade Runner 2049) is playing the Joker in the Suicide Squad sequel and a new Joker/Harley Quinn spinoff, it looks like whichever actor lands the Joker gig in the stand-alone film will not be part of that universe. A similar situation is going on with the upcoming Venom movie (which will star Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed) — since Sony signed an agreement to allow Spider-Man into the MCU, Venom (a Spider-Man comics character) will have to exist in his own little universe.

Deadline also reported that the Joker film will eschew the traditional superhero trappings in favor of a more gritty, 1980s Scorsese-style movie (reminiscent of classics like Taxi Driver). Work has already begun on the script, but the film doesn’t have a director yet and is not on any sort of specific schedule for now.

Phillips most recently wrote and directed 2016’s War Dogs, but his filmography includes mostly comedy films. Silver, on the other hand, worked on The Fighter and The Finest Hours in a writing capacity. Scorsese’s last project was Silence, a historical drama starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.

Updated on June 18: Added rumors surrounding Robert De Niro.