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Anticipation is high for “Joker,” Todd Phillips’ grim take on the DC Comics super villain with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role, in part because Phoenix’s take on the character seems to have more in common with Martin Scorsese crime movies than anything in recent superhero cinema. As if to help that comparison along, Robert De Niro can be glimpsed in the latest trailer as a TV talk show host named Murray Franklin.
With the movie set in 1981, and Phoenix playing the future Joker as a struggling comedian with aspirations of stardom, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots with Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy.” In an interview with IndieWire, De Niro confirmed that his role was a nod to that earlier performance.
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Released around the same time that “Joker” takes place, “The King of Comedy” stars De Niro as psychopathic comic Rupert Pupkin, a man obsessed with a popular TV host (Jerry Lewis). The story concludes with Rupert landing his dream gig after a stint in jail, though many viewers have interpreted that conclusion to be a fantasy. Regardless of where Rupert really wound up, however, De Niro said that Murray was conceived in the spirit of his earlier role. “There’s a connection, obviously, with the whole thing,” said De Niro, from his Tribeca offices, while doing interviews for the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. “But it’s not as a direct connection as the character I’m playing being Rupert many years later as a host.”
Nevertheless, De Niro said he would have been up for reprising the character in more explicit terms. “If they would’ve proposed that to me, I would’ve said, ‘That’s interesting, maybe we’ll try to do that,’” he said. “But by making this type of film, it is connected in a way, as you’ll see.”
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