What is it about playing the role of the Joker that brings out the worst in well-respected method actors? Heath Ledger famously locked himself away from friends and family for a month to develop his interpretation of the villain, had trouble sleeping and kept a journal full of news and photos of real and imaginary psychopaths to help him get into character. Jared Leto, meanwhile, used to send his Suicide Squad co-stars live rats and other disturbing paraphernalia while staying in the role outside of shooting.
Now, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the titular part in Todd Philips’ Joker, has spoken about the insane preparation he put into playing the Clown Prince of Crime and the psychological toll it took on him. During an interview with ET Canada, the actor made the following remarks about prepping for the gig:
“The first thing was the weight loss, that’s really what I started with. As it turns out, that impacts your psychology, and you really start to go mad when you lose that much weight in that amount of time. There’s also a book about political assassins that I thought was interesting, and breaks down the different types of personalities that do those sorts of things [I do in the film].”
After losing an astonishing 52 pounds before filming even began, Phoenix is the least physically imposing Joker to appear in a live-action take on the character. But that shouldn’t be a problem, since the origin film doesn’t follow the standard superhero vs. supervillain narrative, and is instead an in-depth examination of the social problems that cause a failed stand-up comic to transform into the famed Clown Prince of Crime.
Phoenix is known for going all out with his onscreen characters, but is also said to be incredibly picky about the projects he works on. Getting him to play the Joker was a casting coup for Warner Bros. then, since it automatically raised the profile of the movie from run-of-the-mill superhero fare to a serious cinematic outing in the minds of many audience members.
Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive so far, too, with Phoenix being singled out for praise for his appearance and performance. It remains to be seen whether all that effort on the part of the actors and crew along with the critical acclaim will translate into a box office winner for the DCEU’s strange, offbeat, R-rated flick, but we’ll find out soon enough, as Joker opens on October 4th.