- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - In portraying The Joker, a man who lives in a world without rules, Jared Leto had only one very specific rule for himself for “Suicide Squad”: Don’t think about past interpretations.

That’s no small thing. The cackling, unhinged character and arch nemesis of Batman is one of the more famous villains in pop culture. He’s been portrayed unforgettably by both Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” and Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” It was one of the late actor’s last performances and earned Ledger a posthumous Supporting Actor Academy Award in 2009.

Even with Leto’s own Oscar for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club,” everyone involved felt the pressure to get it right.

“It was terrifying,” said director David Ayer. “It’s been done so well in the past and there is a bit of stage fright that happens with that. But you can’t let that stop you.”

For Leto, it’s akin to playing Hamlet. Many have come before and many will come after.

“It was just an incredible honor to be asked to contribute that larger group of work,” Leto said. “You have to march forward … explore new territory.”

Leto’s Joker is certainly unhinged and prone to fits of uncontrollable, nail-on-chalkboard cackling while committing extreme acts of violence, but there’s also a deeply ingrained calm in him.

In developing this version, Ayer and Leto settled on someone who is a businessman at his core - inebriated with power and the absolute authority of his own instinct. They found modern day touchstones in dictators and cartel leaders.

Producer Richard Suckle described him as the kind of man who would have next season’s Prada or Gucci. He accessorizes those high-fashion duds with slicked back neon green hair set against his chalky white makeup, bright red lips and gold teeth.

“Jared’s a rock star and understands how to hold and captivate a stadium. He brought that energy to the role,” Ayer said. “He walked the tightrope and he did it.”

Leto found the experience “intoxicating.”

“I had more fun with The Joker than anything I’d ever done before,” Leto said. “I really fell in love with (him).”

He threw himself fully into the role, even in between takes which occasionally involved little off-color, Joker-appropriate gifts to his co-stars (including live rats and some more R-rated paraphernalia).

In the film, the Joker stays outside of the core Suicide Squad team. He’s laser-focused on trying to get his girlfriend, the wild Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), back and out of her imprisonment. Despite the limited screen time, it’s an impactful teaser for someone who might return in future films.

“I’m really excited about the possibility that this could just be an introduction,” Leto said. “There could be more to come.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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