Just how unhappy was Jared Leto over Joker? As Todd Phillips’ dark take on the villain looks likely to gross more than $700 million worldwide, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Leto’s frustration that Warner Bros. was moving ahead with the Phillips project was so great early on that he tried to throttle the rival Joker in its cradle.
According to sources familiar with Leto’s behavior, when the Oscar-winning actor learned of the Phillips project, he not only complained bitterly to his agents at CAA, who also represent Phillips, but asked his music manager, Irving Azoff, to call the leader of Warners' parent company (it’s unclear whether it was Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes or AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, depending on the timing). The idea was to get Warners to kill the Phillips film.
A source in Leto’s camp denies that the actor made this request, and Azoff declined to comment. Azoff and Leto have since parted ways.
THR previously reported that the 47-year-old star, who played the grinning crime lord in 2016's Suicide Squad, thought Warners had strung him along with promises of his own Joker stand-alone film, only to greenlight the Phillips version with Joaquin Phoenix instead. Ironically, Warners thought the Phillips project would be a small movie and, nervous about its dark tone, greenlit the pic reluctantly, with a small budget that some at the studio hoped would discourage Phillips from making it.
Warners declined to comment.
Leto had put a lot of effort into his Suicide Squad version of the DC villain, with rotting teeth, bloodshot eyes and slicked-back neon green hair. He spent months getting into character and terrifying his castmates with “gifts” such as a live rat to Harley Quinn actress Margot Robbie, bullets to Deadshot actor Will Smith and a dead pig to the entire cast during rehearsal.
It turns out that the studio wasn’t thrilled with these efforts, says a source with knowledge of the situation. And it seems the director wasn’t that pleased with the resulting performance: In the final cut of David Ayer’s ensemble antihero movie, Leto’s Joker got only about 10 minutes of screen time. While promoting the project, Leto — who had been billed as a lead character — spoke to media about how much footage of his Joker had been cut.
“In his defense, it was never really his movie, but his attempt to 'invent' a place for himself in it backfired,” says a source involved in the situation.
Leto's representative says the actor is still happily working with Warner Bros. and notes that he's currently shooting John Lee Hancock’s Little Things, starring alongside Rami Malek and Denzel Washington, for the studio.
Meanwhile, Leto’s unhappiness over the Phillips project seems to have helped end an already strained relationship between Leto and CAA. Sources say the actor felt his agents should have told him about the Phillips project earlier and fought harder for his version of Joker. Sources say Leto told his agents that they should stop the rival project, arguing that he wasn’t being treated properly as an Oscar winner (for Dallas Buyers Club). But a person with first-hand knowledge of the situation contends that by then, Leto had burned through four different teams of agents at CAA and there was little love for the actor there.
Leto left CAA for rival WME over the summer. A source in Leto’s camp says the rocker-actor had been looking to make a switch and denies that the competing Joker movies factored into his decision.
At this point, sources say Leto’s days as the Joker likely are over. He will not reprise the role for Warners' upcoming DC movies Birds of Prey (a spinoff centered on Robbie's Harley Quinn) or in James Gunn's The Suicide Squad, due out in 2021. Says one person involved in the situation: "How do you play the Joker you established following [Phoenix]? It kind of ends his Joker run.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.