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Joker in the wild: Jared Leto initially turned down cameo in Zack Snyder’s Justice League before flip-flopping

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Mar 15, 2021, 11:29 AM EDT

Put a smile on that face because Jared Leto’s Joker is back. The Oscar-winning actor makes a splashy, eagerly anticipated appearance in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (out March 18 on HBO Max) as the Clown Prince of Crime — a cameo that the director himself has been giddily teasing out on social media and in interviews.

It’s a buzzy move, especially since the Joker was nowhere to be found in the original 2017 release of Justice League and because it’s been a hot minute since we last saw Leto as the character in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Getting him to appear in the vaunted “Snyder Cut,” though, was a bit of a wild card: When the production first approached him about the cameo, he flat-out turned them down.

So how just much convincing did Leto need before signing on?

“A lot,” the film’s producer, Deborah Snyder, tells SYFY WIRE with a smile as she chats about the process of bringing Leto aboard for this fully reworked version of the Justice League film. “He said ‘no’ at first. And then Zack I think sent him the scene, because he talked about it in theory.”

Jared Leto as Joker in 2016's Suicide Squad (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Without giving too much away, that scene factors into one of the film’s more surreal moments and, as expected, Batman (played by Ben Affleck) was a key part of it.  

“We talked to both Jared and Ben before we went to the studio and asked if they would help us shoot this one scene, and he said ‘no,’” Deborah recalls. “And then he said, ‘Well, maybe,’ and then he read the scene and then we talked about it. And then finally he was in.”

As fans saw last month in a sneak peek at Leto in the film, this Joker is less of a tattooed anarchist and more a pale-faced ghoul, clad in what appears to be a hospital gown as his eyes sear into the camera.

“Zach really wanted to do this Batman-Joker scene, and he felt like that would be a great addition, a little button on the end of this. The cherry on top, so to speak. So I feel like we were able to do that, and I'm really happy with the way that scene came out," Deborah explains.

“It was very cool. I don’t want to give away too much, but it is a very dreamy nightmarish vibe,” says the film’s sound editor Scott Hecker, who worked on Leto’s appearance and describes the scene as “trippy” and “otherworldly.”

“It’s a lot of story stuff and character-driven material that’s really interesting,” he adds. “Jared Leto, obviously, is awesome as well as the other characters.”

The overall sequence was part of a larger three-day shoot. Speaking to Vanity Fair last month, Zack said that the biggest draw about the scene “is that it’s Joker talking directly to Batman about Batman. It’s Joker analyzing Batman about who he is and what he is. That’s the thing I also felt like fans deserved from the DC Universe.”

Credit: HBO Max

Viewers can decide for themselves whether the new scene delivers on the fan service, but whatever the verdict, Deborah hopes it was all worth it for the actor they worked so hard to woo back into the fold.

“I hope he's happy with it,” the producer says of Leto, ”because I think it's real fun, and it's really creepy, and I love the dynamic between the two of them. So I think it's a really great scene.”

(Additional reporting by Josh Weiss)