A lot has been said about the first trailer for Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, which imagines a new origin story for the iconic Batman villain. Plenty of comparisons between the “creepy” footage and classic thrillers like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy have already been made. Phoenix’s look and performance are also drawing comparisons to Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight. But what about Robert De Niro?
The frequent Scorsese collaborator plays late night talk show host Murray Franklin in Joker. While the new trailer offers a brief look at the Johnny Carson-esque figure, however, very little is known about the man — aside from the fact that many can’t help but see De Niro’s involvement as yet another connection to Scorsese’s King of Comedy. In an interview with IndieWire, the actor made this connection crystal clear:
De Niro said that Murray was conceived in the spirit of his earlier role. “There’s a connection, obviously, with the whole thing,” said De Niro, from his Tribeca offices, while doing interviews for the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. “But it’s not as a direct connection as the character I’m playing being Rupert many years later as a host.”
Nevertheless, De Niro said he would have been up for reprising the character in more explicit terms. “If they would’ve proposed that to me, I would’ve said, ‘That’s interesting, maybe we’ll try to do that,'” he said. “But by making this type of film, it is connected in a way, as you’ll see.”
For reference, in King of Comedy, De Niro plays a down-on-his-luck comedian named Rupert Pupkin who loses his mind and kidnaps a popular talk show host, Jerry Lewis’ Jerry Langford, in order to get his foot into Hollywood’s door. The possible similarities between the two movies’ stories are obvious, as the actor admits, but not “direct.” Whereas Pupkin and Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck seem to have a lot in common (low-tier comedians who go crazy), De Niro’s Joker character seems more like Langford.
In other words, De Niro is no longer playing the mediocre male protagonist hellbent on violently rising to the top. That position belongs to Phoenix in Joker, which is due in theaters this October.