How Joaquin Phoenix Lost All The Weight For Joker

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

Each awards season we reflect on the standout movies of the year and the actors who went the extra mile to deliver believable performances on the big screen. In between the many transformations of real people such as Taron Egerton’s Elton John or Charlize Theron’s Megyn Kelly is Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in Joker. He lost a shocking 52 pounds to play the troubled Arthur Fleck in the film.

On the Blu-ray for Joker coming on January 7, writer/director Todd Phillips explained Joaquin Phoenix’s crazy diet to lose the weight. In his words:

It was already like June and he hadn’t started [losing weight] and we start shooting in September. And he’s like, 180 pounds. He wasn’t fat but we’re talking about getting to 125 pounds. And he goes ‘I got it, I got it.’ I go ‘You know we can hire a guy. I got this thing, this woman who’s a nutritionist, you might wanna…’ ‘No, no, that’s not how I do it.’ I go ‘How do you do it?’ He goes ‘I just stop eating and I starve myself.’ He just ate an apple a day for the whole summer.

...I’m not sure the “apple a day keeps the doctor away” saying really applies here? Todd Phillips said he offered up a nutritionist to Joaquin Phoenix to help him execute their vision for Arthur Fleck to get skinny for the role, but the actor made the simple choice to starve himself and live off of apples. Now, this could be an exaggeration, or we hope so anyway?

But, the actor once told Access Hollywood word for word that “it wasn’t an apple a day," explaining that he also had lettuce and steamed green beans in his diet as well. He jokingly complained about Todd Phillips having his favorite pretzels in his office while he was trying to lose the weight.

Joaquin Phoenix has talked at length about becoming the Joker for the drama and he’s done the process before. He was under medical supervision throughout the process and knew the calorie restrictions are needed to lose weight quickly. He reportedly nearly starved himself before to play Jesus in 2018’s Mary Magdalene by adopting a 300-calorie-a-day diet.

He has opened up about how the weight loss can affect your psyche negatively. Here’s what he said about it for Joker:

As it turns out, that impacts your psychology, and you really start to go mad when you lose that much weight in that amount of time.

Since Joaquin Phoenix had been through the process before, he knew what to expect, but he originally preferred going the weight gain route to play Arthur Fleck. One, because he thought I’d be easier, and also because he was hesitant to lose so much weight so quickly again.

Joker of course became a massive success, breaking box office records as the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. The movie has been nominated for four Golden Globes including Best Picture and Best Actor for Phoenix – we’ll have to see how things shake out this Sunday during the awards show.

There has been talk of a Joker sequel or spinoff, but no deals have been made. The attention of the gritty comic book film has influenced Warner Bros to make more R-rated films in their future, including Birds of Prey, coming to theaters on February 7.

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.