The Joker's long past and different interpretations helped Leto's decision to take the role

Jared Leto
Credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

Jared Leto knows he has some big shoes to fill when it comes to playing The Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad film.

The last actor to portray the comic book villian was Heath Ledger, whose iconic performance in The Dark Knight won him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Leto says he was blown away by Ledger’s take on the character.

“Heath did an impeccable, perfect performance as the Joker,” the 44-year-old actor said. “It’s one of the best performances ever in cinema. I had met Heath before. I didn’t know him well, but he was a beautiful person.”

Leto, who appears shirtless on the cover of Rolling Stone’s August 11 issue, was hesitant about following in Ledger’s legacy, but the Joker’s long past – including a portrayal by Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s voice-over work in Batman: The Animated Series – helped him accept the role.

“I think had it only been portrayed by Heath and it was never a comic book, maybe I would have felt that would be inappropriate,” Leto said. “But I thought that given the history, it was OK. The good thing about other people having done this is that you know what direction not to head in.”

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After playing a devious villain and a transgender prostitute, a role in Dallas Buyers Club that won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, it’s easy to forget that Leto’s breakout role was a stereotypical high school jock in My So-Called Life.

When asked about his role as Jordan Catalano being a “lust object,” a role usually constructed for women, Leto tells the magazine, “Oh yeah! It was about time. I’m happy to have taken that, uh, baton or whatever.”

However, his role as a heartthrob doesn’t always match Leto’s life off screen.

“You know what I have learned about women?” he joked. “I know absolutely nothing about women.”

The actor also admits he’s unsure if marriage is in his future.

“It’s just how things are,” he explained. “I don t think there’s a definitive decision that I’ve made.”

Suicide Squad hits theaters Aug. 6.