As has been documented in the press lead-up to Joker's assuredly massive October release, Joaquin Phoenix's initial inspiration for taking on the career-atypical part is seemingly as mysterious as the nature of art itself. In a fresh New York Times interview, however, he let loose some insight on the excitement of not really knowing exactly how he would make the character his own. This central challenge of the Todd Phillips-directed film, it seems, ultimately helped fuel his inspiration.
"I didn't really know what it was," Phoenix told Dave Itzkoff. "I didn't know how to classify it. I didn't say, 'This is the character I'm playing.' I didn't know what we were going to do . . . It was terrifying."
Phillips spent an estimated three months trying to convince Phoenix of the project's potential, with the director noting that a hard "yes" from Phoenix when mid-process is hard to come by. Still, the discussions proved successful.
An early agreement point for the two was that Phoenix needed to make a "drastic" weight change, though they didn't initially see eye-to-eye on which direction that drasticness should go.
"It's a horrible way to live," Phoenix, who ended up shaving off 52 pounds for the movie, said of his previous experiences in achieving extreme levels of skinny for a character. "I think [Joker] should be kind of heavy. Todd was like 'I think you should do the real thin person.'"
According to Phillips, Phoenix also had some reluctance at first regarding the film's built-in ties to comic book lore. Phillips said Phoenix "never liked" the idea of saying the name Thomas Wayne, a featured Joker character and father of eventual Batman Bruce Wayne.
"It would have been easier for him if the movie was called Arthur and had nothing to do with any of that stuff," the director said. "But in the long run, I think he got it and appreciated it."
Catch the full Times profile, also including comments from co-star Robert De Niro, right here.
During his Tribute Actor Award acceptance speech at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, Phoenix paid tribute to his late brother River, saying he was "indebted to him" and recalling a Raging Bull-related moment of inspiration the two shared:
Joker hits theaters Oct. 4.