×

Joaquin Phoenix on ‘Joker’: ‘It Was One of the Greatest Experiences of My Career’

Joaquin Phoenix wrestled with playing the Joker before he signed on to Todd Phillips’ latest film. The actor talked about coming to terms with the role at a Q&A following the North American premiere of “Joker” at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday night.

“I mean honestly, it wasn’t an easy decision at first,” Phoenix said. “I didn’t f–king know. I didn’t. But then there was something that was drawing me toward it. It just evolved as we worked together. It started becoming something more than I anticipated. It was one of the greatest experiences of my career.”

Phoenix’s interpretation of the Joker comes as Warner Bros. is trying to revamp the DC Universe, following disappointing results from 2017’s “Justice League” with Batman and Superman. Phillips said he pitched “Joker” to WB executives as an origins story, similar to gritty 1970s and ’80s movies that he grew up with such as “Raging Bull” and “Network.”

“What’s great about Joker is that he’s an unreliable narrator and he has no origin story,” said Phillips, who is best known for directing the “Hangover” franchise. “We had a freedom. We picked from some of the comics. It was really liberating.”

Phillips said he thought of Phoenix as he was co-writing the script, but it took some time to convince the actor. “I always said he never really signed on to the movie,” Phillips said. “He just showed up for a wardrobe fitting.”

And Phillips doesn’t envision Phoenix’s “Joker” fitting into a larger DC Universe, with Robert Pattinson signing on to play Batman in a Matt Reeves film that will debut in 2021. “I don’t see it connecting to anything in the future,” Phillips said. “This is just a movie.”

Unlike most other comic book films, WB is marketing and positioning “Joker” as an adult drama and serious awards contender. The movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 31, and sparked buzz that Phoenix could be nominated for a best actor Oscar. (Heath Ledger, who played the character in “The Dark Knight,” won a posthumous best supporting actor Academy Award in 2009.)

The Toronto premiere was packed with Warner Bros. executives, as well as actors such as Lucas Hedges and Charlie Hunnam (who both have films playing at Toronto). Bradley Cooper, one of the producers of “Joker,” watched the film from the mezzanine but didn’t join the cast onstage.

“Joker” opens in theaters on Oct. 4.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content