Joaquin Phoenix on His Joker Origin Movie: 'It Scares the F*cking Sh*t Out of Me'

Joaquin Phoenix talked about his decision to play the Joker in a new origin movie. Described as a character study, the concept has been on Phoenix's mind for several years.

Joaquin Phoenix
Image via Getty/Kevin Winter
Joaquin Phoenix

This week it was announced that Joaquin Phoenix will officially star in a Todd Phillips–directed Joker origin movie that will work outside of the DC Universe and explore “a man disregarded by society." It's part "gritty character study” and part "broader cautionary tale.” As excitement mounts for what seems like a truly promising project, a new interview with Phoenix in Collider sheds light on how the actor will approach the iconic role.

It turns out Phoenix has been thinking about the concept of this movie for quite some time: namely, removing a particular comic book character, and a villain in particular, from the larger space they function within and zooming in on their character. Phoenix never thought the Joker could be the chosen villain, though. 

“Three or four years ago, I called my agent and said ‘Why don’t they want to take one of these characters and just make a lower budget film about it, a movie but a character study, and why not take one of the villains?’” Phoenix recounted. "I thought, ‘You can’t do the Joker, because, you know, it’s just you can’t do that character, it’s just been done.’” His agent even tried to get him a meeting with Warner Bros., but Phoenix said he didn’t want a meeting at that time. When he heard of this project, he said it was the “kind of experience I wanted to have.”


Phoenix says Phillips is putting together something unlike other superhero fare. “I wouldn’t quite classify this as any genre,” he said. "I wouldn’t say it’s a superhero movie, or a studio movie or…It feels unique."

"I think, underneath the excitement of these films, and the size of them, there are these incredible characters that are dealing with real life struggles,” he continued. "And sometimes that is uncovered and exposed, and sometimes it isn’t, and so I always felt, like, there were characters in comics that were really interesting and deserve the opportunity to be kind of studied.”

While that all sounds mysterious and exciting, part of the appeal is Phoenix himself and the focus he brings to his characters. Insofar as it’s possible for people to agree on anything nowadays, most people were onboard with a Joker origin movie as soon as they heard Phoenix would be in the title role. Phoenix said he focuses more on whether the director will be happy with his performance, since the general audience’s approval of him is simply a “magnified version of what you deal with as an actor.” The writer or director “have their expectation, and they’ve imagined things in their head… and suddenly you take it on so there’s this moment of anxiety of ‘Did I live up to their expectations?’"

Finally, Phoenix spoke about his excitement to work with Phillips, who he says is “very passionate” about the project. Phillips’ previous works include the Hangover trilogy and the dark comedy crime film War Dogs. “I take a lot of time and consideration when making decisions and what I’m gonna work on always,” the actor said. "I think [Phillips] is very impressive and he seems to have a very interesting understanding of this world and what he’s trying to say... It feels unique, it is its own world in some ways and maybe, mostly, it scares the fucking shit out of me or something,” Phoenix added. "It might as well be the thing that scares you the most.”


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