Warning: This article includes minor spoilers from Joker.
For quite some time, Joaquin Phoenix has been one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. He seems to completely disappear in each role and deliver the kind of performances that feel like magic tricks. His leading role in Joker showcases a new level of his talent as he crafted a standout origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime with director/co-writer Todd Phillips. Phoenix even improvised a few sequences on a whim – including that signature moment where Arthur Fleck throws everything out of the fridge and crawls inside.
According to Joker’s cinematographer Lawrence Sher, here’s how it was like on set with Joaquin Phoenix:
While some scenes were very planned out, like when he’s in the phonebooth or walking up the stairs, others had no plan at all. When he climbed in the refrigerator, we had no idea he was going to do that. We set up two camera positions, and Joaquin just thought about what he would do if he was a massive insomniac. Again, we lit it so he could go anywhere, and the first and only time he did it, we were mesmerized. I remember thinking, ‘What is he doing? Did he just crawl in the fridge?’ It was as fun and weird for us to watch it too.
The scene was apparently filmed in one take too! Joaquin Phoenix working on the fly definitely produced some incredible moments and is no doubt the exact reason he was cast in the role. Todd Phillips previously revealed that Arthur Fleck also improvised his dance in the bathroom after killing the men on the subway. It was originally him talking to himself in the mirror, but the actor asked if he could try something else, resulting in the dance. In Sher’s interview with Slash Film, he explained how this was a turning point for the production. In his words:
Joaquin created that whole dance and, after the success of that scene, we started creating more moments like that. Like when he's playing with the gun and fires it into the wall. All we knew was that he'd fire the gun into the wall at some point, but we never planned when or knew that he'd stand and have that conversation with himself and begin dancing. We just had two cameras in there and let it happen, which became a major part of how we did a lot of things.
Warner Bros gave the film and Joaquin Phoenix tons of leeway to do his thing and that he did. The actor has said there were some “really radical changes” made to the film from the script to set several weeks into shooting. In fact, once the actor shifted into playing into the Joker scenes, that’s when these improvisations started occurring on set. It’s pretty amazing how well Phoenix’s eye is for adding to a character and it's safe to say no other actor could have brought the same quality to the role.
It’s another reason why Joker may find its way in the 2020 Oscar race during award season. Some Academy voters and critics believe Joaquin Phoenix is a lock for the Best Actor category, but only time will tell how he’s embraced moving forward. The movie has certainly made waves with moviegoers considering the movie just became the biggest R-rated movie of all time after just under a month at the box office.
Joker is still in theaters! Check out the CinemaBlend podcast ReelBlend’s exclusive interview with Joaquin Phoenix and stay tuned with us for more behind-the-scenes tidbits on your favorite movies!