The DC character the Joker is one of the most iconic villains of all time, appearing in a long list of comics, movies, TV shows, and other media. He's known for several defining characteristics, including his maniacal laugh, painted white skin and dyed green hair, and his knack for psychological manipulation. Over the years, we've seen so many talented actors take on the role of the Clown Prince of Crime, and other stars have nearly played the part. It can't be an easy character to play, but many actors are up for the challenge.
Currently, Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix is playing the Joker in Todd Phillips' movie series, with the sequel, Folie à Deux, scheduled for a theatrical release in Oct. 2024. Academy Award nominee Barry Keoghan also made a brief appearance as the infamous villain in Matt Reeves' The Batman (along with a deleted scene) and fans are hoping he reprises the role in The Batman II, which will hit theaters in Oct. 2025. Needless to say, the Joker is an in-demand character throughout DC projects, and the role is very coveted.
So let's look back at actors who nearly played the Joker and two I think should've been cast.
This Ken was almost the Joker?! It might be difficult to imagine Ryan Gosling as the DC villain, but it was reported that he was eyed for the part for 2016's Suicide Squad. The Wrap reported this in 2014 while sharing the news that Jared Leto had been cast, saying that while Gosling was in consideration for the character, the Academy Award nominee turned down the pitch because he didn't want to sign on for a multi-movie commitment. The publication cited "one insider" with this information.
Gosling himself hasn't commented on this, but it's not hard to believe the actor not wanting to sign onto a multi-movie franchise. Though he's a very popular actor and has starred in blockbusters, he just doesn't really seem like the superhero type. He typically goes for more original roles, and even when he's starring in big-budget movies, like Blade Runner 2049 or Barbie, for example, there's seemingly no expectation for him to reprise the roles.
He might've been best known for his innovative music and iconic fashion, but David Bowie also had a very successful acting career. The late Grammy Award-winning musician most notably starred in the 1986 Jim Henson movie Labyrinth, and also had roles in films like The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Prestige. And in the 1980s, Bowie was reportedly the first choice to play the Joker in a never-made movie by director Ivan Reitman. Bill Murray was supposed to play Batman, while Eddie Murphy allegedly would've played Robin.
Unfortunately, this project went through many developmental changes and was ultimately never made. In an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment in 2022, Murray shed light on the scrapped movie, claiming both he and Murphy wanted to play Batman. "That’s as far as that conversation went," he shared. There's no doubt Bowie would've made a great Joker, but the movie seemed like a mess behind the scenes, making it one that was probably better off canned.