Robert De Niro And Joaquin Phoenix Clashed Over One Thing Filming Joker Together

Joker on the Murray Franklin show

It's no secret that comic book movies are everywhere. Plenty of studios have started their own cinematic universe, with heroes and villains in tights clashing on the big screen, and making tons of money in the process. But there are some adaptations that stand out among the rest, like Todd Phillips' Joker. The 2019 drama was a grueling and thrilling moviegoing experience that made a ton of money at the box office and earned Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar for playing the title character. Phillips assembled a killer cast including Robert De Niro, but it turns out that he and Phoenix clashed for a very specific reason at the start of Joker's production.

Joaquin Phoenix obviously carried Joker with his stunning performance, but the supporting cast no doubt helped him achieve those levels of emotionality. Robert De Niro's Murray Franklin had an antagonistic relationship with Arthur Fleck, and it turns out that the two actors did briefly have a disagreement IRL. Specifically, about the movie's table read.

Table reads are a common practice on film and TV sets, where the cast and crew assemble to read through the entirety of script. This can be an important part of the process, as it gives the cast a full view of the movie, rather than just their own scenes. And according to a profile by GQ, this was a point of contention between Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro. While Phoenix doesn't like to rehearse or do table readings, it was reportedly a demand by the latter actor.

What resulted was a small conflict at the very start of Joker's production. Joaquin Phoenix uses his anxiety to fuel his film performances, which is why rehearsing and read throughs are against his process; he wants total spontaneity. Phoenix's refusal to do a table reading inspired a strong reaction by Robert De Niro, as he reportedly told Todd Phillips:

Tell him he’s an actor and he’s got to be there. I like to hear the whole movie and we’re going to all get in a room and just read it.

Looks like Robert De Niro didn't mince words ahead of filming Joker. He wanted to fully understand the psychological drama, and that meant hearing Todd Phillips and Scott Silver's dialogue in full. And after initially saying "There’s no fucking way I’m doing a read-through," Joaquin Phoenix did eventually relent and do a read-through at De Niro's company's office. Although the report indicates that Phoenix didn't put much performance into it, likely in hopes of saving his creative energies for the set.

Joaquin Phoenix has said that Robert De Niro is his favorite American actor, which might have contributed to his decision to go through the read through. But despite this initial conflict, Joker was a resounding success when it hit theaters. The unnerving drama made over a billion dollars at the box office, and was nominated for countless awards. In the end Phoenix ended up sweeping the Best Actor category across all award ceremonies.

It should be interesting to see if Joker ends up getting a sequel, or if Todd Phillips creates a dark origin story for another comic book character. In the meantime, Warner Bros. is moving forward movies set within the DC Extended Universe. The next of these is Wonder Woman 1984, which is set to hit theaters on August 14th. In the meantime, check out our 2020 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.