Everything from this point on contains spoilers for The Batman, so consider yourself warned.
When Barry Keoghan was first announced to have joined the cast of The Batman, he was named as Stanley Merkel. In what turned out to be an ingenious slice of misdirection, the Gotham City cop has a comic book history of his own with connections to Jim Gordon, so it seemed to be fairly innocuous stuff.
However, the closer we got to release, the more rumors claiming the Eternals star was actually playing the Joker began to gather steam. Having his part leaked as “Unseen Arkham Prisoner” effectively confirmed it, and we were left with no doubts as to who Keoghan was when he compared himself to a clown and cackled maniacally during his single scene in the movie.
So far on the big screen, the Clown Prince of Crime has exclusively been the domain of Academy Award-winning actors. Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto had theirs before they donned the makeup, while Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix both won for their equally iconic performances.
Speaking to Variety, Reeves admitted that anyone who follows in those footsteps is under incredible pressure, but it was Keoghan’s fearlessness that ended up singling him out as the ideal choice.
“We made a really concerted effort to make this different from the other Batman movies, because we needed to. It’s something to think about with the Joker. It’s been done well, a number of times. I said to Barry, right from the beginning, ‘Look, I don’t know where this is going to go. I can’t promise that it’ll even ever come back. I don’t know.’ And I still feel that way now. I’m not sure exactly. I was looking not only for somebody who was a good actor, but somebody who was fearless.
Joaquin, as we were making the movie, had just won the Oscar. They already thought you can’t do the Joker again after Heath Ledger. And then Joaquin comes in. So I can imagine an actor going like, ‘There’s nowhere to go but down!’. Barry was full in. That, along with the fact that I loved him as an actor, was the deciding factor. And we did it.”
Reeves has denied that Keoghan’s sequel-baiting guest spot was designed as such, but with multiple HBO Max spinoffs and plans already afoot for a Robert Pattinson trilogy, The Batman universe’s Joker is guaranteed to become a larger presence as the BatVerse continues to expand.