Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Pirate and the Joker

If you have any plans for a trip to Disney World in the next decade, you can expect to see your share of Captain Jack Sparrows.  I saw a Jack Sparrow who looked, sounded, acted, and possibly even smelled like the real thing.  (To the extent that a fictional character can be real, or have a smell).  I was impressed and surprised at just how Sparrow-like he was.

This raises a question: Does Pirates of the Caribbean really need Johnny Depp anymore?  I mean, Heaven forbid they should make another one of those movies.  And of course, Johnny Depp can bring in more fans than an identical replica of Johnny Depp.  But aside from all this, I get the sense that Depp's special, unique contribution was really his idea for the character, not his execution of that idea.

Of course Depp is technically gifted, too.  Depp's technical ability enabled him to execute and communicate his vision.  But now that it's been communicated, there are loads of technically gifted people who can execute the same vision.  As with many things, the hardest part is having the idea in the first place.


If you think this Johnny Depp discussion is too academic to matter, consider Heath Ledger instead.  He was incredible as the Joker, picking up an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  Surely Ledger would have reprised his role, if not for his untimely death.  

Suddenly the question becomes highly relevant: Why can't we have a Ledger-Joker without Ledger?  What's stopping us?


  1. I think it might be hard to pull off given the way Ledger left us. Suppose that there is a small positive probability that the actor's portrayal would be interpreted as in "bad taste." That's the downside. The upside is rather limited, too. If you're the guy who just replicated the Ledger Joker, people will put less weight on your performance because you just stole the persona from Ledger.

    Putting these together, I think the next Joker we have will have to have significant components re-imagined. Sort of like each new Doctor Who is a fresh take on the Doctor, a new Joker would need some freshness sprinkled in. That's not to say that the actor couldn't incorporate elements from Ledger's projected persona, but there has to be more.

  2. I find this sad. Mozart's symphonies are reinterpreted and reinterpreted and every conductor gives his own spin. But if we *could* reproduce Mozart's symphonies exactly the way he wanted them played, that would be amazing and people would do it and people would listen. If Heath Ledger was not an actor but instead a designer of the Joker Robot, which looks and acts exactly like the Ledger-Joker, then I imagine he would not want it dumped in the rubbish bin when he died. He would want it to keep performing in the theater and on stage. But if a human actor can take on the same role, what's the difference?

    The guy who replicates the Ledger Joker is a talented nobody, not a famous actor, so his upside is huge. And the audience gets a better Joker than they would, so their upside is big too.

    I mean, you are right: The perception of "bad taste" can easily arise given we are in an equilibrium where this sort of thing is not done, and thus it can explain why we stay here. Which directly answers my question. But on a deeper level, it doesn't say that this is the best place to be. I think it would be great if this sort of thing was normal.