These Martin Scorsese Favorites Should Join Robert De Niro In ‘Joker’

‘The King of Comedy’ star makes for an intriguingly unlikely addition to Todd Phillips’ comic book flick.
Robert De Niro King Of Comedy
By  · Published on July 24th, 2018

‘The King of Comedy’ star makes for an intriguingly unlikely addition to Todd Phillips’ comic book flick.

Todd Phillips is demanding that we take his DC supervillain origin movie very seriously. What the director of The Hangover movies lacks in gritty cinema credentials, he’s willing to make up for in strong casting decisions. As if early buzz that Martin Scorsese had co-signed his project wasn’t enough, Phillips has roped in Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Robert De Niro for his next venture.

The Hollywood Reporter has the scoop that De Niro is in talks to board Phillips’ period-set, drama-driven Joker. He will feature alongside Phoenix’s titular protagonist and Beetz, who may be playing a potential love interest of the unhinged jester. Conroy (who appeared in Scorsese’s The Aviator and recently played De Niro’s wife in Stone) is also negotiating to appear as the Joker’s mother in the movie, The Wrap has learned.

Should a deal be struck, this will mark De Niro’s first ever foray into the superhero movie genre (no matter if there may be no superheroes on screen — though fans assume Batman will show up for a cameo at the end). He is reportedly eyed to portray a talk show host who plays a vital part in the Joker’s beginnings.

If details of this announcement already bring one of De Niro’s most iconic Scorsese movies to mind, that’s wholly intentional. The King of Comedy has been cited as a big inspiration to Phillips throughout the process of developing Joker. Although not often as revered among other Scorsese greats like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, The King of Comedy presents a darkly comic look at celebrity culture and features one of De Niro’s best performances to date.

As a deranged aspiring comedian who kidnaps his idol in order to satisfy his own fantasies of fame and recognition, De Niro is chilling and unforgettable in The King of Comedy. Meanwhile, in Joker, the tables could inevitably be turned. Now in the shoes of a talk show host, De Niro may very well embody the non-villainous veteran that unwittingly gets in the Joker’s crosshairs. Considering how Joker has been pitched as a 1980s crime thriller that takes influence from Frank Miller’s grim comic “The Killing Joke,” the unnerving prospect of this plot point is bound to fit right in.

When it was first announced that Phillips would be teaming up with cinema royalty like Scorsese to put together their own take on the “Clown Prince of Crime,” Joker didn’t inspire confidence so much as tentative fascination. This tempered reaction was understandable, given that the latest live-action iteration of the character – Jared Leto in Suicide Squad – fell so short.

By the time Phillips’ movie was announced, the Joker’s oversaturation felt palpable. Repeated assurances that the movie would go dark weren’t enough to satiate cynics. Not after the polarizing effects of Zack Snyder’s run in the Worlds of DC.

Still, Joker implores us to remain invested due to strong casting choices. Phoenix is no stranger to strangeness. Beetz is a real coup here; from Atlanta to Deadpool 2, she is definitely going places after stealing the show in hits on the small and big screen alike. De Niro obviously needs no further introduction. His potential inclusion in the project even doubles down on the Scorsese influence that Phillips has long promised.

Whether or not Scorsese is still directly involved in Joker is up in the air. However, instrumental collaborators from Scorsese movies past and forthcoming will be at work behind the scenes on the flick. The presence of Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Richard Baratta (The Wolf of Wall Street and The Irishman) could mean that more of Scorsese’s favorite actors would find a home in this distinctly lowkey version of a superhero movie.

The rumor of Leonardo DiCaprio potentially boarding Joker was floating around ever since the Phillips and Scorsese team-up was first announced. Nevertheless, it remains a fun notion to entertain even though DiCaprio feels like the last actor on earth who’d care about this particular genre. After all, anything is possible now that De Niro is being courted. DiCaprio’s chameleonic efforts make him a good fit for any archetype. His turn in The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely weird enough for Joker territory. But let’s hark back to the cutthroat nature of DiCaprio and Scorsese’s crime films. Gangs of New York and The Departed exemplify just the actor’s ability to hold his own within stacked ensembles in bloodthirsty settings.

Harvey Keitel could be another Scorsese collaborator worth bringing into the fold of Joker, especially due to his key role in the director’s early dramatic work. Keitel helped defined the specific emotionally driven tone of films like Who’s That Knocking at My Door? and Mean Streets. These movies particularly showcase Scorsese’s burgeoning penchant for character-centric stories that capitalize on the realism (and usually disagreeable nature) of their premises. Keitel carries both the unevenness of Who’s That Knocking at My Door? as well the precision of Mean Streets with undeniable nuance and depth.

There’s also Emily Mortimer, who featured in Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Hugo, ought to be included in this little list of recommendations for Joker. Annoyingly enough, not as many women have made repeat appearances in Scorsese movies. However, Mortimer is especially riveting in Shutter Island, playing an off-the-wall character in a film that also happens to draw together some seriously uncanny psychological themes. Of course, the film also has a DiCaprio connection. But for Mortimer’s part, she makes Shutter Island all the more thrilling. All of the elements in her subplot are basically individual staples in any kind of Joker adaptation.

Last but certainly not least: Joe Pesci. The actor who has appeared alongside De Niro as almost a sidekick in Scorsese movies, including Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino, as well as the upcoming The Irishman, might be the most fitting addition to Joker. Who wouldn’t like to see him as an Ed McMahon to De Niro’s talk show host? Or a Tommy DeVito-like gangster working with the Joker? Or maybe an in over his head Gotham City lawyer representing the future supervillain when the Joker still just a “yute”?

Phillips is clearly pulling no punches when it comes to putting together a group of actors worth remembering, but there is a joy in speculating over this particular Joker project. The movie continues to be both a little unbelievable and perennially intriguing with each casting announcement. I still wouldn’t necessarily say that October 4, 2019, couldn’t come fast enough, but Phillips stays on the right track for a memorable movie.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)