How Robert De Niro Feels About The Joker 'Controversy'

Joker Robert De Niro Joaquin Phoenix DC Warner Bros.

I'd say Robert De Niro has zero fucks left to give, but he's been dropping f-bombs left and right lately. The Irishman star has been promoting that movie while also talking about Joker (and politics). He didn't drop any f-bombs about Joker, but he did acknowledge the controversies around the Joaquin Phoenix DC movie.

After Joker screened in Venice, it was hailed as a "masterpiece" and won the festival's highest honor, the Golden Lion. However, there were also immediate concerns from some viewers that Joker could inspire certain people to acts of violence. The 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado was referenced -- when James Holmes shot up a theater of patrons watching The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people.

Family members of Aurora victims added their voices to the story to ask Warner Bros. to end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform. Warner Bros. made a statement to say, in part, that "neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero." Director Todd Phillips weighed in to defend the film, making a comparison to John Wick: Chapter 3 that some Keanu Reeves fans didn't appreciate.

So that's the controversy Variety asked Robert De Niro about while he was also promoting The Irishman (which is at 100% on RT). De Niro responded in the moment, since he was on the red carpet, so that's why he didn't have the most clear wording when referencing the Aurora victims' political and gun reform requests to Warner Bros. It wasn't a canned statement.

I like Todd Phillips and Joaquin. They were terrific to work with and, you know, I'm a small part of it and they kind of -- the association of me with Taxi Driver and King of Comedy is part of it, though it's different, you'll see. When you see the movie you'll get why. So that's it. We'll see what happens. I know there's controversy. I think some of the things that were being said about Warner Bros. giving money, not endorsing -- or whatever it was about the NRA -- I think is right. Whatever people were saying connected with the Aurora theater or whatever organization it was.

So Robert De Niro agrees with the Aurora families who want Warner Bros. to stop providing political donations to candidates and lawmakers who stand in the way of gun reform. He also emphasized he's a small part of Joker, noting its associations to Martin Scorsese's classic films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, both starring Robert De Niro. De Niro is clearly no stranger to controversial movies himself.

In Joker, Robert De Niro plays a talk show host; he has said the movie pays homage to his King of Comedy character Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring comedian -- like Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck -- who is obsessed with a talk show host. Here's De Niro's brief interview:

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Warner Bros. decided to cancel interviews at Joker's premiere last night in Hollywood, only allowing photographers. A studio spokesperson noted to Variety, "a lot has been said about Joker, and we just feel it’s time for people to see the film.”

Some people think any "controversy" here is ridiculous, but considering most of us haven't even seen the movie yet it's too soon to say. The first fears about inciting violence did come from people who had just seen the movie in Venice, but from there it took on a polarizing life of its own. I'm not going to discount anything the Aurora victims' families have to say, since they have every right to speak out. It's not like they were asking WB to pull the movie or suggesting a fan boycott.

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I really think all of this "controversy" -- whether you think it is warranted yet or not -- will only draw more attention to the movie and help its opening box office. It's already looking like it'll break October records after it opens next Friday, October 4.

Gina Carbone

Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.