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Joaquin Phoenix Feared Discussing ‘Joker’ Violence Would Do More Damage Than the Film

The Oscar nominee tells the Los Angeles Times he was blindsided by the pre-release "Joker" backlash.

Joaquin Phoenix attends the "Joker" premiere at Alice Tully Hall during the 57th New York Film Festival, in New York2019 NYFF - "Joker" Premiere, New York, USA - 02 Oct 2019

Joaquin Phoenix

Brent N Clarke/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Long before “Joker” became both the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history and the most profitable comic book film ever made, all anyone could talk about was whether or not the film would incite violence among certain moviegoers. The debate became deafening in between the movie’s Venice premiere and October 4 theatrical release. In one infamous interview, “Joker” star Joaquin Phoenix walked out of the room when asked about the film potentially inciting violence because he was not yet prepared to answer the question. In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, Phoenix admits the controversy blindsided him.

While Phoenix discussed the “Joker” violence debate in an IGN interview published shortly before the movie’s theatrical opening, the actor mostly stayed out of the months-long conversation. LA Times writer Josh Rottenberg reports that “based on [Phoenix’s] own research into the type of people who commit assassinations and mass shootings, he feared that lending credence and media oxygen to the debate might do more to inspire some disturbed would-be killer to try to grab the limelight than a film about a fictional character ever would on its own.”

“It was an awkward position to be in,” Phoenix told the Times. “Because I thought, ‘Well, I can’t address this because this is the thing that is potentially part of the problem — that’s precisely what you shouldn’t do.’ So it suddenly seemed like I was being evasive and trying to avoid this topic because it made me uncomfortable. But really I was thinking, ‘This is the very thing that would excite this kind of personality.’”

Outside of some “Joker” screenings in Los Angeles and Paris that were cancelled or delayed because of suspicious threats and/or activity, the film did not cause the mass violent mayhem some critics feared. Instead, the film has been widely embraced by moviegoers around the world. Phoenix’s Joker face makeup has even popped up at government protests in Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong, and more.

“It’s amazing that a movie that was supposed to inspire, as they put it, mass mayhem really has just inspired a bunch of people dancing down staircases,” “Joker” director Todd Phillips told the Times, referring to the Bronx staircase that has become a popular tourist attraction because of its significance in the film. “I think that speaks more to our times than anything.”

“Joker” is playing in theaters nationwide.

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