Joaquin Phoenix’s demented embodiment of Joker, née Arthur Fleck, is now emblazoned on the cultural psyche and probably burned onto your own brain as well. The performance is likely to land the actor his fourth Academy Award nomination, despite all of the controversy hurled at the movie since it won the Golden Lion in Venice before opening in October.
However, according to director Todd Phillips, the DC origin story wasn’t an easy sell for the star, who was reluctant to star in a superhero-adjacent property at all and has, in general, shown an aversion to genre films. Phillips talked about how he relentlessly had to chase Phoenix for the role in a recent Los Angeles Times directors roundtable video.
“If you took two pages of our script and you [hold it up] to our scene, you realize how an additive an actor can be,” Phillips said of Phoenix. “It was a pursuit to get him because initially it feels like, ‘ugh, comic book movie.’ Just the idea of it is something he wasn’t so keen on pursuing, and even when I would explain to him it’s not that, it kind of says that, but really we’re doing this other thing, there was a little resistance. But the more I got to know him, the more I hung out with him, and we spent a lot of time talking about what the movie will look and feel like, and then one day he magically showed up. He never said yes. He just one day showed up to a wardrobe fitting. … It was an incredible partnership.”
That seems in line with the actor’s typically idiosyncratic sensibilities, and the method to his madness has already been reported as involving acrimonious behavior on the set of “Joker.” Phillips told The New York Times that Phoenix occasionally “lost his composure on the set, sometimes to the bafflement of his co-stars. … In the middle of the scene, he’ll just walk away and walk out. And the poor other actor thinks it’s them and it was never them — it was always him, and he just wasn’t feeling it.”
Phoenix has yet to win an Oscar, and if he takes the prize, he’ll follow in the footsteps of the late, great Heath Ledger by winning an Oscar for playing the Joker.