Joker Director Reveals How He Convinced Joaquin Phoenix To Do A Comic Book Movie


There are certain actors who you wouldn’t think would ever be in a comic book movie. Daniel Day-Lewis is the first name that comes to mind. Can you imagine? Another would be Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s been arguably the biggest star in the business for two decades and didn’t need to dawn the tights to reach a certain level in the industry. He also chooses his projects very carefully and makes only one movie every few years. The same goes for Day-Lewis, although he appears to be retired now.

Another name I would have added to that list though is Joaquin Phoenix. Like Day-Lewis and DiCaprio, Phoenix is an actor who chooses his projects wisely and often goes deep into character. He also seems like a mercurial guy, so putting him in a money-making assembly-line comic book movie that would no doubt spawn several sequels would be outside of his comfort zone. That being said, Joker director Todd Philips somehow managed to convince Phoenix to do a quote unquote “comic book movie.” And his method for convincing him was telling him that Joker was unlike any film in the genre.

“He liked the spirit of what the movie was, a sort of anti-comic book film or whatever,” Phillips began. “However you wanted to classify it. He only responded to the spirit, but he also wasn’t somebody who ever thought that he would be in a comic book film. I think, I don’t want to say for sure. I’m sure he’s turned down comic book films in the past. So, that was the biggest hurdle.”

Phoenix did in fact turn down a superhero movie. He was offered the role of Doctor Strange and almost committed to the project before backing out when it became apparent that he would have to sign a multi-picture deal. Strange is also a CGI-heavy franchise and while Stephen Strange certainly has his flaws and demons as a character, Phoenix was perhaps turned off by the magnitude of the project.

Joker on the other hand, is much darker material and has been compared (ad nauseam) to Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Continuing on about how he got Phoenix on board, Phillips said:

“He read the script, he got it. He also got that it wasn’t a straight-up comic book movie, but it’s the same point. It was still called Joker. It still says DC presents at some point in it, you know, so that was I think the biggest hurdle and we talked a lot about that. We had these meetings for months. And before he agreed to do it, I would say three or four months and a lot of questions. I think some of it was him just feeling me out, of course, and talked about the vibe and the tone. ‘What’s it going to look like and how do I work? What’s the approach?’ It was a lot, but it was great and it was really like prepping away. It really helped us down the road and I know.”

Phillips also spoke about the tactile nature of the character and how Phoenix responded to the appearance of Arthur Fleck. He also said that either consciously or subconsciously, the actor may have been drawn to the production design, which is very grounded.

“I think certain actors, it affects them a lot and others it doesn’t,” Phillips answered. “I would say with Joaquin and a lot of actors I work with they get really affected by their wardrobe and with Joaquin as far as like the garbage being piled on the streets and all that stuff. I think you can’t help but feel it, but I know with him it was much more wardrobe based than necessarily the production design. And you know, some of the production design, to be fair, is we don’t do a lot of CGI in this movie, but there is a certain amount of world-building we did.”

Despite the seriousness and darkness of Joker as it compares to other movies in the genre, it still became a phenomenon. It’s the most successful R-rated film in history and Phoenix is currently the front-runner to win Best Actor at the Oscars. And there’s even talk of him returning for a sequel, which seemed unfathomable. But he’s already shown interest in returning and there’s no way Warner Bros. would turn down the chance to make more, right?