Why Joaquin Phoenix Wanted His Joker To Be Overweight At First

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker

If you’ve seen the trailers for Joker, you probably noticed that Joaquin Phoenix looks a lot thinner compared to his usual physique. That’s because the actor lost an astounding 52 pounds to play the Clown Prince of Crime, but Phoenix almost went in a different direction when it came to weight. It turns out that he originally wanted his version of The Joker to be overweight, both for clinical reasons and because he wasn’t keen on losing weight, something he’s had to do for other roles. Phoenix recalled:

It just seemed like it would be easier. [laughs] The very first bit of research that I did was about medication and the side effects of medication and everybody on these boards was talking about these dramatic changes in their weight. Whether it be putting on weight or losing weight. There’s something so fucking tragic about taking a medication because you feel out of step with the world, and then you have these side effects that magnify that feeling. And so I just to Todd [Phillips] ‘I think we need to have something that is drastic to kind of show this, and it's based in reality and I think it's really worth exploring.’ And I suggested we put on weight because I've done the losing-weight thing before, and it sucks! [laughs] I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that again!’ But Todd was really smart, and he said, ‘No, I really think it’s the other way.’ And I knew it was going to be that way, but I just wanted to give it one little [shot].

Joaquin Phoenix recently sat down with the hosts of the ReelBlend podcast to talk about Joker, and you can listen to the full interview when it drops on October 4. That said, one of the highlights of the conversation was Phoenix’s talk about how he wanted his character, Arthur Fleck, to look. It was always his plan for Arthur to stand out physically, but he initially wanted his Joker to be on the heavier side. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips steered him in the other direction, and Phoenix acknowledged that was the better call.

During the interview, Joaquin Phoenix also mentioned about how the weight loss made him feel closer to the character of Arthur Fleck, to the point that it affected his mental state and he developed a hyper awareness of his body. In Phoenix’s words:

It was amazing because there’s the physicality and how you look and that's valuable. But more than that is how it makes you feel. And Arthur is somebody who is constantly searching for validation and acknowledgement and love. Like he just wants to consume people's adoration. It's what he needs. And I think in some ways, I had that feeling. I was constantly dissatisfied, having that kind of level of hunger makes you just think differently. But I think it also made me feel my body in a way that I don't normally kind of feel, you know, and allowed me to find a lot of the movement that ended up becoming such an important part of the character. And I don't know why, but you just become hyper aware of your body at that point. Like, you think about it differently. And so it ended up being twofold. It was something that affected me kind of emotionally and mentally, but also altered the way I felt about myself physically.

Joaquin Phoenix certainly isn’t the only actor to go through major weight fluctuations for a role, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Christian Bale, he eventually gets to a point where he’ll need to stop doing that. But for the purposes of delivering a compelling Joker performance, it sounds like Joaquin Phoenix is pleased with how the results turned out. Still, I’d be curious to see how Phoenix’s Joker would have turned out had he gone with his initial overweight approach.

Set in 1981 and entirely separated from the modern DC movies, Joker tells the story of how Arthur Fleck goes from a failed stand-up comedian disregarded by society to a criminal mastermind who unleashes a wave of chaos across Gotham City. With a cast that also includes Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy and many more, Joker has already earned a lot of positive reception from early screenings, while simultaneously generating controversy about its depiction of the title character.

Joker arrives in theaters on October 4. In the meantime, look through our 2019 release schedule to find out when the rest of this year’s movies are coming out, and don’t forget to subscribe to the ReelBlend podcast for instant updates, including the forthcoming Joaquin Phoenix interview.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore, Adam is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He started working for the site back in late 2014 writing exclusively comic book movie and TV-related articles, and along with branching out into other genres, he also made the jump to editing. Along with his writing and editing duties, as well as interviewing creative talent from time to time, he also oversees the assignment of movie-related features. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism, and he’s been sourced numerous times on Wikipedia. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.