Are you talkin' to him? Robert De Niro circling Joaquin Phoenix Joker film: Report

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Jan 17, 2020, 1:51 PM EST (Updated)

To paraphrase the great comedian Rupert Pupkin, "Better to be Gotham's Clown Prince of Crime than a schmuck for a lifetime."

Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro could be joining the Todd Phillips/Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie, says The Hollywood Reporter. If true, this would be the first-ever comic book movie for the Oscar-winning actor most famous for playing gangsters like Vito Corleone (The Godfather Part II) and Jimmy Conway (Goodfellas).

A little over a week ago, news broke that Phoenix (the center of DC casting rumors for the last several months) would be portraying the iconic Batman villain in a medium-budget origin film, with principal photography starting this fall in New York. With a budget of $55 million and a script written by Phillips and Scott Silver, the project is being described as a gritty crime piece, rather than a massive CGI spectacle, as we've come to expect from today's comic book features. 

When the film was first announced last summer, it was said that Martin Scorsese was on board as a producer, which could explain De Niro's involvement. The two have worked together for nearly 50 years, since the release of Mean Streets in 1972. Still, it's unclear whether the world-renowned director/producer is still attached to produce.

Even if Scorsese's out, De Niro is like a fish in water when it comes to the crime genre, although Variety has it on good authority that the role he's being sought for has a connection to his 1982 black comedy The King of Comedy. In that film (also directed by Scorsese), De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe comedian, who kidnaps a successful (yet arrogant) comedian and talk show host (played by Jerry Lewis), just so he can have his 15 minutes of fame.

Should talks turn to signatures on the Joker project, De Niro would take on the role of a self-absorbed talk show host who is partly responsible for turning Phoenix's character crazy. If so, it would be a beautifully poetic reversal of one of De Niro most cinematic famous performances. 

Currently titled Joker, the movie is eyeing an Oct. 4, 2019, release.