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Joaquin Phoenix Says He Based His ‘Joker’ Laugh on a Little-Understood Real-Life Ailment

The Batman villain origin story is continuing to lean away from comic books and towards realism.

"Joker"

“Joker”

Niko Tavernise

Ten years after Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar (and three years removed from Jared Leto’s controversial performance), we’re less than two months away from another cinematic portrayal of The Joker. Joaquin Phoenix is taking on the iconic Batman villain in a new origin story that is being positioned as an awards season player.

Films involving the character have experienced such variance in quality, it’s as easy to be excited about another “The Dark Knight” as it is to be worried about another “Suicide Squad.” But if nothing else, Phoenix is taking the role quite seriously. In a new interview with Italian magazine Il Vernerdi (via The Playlist), the actor revealed that he studied victims of PLC (Pathological Laughter or Crying), to craft his take on The Joker’s evil laugh.

“I saw videos showing people suffering from pathological laughter, a mental illness that makes mimicry uncontrollable,” the actor explained. The incredibly unfunny disease causes involuntary laughter or crying, usually separate from any kind of conventional trigger.

Phoenix’s application of a real-world mental and neurological issues suggests that his take on the villain will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. In addition to telling an original story, separate from any comic book mythology, the film is going for psychological realism. Taking place in 1981, it portrays the character as a failed stand-up comedian who is driven to a life of crime in Gotham.

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The Todd Phillips feature is reportedly highly influenced by the films of Martin Scorsese (who was once attached to produce the film), and stars his frequent collaborator Robert De Niro.

Joker films are never without controversy, as Leto recently drew ire for effect that his method acting had on his co-stars. It remains to be seen how “Joker” will touch on mental illness, if at all, or how it will be received. But one thing is for certain: this is not your run-of-the-mill studio blockbuster. Everyone involved is taking a creative risk, and we’ll find out soon enough if it paid off.

“Joker” premieres in competition at the Venice International Film Festival on August 31, before hitting theaters nationwide on October 4.

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