The Batman Director Reveals How the New Joker Differs From Heath Ledger’s

By Aeron Mer Eclarinal Posted:
The Batman, Heath Ledger Joker

After months of waiting, The Batman has finally arrived. The highly-anticipated fresh take on Gotham's Caped Crusader has been making headlines ever since it was announced, and fans across the globe will get the chance to witness Robert Pattinson's DC debut on the big screen. The film, which is directed by Matt Reeves, follows the story of Bruce Wayne's second year as the Dark Knight, where his detective skills are tested against Paul Dano's Riddler.

Outside of Dano and Pattinson, The Batman features a stellar cast that includes the likes of Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, Colin Farrell as the Penguin, Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, and Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth. One mysterious piece in the film's casting puzzle, though, is Barry Keoghan and his unknown role

Originally, Keoghan's role was reported to be a certain Stanley Merkel, leaving many to believe that it could simply be a minor role. However, as the film's release inches closer, Keoghan's character has evolved into something more. 

The actor's brother teased in a social media post that Keoghan could be playing the Joker in the movie, thus adding more fuel to the conversation. 

Now, the film's director has shared more inside information about Keoghan's role in a new interview. 

A Tale of Two Jokers 

Batman, Joker

Warning: The rest of this article contains spoilers for The Batman

The Batman director Matt Reeves sat down with IGN to break down Barry Keoghan's role in the film and the franchise as a whole. 

After confirming that Keoghan is the franchise's future Joker, the veteran filmmaker revealed more details about the character's makeup design. Reeves said that he wanted to create a version that "went right back to the roots," citing that this iteration was inspired by 1928's The Man Who Laughs, which is the original inspiration for the comic book villain: 

"In the scene that you’ll see in the future, you’ll see that we worked on what he looked like. And he’s held in this very suspenseful way, away from you visually. But I wanted to create an iteration of him that felt distinctive and new, but went right back to the roots. So he’s very much out of the Conrad Veidt mold and that idea of the silent film of The Man Who Laughs.” 

Reeves also shared that he opted to give this new Joker a biological condition for his smile, an approach that sets this villain apart from previous iterations such as Heath Ledger's version from 2008's The Dark Knight. The director of The Planet of the Apes explained his thought process for this significant choice for the character: 

“He’s got this congenital disease. He can never stop smiling. And it made Mike and I think about — I was talking about The Elephant Man because I love David Lynch. And I was like, ‘Well, maybe there’s something here where it’s not something where he fell in a vat of chemicals or it’s not the Nolan thing where he has these scars and we don’t know where they came from. What if this is something that he’s been touched by from birth and that he has a congenital disease that refuses to let him stop smiling? And he’s had this very dark reaction to it, and he’s had to spend a life of people looking at him in a certain way and he knows how to get into your head.‘”

In the real world, there is a developmental condition called Angelman syndrome where an individual is afflicted by frequently smiling and laughing. IGN pointed out that Reeves didn't confirm if this is, in fact, the condition that Keoghan's proto-Joker deals with.

Reeves also noted that such a condition made Keoghan's character feel that his "life has been a cruel joke," thus resulting in his eventual proclamation that he is indeed the Joker: 

“So [it’s] this idea of him being very incisive and brilliant and being able to get into your mind and basically having this nihilistic point of view that’s like from his inception, from his birth, life has been a cruel joke on him. And this is his response, and he’s eventually going to declare himself as a clown, declare himself as the Joker. That was the idea.”

Heath Ledger's Joker vs. Barry Keoghan's Inmate

Matt Reeves' new batch of comments further solidifies the idea that he is passionate not just about Batman, but about the entire franchise as a whole.

While Keoghan might have only had one brief scene in The Batman, many feel that the character's appearance is a memorable one. In a way, it makes sense that this proto-Joker is being hidden from the audience during his conversation with the Riddler at the end of the movie. Doing so allows audiences to speculate about the character's design, thus generating more hype for his next appearance. 

Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight is one of the notable versions of the Clown Prince of Crime, with the late actor describing his character as a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." 

Many pointed out that this Joker nailed each mannerism of the Batman villain from the comics, but it seems that Keoghan's version could potentially surpass that, especially now that Reeves has confirmed this version's unique biological condition. 

Given that The Batman is using HBO Max as a medium to expand the franchise, it's possible that Keoghan's proto-Joker will have his own limited series before eventually making a comeback to the big screen. Reeves previously confirmed that a spinoff that is directly tied to Arkham Asylum is in the works, and this could feature the Joker as one of its central characters. 

At this point, it is unknown when this new Joker will make his proper debut in The Batman's contained universe, but the director's in-depth response about the villain implies that he has solid plans for the character moving forward.

The Batman is now playing in theaters worldwide. 

- About The Author: Aeron Mer Eclarinal
Aeron is a news/features writer and Content Lead for The Direct who has been working for the site since March 2020. From writing about the inter-connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to having an extended knowledge about DC TV's Arrowverse, Aeron's expertise has since expanded into the realm of reality TV, K-drama, animated, and live-action shows from Netflix,  Disney+, Prime Video, MGM+, Peacock, Paramount+, and Max. When he isn't writing and watching all things MCU, Aeron is heavily invested with the NBA (go Celtics!) and occasionally watches thrilling matches in the WWE.