Joaquin Phoenix Was Originally Fearful Of Playing The Joker

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

The Joker comes from one of the most intriguing and twisted corners of the superhero genre. Perhaps this is why the Clown Prince of Crime has inspired unforgettable performances from the likes of Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill and Jack Nicholson. The iconic role has a riches of oddity to explore, so it’s no wonder Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix has stepped into the role for Todd Phillips’ Joker. However, the actor does admit he was originally hesitant. In Phoenix’s words:

It took me awhile [to commit]. Now, when I look back, I don't understand why.

It should excite fans to hear Joaquin Phoenix has no regrets about taking on the Joker for the upcoming drama, but at first he was fearful to sign on to the role. As he explained to Gamesradar:

There was a lot of fear, yeah… but I always say there’s motivating fear and debilitating fear. There’s the fear where you cannot make a fucking step, and there’s the kind where it’s like, ‘OK, what do we do? That’s not good enough.’ And you’re digging deeper and deeper. I love that kind of fear. It guides us, makes us work harder.

There’s more to playing the Joker than the typical fare Joaquin Phoenix has taken on in the past. He’s a universally recognizable character, so there will inherently be more eyes on the project and it follows years upon years of comic book history and other adaptations fans will be comparing him against. However, writer/director Todd Phillips said Joker doesn’t follow any of the source material and since being a part of the project Phoenix has said he doesn’t care about what people will think about it.

Joker is a psychological drama shot in just a couple months on a $55 million budget. It’s said to be in the vein of Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy and Taxi Driver and described as a character study of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, a man “disregarded by society”. There does seem to be a sprinkle here and there to the character’s roots in the DC universe, but it’s no typical “superhero genre” film.

Joaquin Phoenix has steered away from high-profile blockbuster flicks throughout his career, often signing on to dramas helmed by critically-acclaimed directors. The actor is best known for embodying Johnny Cash in James Mangold’s Walk the Line, along with lead roles in Spike Jonze’s Her, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Inherent Vice. But he found an exciting challenge in the Joker that drew him to new territory. In his words about his Joker character:

There are times where you’re going to feel yourself connected to him, and rooting for him, and times when you should be repulsed by him. And I like that idea of challenging the audience, and challenging myself to explore a character like that. It’s rare to explore characters like that in any movies, but specifically in the superhero genre.

The R-rated flick follows further unique exploration for the comic book genre, that Mangold’s Logan and the Deadpool movies has surprised fans prior. Joker will be premiering at the Venice Film Festival next week and screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September before reaching theaters on October 4.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.