How the Joker haunted every actor who played the role

The Joker is one of the most disturbed characters in all of modern literature, and just trying to bring his vile darkness to life has taken a lasting toll on the actors who've taken the role in the various Batman movies and shows. These are the stories of the men who've portrayed the Joker—and how the character haunted them.

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson wasn't the first actor to play the part of the Clown Prince of Crime, but his version remains one of the most memorable. Nicholson's take on the Joker edged closer than anyone else had dared approach the remorseless serial killer originally envisioned by creators Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson. Although Nicholson's never gone on record as stating he had any problems letting go of the Joker's darkness—and he had, after all, already played a violently psychotic person in The Shining—there's reason to believe he came away from the '89 Batman with a healthy fear of the character. He quipped that he was "furious" when Ledger landed the role in The Dark Knight, then later alarmed reporters after Ledger's death by vaguely musing, "Well, I warned him."

Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill is obviously best known as Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars films, but he's next best-known as the voice of the animated Joker, which he's been providing for decades, beginning with 1992's Batman: The Animated Series. He's admitted that he never thought he'd get the job, but it ended up having a huge impact on his career—to the point where voice work has dominated his IMDb page over the last couple of decades. Hamill's been great as a whole mess of cartoon supervillains, including Arnim Zola, Darth Bane, and the Red Skull, but casting directors need to realize he has more to offer. The guy was in Guyver, for crying out loud!

Jared Leto

As of this writing, most audiences have only seen Jared Leto's performance in a few seconds worth of Suicide Squad promo clips. Even so, Leto hasn't shied away from talking about the lengths he pursued in order to capture the character. He's admitted he found the role very challenging, and said he remained in character for most of the shoot, spending most of his time alone. Leto even went so far as to send a rat to Margot Robbie and a dead pig to the rest of the cast, as well as other…let's say interesting gifts. Will delving so deeply into the mind of a psychotic have other adverse effects on Leto? Depending how well he actually does in the role, psychological problems may be the least of his worries compared to the wrath of critics and fans.

Cesar Romero

Before Jack Nicholson redefined the character, when most people thought of the Joker, they thought about the late Cesar Romero's portrayal in the Adam West-led Batman series of the '60s. Romero was the first live-action Joker and his performance defined the character for decades to come—despite his cartoonish portrayal, which seems alien now when compared with subsequent depictions. Given how campy Romero's Joker was, it's fitting that he didn't even take the character seriously enough to shave his mustache, forcing the makeup department to try in vain to cover it up—and haunting his acting legacy with the infamously silly sight of a Joker with the faint outline of facial hair.

Roger Stoneburner

If you've never heard of Roger Stoneburner, don't feel bad. He's the actor/stuntman who played the Joker on the ill-fated Birds of Prey television series that only a few people ever watched. But really, Stoneburner only played the Joker physically. That's because, as with most of his roles, Stoneburner received no credit for his work—it all went to Mark Hamill, who voiced the character yet again. Imagine getting your one shot at playing a legendary character and not even being given credit for it? The only proof of Stoneburner's work is this blurry image, which is as convincing as a photo of Bigfoot. That's got to haunt Stoneburner, whether he admits it or not—and even if the paycheck was really good.

Heath Ledger

Playing the Joker hasn't impacted any actor more than it did Heath Ledger. It's the role that some people blame for his death, which is strange when considering he said it was the most fun he'd ever had acting. To prepare for the part, in addition to studying comics, the works of Francis Bacon, and both the film and novel A Clockwork Orange, Ledger put himself through extreme psychological preparation, which he chronicled in his Joker journal. While working on his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, Ledger only slept two hours a night due to his racing mind, which led to a need for sleeping pills—which ultimately contributed to his stunning death at the age of 28.