Why Joker’s Joaquin Phoenix Resisted Signing On For A Comic Book Role For A Long Time

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker
(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

We’re living in the golden age of comic book adaptations. Between the expansive universe Marvel Studios has developed over the past decade, that cool new Watchmen show on HBO or the DCEU’s promising upcoming film slate, fans are soaring in the genre. And actors too. Hollywood’s biggest talents have been signing up for these roles left and right, even those who were morally opposed. Take Joaquin Phoenix. It took some convincing for the three-time Oscar-nominated actor to sign on for the highly successful Joker. Here he explains why:

I remember, like eight years ago, I was told, ‘Movies are changing. They’re not making the movies that you want to make, so you’ve got to do one of these. It makes sense. It probably is a good strategy. But for me, I guess the fear was that you’d get locked into doing something repeatedly that you don’t really care about, that doesn’t motivate you or excite you.

You’ve heard it before. There’s often some pull back for certain actors to sign on to a comic book property because they usually come with long contracts and creative freedom can be lost between toy sales and big-budget productions. Similarly, Chris Evans has opened up about this fear ahead of signing on to his now iconic Captain America.

When Joaquin Phoenix was approached by Todd Phillips for Joker, it apparently took the actor four months before he signed on the dotted line. He was drawn to the unique nature of Phillips’ vision. The villian origin story was approached as a dramatic character study about a troubled man in the vein of Martin Scorsese’s early work on a modest budget of $55 million. As Phoenix admitted to Los Angeles Times, once he got into character he loved entering its world. In his words:

In the second or third week of shooting, I was like, ‘Todd, can you start working on a sequel? There’s way too much to explore.’ It was kind of in jest — but not really.

According to reports earlier today, a Joker sequel is possibly in the works from Todd Phillips. It’s no surprise Arthur Fleck could return considering the movie’s record-breaking success. Joker not only quickly became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, but surpassed $1 billion worldwide. The movie has pulsed through to cultural phenomenon status.

The character’s costume became one of the most worn Halloween costumes this year and tons have flocked to the stairs he dances down in Brooklyn to pay homage to the film. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Joker is getting Oscar buzz, too. The actor famously made the character his own, improvising key moments as audiences witness Fleck’s character reach insanity.

While before comic book adaptations may have followed rigid boxes of the panels in the comics their characters were introduced in, it seems the genre has reached a place of experimentation and intrigue. More chances are being taken with these types of characters and it’s drawing in talents such as Phoenix who wouldn’t have believed they’d do it before.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.