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As you would expect from a movie that features a clown slowly going violently insane, Todd Phillips’ Joker is an intense experience. It’s the kind of film that requires you to take a moment to yourself to recover as the end credits play, as Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerful and disturbing performance as the film’s lead character, Arthur Fleck. Watching it, you can’t help but think of all the dark places that the lead actor must have gone to in order to properly evoke such a performance… but it may surprise you to learn that the reality of the situation doesn’t match up with that thinking at all. In fact, Phoenix’s time playing Joker wasn’t nearly as intense as you might think.
Last month I had the pleasure of attending a pre-Venice Film Festival premiere screening of Joker in Los Angeles with both Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix in attendance, and it was at this event that the actor discussed his time getting into the skin of the project’s titular role. Phoenix was asked about how he went about getting into a proper mindset to find the right energy for the part, but rather than revealing some kind of intense preparation process he said that none of it was really an emotionally taxing experience – but instead actually a pretty damn fun one. He explained,
This is going to disappoint you. I just, I don't think I did [go to a dark place]. We had a good time... [People are] like 'It's really fucking intense.' I was like, 'We laughed like every day.' 'There's nothing really to laugh at.' I go, 'Oh. We kind of are fucked up.' (laughs) We literally were laughing every day going, 'This is ridiculous.' So honestly, I love those stories of actors. I kind of do wish that I was that way cause it sounds so cool, but I didn't have that experience.
There is, of course, some notable history about actors taking the role of the Joker very seriously and going to some extreme lengths in their preparation. When getting ready for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger reportedly isolated himself in a hotel room for a month, and kept a journal recording in-character thoughts. More recently, Jared Leto brought a method approach to his performance in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad – going as far as to mail creepy and disgusting objects to his co-stars.
Evidently, though, there are no Joaquin Phoenix stories that add to this particular legacy. The Academy Award-nominated actor certainly has an appreciation for those kinds of behind-the-scenes stories and performers that go the extra mile, but that wasn’t really something that he felt was required to fuel his performance in Joker. Instead, he was able to just really enjoy himself on set, apparently laughing quite a lot when the cameras weren’t rolling, and the end result is that his name is already swirling around in the award season conversation.
It’s a scenario that reminds one of a famous story from the making of John Schlesinger’s The Marathon Man, which has a scene for which Dustin Hoffman prepared by not sleeping for three days. When Hoffman’s legendary co-star Laurence Olivier learned of this, his reported response was simple: “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”
Based on this story alone, one could imagine Joaquin Phoenix and Laurence Olivier getting along quite well.
For now, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker performance is a marvel that only a select number of people have seen following showings as the Venice and Toronto film festivals… but it won’t be long until audiences worldwide get to witness it for themselves. One of the most anticipated releases of the fall, the movie is set to hit theaters in just a few weeks on October 4th. We’ll have plenty more coverage of the film coming your way between now and then, so be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend.