Todd Phillips Really Had To Convince Joaquin Phoenix To Play The Joker

Arthur Fleck smilling in Joker

It is well known that Joaquin Phoenix has eschewed comic book movie roles in the past, like when he was attached to play Doctor Strange in the MCU. It longed seem like the acclaimed actor would never play a comic book character until he finally relented to join director Todd Phillips’ Joker. Getting him on board was no easy task though and Todd Phillips really had to convince Joaquin Phoenix to play the Joker.

At a Q&A following Joker’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, attended by our own Sean O’Connell, Todd Phillips explained what he went through to get Joaquin Phoenix to join Joker, saying:

I was going to his house, basically begging him to do the movie. I go, 'So I keep coming up here every day. At some point you, you gotta say are you in or out.' And he said, 'That's not how you do it.’

Folks, that’s when you know you’ve made it. When an established director is trespassing onto your property and harassing you, begging you to join his film, you’re clearly doing something right. Todd Phillips apparently wanted Joaquin Phoenix to play Joker in his film so badly, he did everything he could to convince him.

Apparently, Joaquin Phoenix was not so easily swayed, but Todd Phillips wouldn’t take no for an answer. Rather than dangling out a carrot and letting Joaquin come to him, Todd Phillips took a more offense-based approach, using pure persistence to wear his quarry down. It sounds like Joaquin was unwilling to commit for a long time, but he wasn’t outright saying no either.

So Todd Phillips basically told him that eventually he would have to make a decision. Joaquin Phoenix has said how long it took him to commit and how fearful he was of it at first, but eventually, with some gentle nudging from Todd Phillips, he signed on. Well, not exactly according to Todd Phillips:

I always say he never really signed onto the movie. One day he just showed up at a wardrobe fitting.

That sounds about right. Why go through all the formality of signing on when the director is already begging you to play the part? You’re Joaquin Phoenix, might as well just show up one day, nobody is going to stop you. After his many overtures to Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips might have expected the actor to accept the part in grand fashion, but it sounds like, in a low-key, very on-brand move, he just showed up one day and went to work.

Todd Phillips choosing to pursue Joaquin Phoenix for the role with such vigor, and Phoenix finally accepting certainly seems to have been a smart move for both of them. Joker premiered at the Venice Film Festival to mostly very positive reviews and it went on to win the Golden Lion, that festival’s top prize.

As expected the majority of the early reviews have focused on Joaquin Phoenix’s captivating performance with many suspecting that he will be a surefire contender in the Best Actor race. This early response makes it clear why Todd Phillips wanted him in the first place and why it was worth working so hard to convince him.

Joker opens in theaters on October 4. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to keep track of all this fall’s biggest movies.

Nick Evans

Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.