Leto tells GQ Style that he doesn't "remember much hesitation" when accepting the part of the iconic villain in the upcoming Suicide Squad -- but still keeps Ledger's version of the character in high regard.
"I'm sure that I considered everything when I got the call. But let me say a few things… Heath Ledger: Not only was he perfect as the Joker -- perfect," he shares. "There’s not a single frame where he’s not great. Not only was he perfect in that role, but it’s probably one of the best performances, not just of a villain but maybe one of the best performances on film, period. Period. That’s my opinion. And that was my opinion before I got the call. It was a perfect performance, and those are very rare.”
Leto, an Academy Award winner himself, also acknowledges that the Joker character has a legacy all its own. "On the one hand, I had an enormous amount of respect for what’s been done before, like real admiration and respect for the work that had been done before," he explains. "On the other, this excitement about the opportunity to go and say something else, something new, something different."
That being said, Leto admits that there were times during the filming of Suicide Squad when the role took a toll on him mentally. "There was a point where I was researching violence and was watching a lot of things that… things that it’s arguable if anybody should even see," he recalls. "And I noticed that started to have an impact on me that I didn’t like, so I stopped. It starts to just get inside of you, violence and some of those things. But you know, I’ve made some pretty dark films."
Leto, however, wasn't apprehensive about going all in when portraying the villain. "It’s a challenging piece of work. But we had a lot of fun with it, too. I mean, the Joker is not that bad a guy," he says. "The Joker is great because he’s always making himself laugh, so I can just make a joke where people are like, 'What?' And I’m laughing on the inside. He finds things funny that other people will never. Like death. And one of the things I really loved about the Joker is that he’s an entertainer."
The 44-year-old actor also gushed over Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. "I think had it only been portrayed by Heath and it was never a comic book, maybe I would have felt that would be inappropriate," he admitted. "But I thought that given the history, it was OK. The good thing about other people having done this is that you know what direction not to head in."
Leto added, "I had met Heath before. I didn't know him well, but he was a beautiful person."
Suicide Squad arrives in theaters on Aug. 5.