It is my position that every actor in Hollywood is either a Batman or a Joker. It’s a gut thing, not always easy to explain but still full of undeniable truths. You can feel it almost instantly, as soon as you see someone’s face or hear someone’s name. It’s one of the things that worries me about Robert Pattinson playing Batman, because Robert Pattinson is in no way a Batman. He looks like a Batman, sure, what with the jawline and eyes and general vibe of an emo billionaire, so it’s understandable how the casting happened. But, I’m sorry, Robert Pattinson is a Joker. I know this because I read the GQ profile where he blew up his microwave making pasta. Blowing up a microwave while making pasta is maybe the most Joker thing possible.
I’ve discussed this theory before once or twice, in brief, but it warrants a full analysis, if only because I need to type it out to have any hope of getting it out of my head. Again, it’s something that’s almost impossible to quantify. A Batman is someone who is typically a little more strong and quietly intense, and a Joker is usually someone with more chaotic energy, but there are exceptions galore. Further complicating matters: being a Batman or a Joker does not mean someone would make a good Batman or a Joker. Mark Wahlberg might be the most Batman-ass dude alive and he should never play the character, not even once, not even as a joke. Sacha Baron Cohen is a Joker but too much, to the degree that he’d probably want to take it the other way and play the character as a boring suburban zero. Again, hard to explain but impossible to deny. Like all truly fun theories.
I think the best way to make my point here is to give you some examples. Let’s run through a few of the more obvious ones first. Will Smith is a Batman. Michael Shannon is a Joker. Adam Driver and The Rock are both Batmen. Lakeith Stanfield and Shia LeBeouf are both Jokers. Michael B. Jordan is a textbook Batman even though his most famous character, Killmonger from Black Panther, had extreme Joker energy. Chris Evans is a Batman. Chris Pine is a Batman. Paul Giamatti is a Joker for reasons I believe with all my heart but cannot begin to articulate. Johnny Depp is a Joker. Bradley Cooper is such a Batman. James Franco is a Joker. Robert Downey, Jr. is a Batman. Ben Affleck was a Batman even before he played Batman, mostly because of that chin. Matt Damon is a Batman. Every actor from Boston is a Batman, basically.
Some cases are a little trickier. Jake Gyllenhaal looks almost exactly like a Batman but, as he has proven many times but especially in his brief but unhinged performance as Mr. Music in John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, is a Joker from just under that external layer all the way to his core. Donald Glover probably tells people — and believes in his heart — that he’s a Joker even though he’s actually a Batman. Jon Hamm is a Batman who would much rather be a Joker. Timothée Chalamet is a perfect artsy Joker but someone will eventually try to square-peg-round-hole him into being a sensitive Batman. Leonardo DiCaprio is a Batman through and through but he would still insist on playing the Joker to make a point and end up overdoing it. Brad Pitt is a Joker who has been miscast as a Batman his entire life. Will Ferrell is a Batman, somehow, despite a career filled with maniac goofball characters, and his Step Brothers co-star John C. Reilly is a Joker despite handling a number of more reserved dramatic roles. Seth Rogen is a Batman. Jonah Hill is a Joker. Danny McBride is such a Joker that he might be a Batman as a prank.
It works with actresses, too. Charlize Theron is the most Batman woman on the face of the Earth right now. Florence Pugh is a Joker. Gal Gadot is a Batman. Kristen Stewart is a Joker, an apathetic agent of anarchy. Tilda Swinton is such a perfect Joker that now I’m angry she hasn’t played one yet. Emily Blunt is a Batman. Jennifer Lawrence is a Batman even though everyone on Twitter who reads this will probably show up in my mentions to insist that she’s a Joker. Jennifer Lopez is a Batman. Margot Robbie is a Joker, probably, although playing Harley Quinn complicates the issue. Elisabeth Moss is a Joker. Reese Witherspoon is a Batman but not a good one. Regina King is a Batman. Regina Hall is a Joker. Helen Mirren is as much of a Batman as Meryl Streep is a Joker and, yes, I would watch that movie today. Right now. Before I even finish this paragraph.
Sometimes an actor can switch mid-career from a Batman to a Joker or vice versa. The best example is Al Pacino. He started out as a Batman thanks to his role as quiet strongman Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies, but then, possibly around Scent of a Woman in 1992 but definitely by Heat in 1995, he became a raging Joker. Keanu Reeves is an incredible test case because he started as a Joker and then became a Batman for a while after Speed and the Matrix movies but is now somehow teetering back toward being a Joker. Adam Sandler is almost always a Batman but then every 10 years or so he’ll turn in an amazing performance in a movie like Uncut Gems and you’ll find yourself thinking “Is Adam Sandler… actually a Joker?” Denzel Washington had a brief window around Training Day where he could have pivoted to being a Joker but then he made Inside Man and two Equalizers and became a full-on Batman. Walton Goggins is, at present, a Joker, but is one perspective-shifting supporting role away from becoming the most fascinating Batman of all. This is a situation I monitor constantly.
I could go on. And I will, privately, quite possibly forever, usually in the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping but am instead on minute 45 of an internal “Would Jason Statham be more of a Joker if he had hair?” debate. But I’ll stop here for now, as I believe I’ve accomplished the two goals I had in starting this conversation:
- Give everyone a fun game to play with friends the next time you get together
- Justify all the time I’ve spent thinking about this by making it “a work thing”
I feel great about it.