Todd Phillips says Joker was written specifically for Joaquin Phoenix

joker, phoenix, phillps

After premiering at TIFF last week JOKER has certainly caused a lot of conversation online and received a wide array of reactions, but there is one aspect about it that seems to be indisputable: Joaquin Phoenix totally owns in the lead role. The actor is winning widespread acclaim for his work as Arthur Fleck/Joker and generating serious Oscar buzz in the process. You could say it was the role a was destined for, and indeed, director/co-writer Todd Phillips said that when the movie was written it was done so with the actor in mind.

Phillips and Phoenix both spoke the New York Times for a profile on the actor, and they each spoke about the process of coming together for the unique comic book movie. Getting the actor on board was the hard part, and it apparently took numerous visits over the course of three months to get him to sign on. When asked if other actors were sought out, Phillips said he and Scott Silver “wrote the movie for Joaquin.”

“I didn’t really know what it was,” Phoenix said of being approached for the role. “I didn’t know how to classify it. I didn’t say, ‘This is the character I’m playing.’ I didn’t know what we were going to do.”

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After signing on they would go down the tricky slope of getting the thing made, with the two having plenty of opposing views on the character. For instance, Phoenix initially envisioned the character being more overweight, while Phillips wanted him to be much thinner. As you can see from the trailer, Phillips won the argument and Phoenix dropped over 50 lbs for the role.

Words like “mesmerizing” and “astounding” have been thrown around in regards to Phoenix’s work in the movie. The actor seems to have fully immersed himself into the mind of the madman, which was likely no easy task. Phillips talked about Phoenix’s process on set, which would involve the actor randomly dropping out of a scene, to the confusion of the other actors.

“In the middle of the scene, he’ll just walk away and walk out. And the poor other actor thinks it’s them and it was never them — it was always him, and he just wasn’t feeling it.” And after taking a breather, he said, “we’ll take a walk and we’ll come back and we’ll do it.”

At the end of the day, whatever his process was it seems to have all paid off, as the movie is generating all sorts of buzz with Phoenix at the top of every conversation. It even won the prestigious Golden Lion out of TIFF, and while if that will translate to any major Oscar nominations remains to be seen, there is no denying that Phoenix is turning in one of the most exceptional performances of his career. I’m sure putting on all the makeup really gets an actor into the right headspace.  

JOKER is in theaters October 4.