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When it came to the Clown Prince of Crime’s iconic painted face, Joker’s makeup artist had a huge challenge. Nicki Ledermann knew she had to create a look that would be both recognizable to fans of the DC Comics villain, but still entirely unique. The look she finally settled on certainly did the trick, and helped propel the film toward historic global success. And it turns out that a few of her choices had a lot to do with Joaquin Phoenix being antsy in the makeup chair, too.
In an interview with Dazed & Confused Magazine, the makeup artist opened up about how she arrived at the final incarnation of Joker’s most important look. It turns out the process before production started took a lot longer than the actual act of putting the makeup on Joaquin Phoenix. And Nicki Ledermann explained there was a very good reason for that:
It took an average of 15-20 minutes to apply the make-up, partly because it was hard for Joaquin to sit still but also because I didn’t want it to look too precisely thought out. I had to be able to manipulate the make-up. To take it off and redo it fast after every take, matching it perfectly to the prior take, or to smear it during the take, then fix it in between, or to make it appear to smear but actually stay put without smudging during the take. To achieve this, I used and mixed different products to match the texture and colours exactly, freehand the placement and not interrupt the speedy pace and incredible intensity of filming, so it would look fluent and authentic.
Joaquin Phoenix’s restlessness and the intricacies of keeping the makeup intact weren’t the only challenges Nicki Ledermann faced on the Joker set. She also spoke about the difficulties of keeping up such a specific look consistent throughout production, telling the magazine:
The hardest part of all was nailing continuity – when you film a movie, you don't shoot in scene order. One day you film a scene that is being continued days or weeks later and you have to match it exactly frame to frame. Because everything was freehand, it took a lot of record-keeping and solid painting skills to match and progress it.
Nicki Ledermann’s production anecdotes are just the latest to emerge from Joker’s cast and crew. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher recently explained that Joaquin Phoenix improvised that fridge scene in one take. And Joker’s director Todd Phillips revealed that Arthur Fleck’s celebratory bathroom dance was also the result of the actor’s improvisation. And all these behind-the-scenes stories go to show that oftentimes, it’s the small details we never see that really make or break a film.