Joaquin Phoenix won the Academy Award for Best Actor this year, thanks to his performance in “Joker,” in which he starred as an early iteration of the infamous Batman villain, but it turns out once upon a time the actor could’ve played the Caped Crusader himself. In a new interview with Empire magazine, Darren Aronofsky looks back at his failed comic book film “Batman: Year One” and reveals it was his desire to have Phoenix star as Bruce Wayne that got the early aughts project killed by Warner Bros. studio executives. Aronofsky has said he was interested in casting Phoenix in the past, but this is the first time the director has shared the studio’s refusal to hire the actor.
“The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr. and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.”
Aronofsky said he was envisioning his Batman movie in the same vein as 1970s crime films such as “Death Wish,” “The French Connection,” and “Taxi Driver.” If it all sounds a lot like the movie “Joker” became, well that’s because it was just like that. As Aronofsky told Collider during the “mother!” press tour, “I hear the way they’re talking about the Joker movie and that’s exactly — that was my pitch. I was like: We’re going to shoot in East Detroit and East New York. We’re not building Gotham.”
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For “Batman: Year One,” Aronofsky even brought on the source material’s legendary comic book writer Frank Miller to help draft the script. “It was an amazing thing because I was a big fan of his graphic novel work,” the director said to Empire magazine. “So just getting to meet him was exciting back then.” According to Aronofsky, Miller was “shocked” by how dark he wanted to take the Batman comic book story. Aronofsky said his story “veered into torture territory.”
Aronofsky never got to make his Batman movie, and his second chance to direct a comic book film with “The Wolverine” was also rejected over creative differences. Head over to Empire to read more from the director.