When Joaquin Phoenix was officially cast as the titular DC Comics' villain in Todd Phillips' upcoming thriller Joker, the news was hardly shocking, considering the actor's vast resume of playing troubled loners like in Her, You Were Never Really Here, and Inherent Vice. But now, after reading this bleak and contentious New York Times interview with the 44-year-old movie star, it's hard to imagine anyone else stepping up to play that iconic part. According to the article, Phoenix embodying his role was apparently just as miserable as its subject matter: Arthur Fleck, a depressed clown-for-hire in Gotham City who turns to crime after being beaten down by society.
Speaking to journalist Dave Itzkoff (who, bless his heart, sounds like had to deal with some standoffish answers like "I don’t even know what you just said," which was allegedly growled), Phoenix details his experiences on set during Joker. He explains that early on, he got into some disagreements with director Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Due Date, War Dogs) about how much his character should weigh. Phoenix, who was burnt out from having to lose weight for roles like The Master, recalls saying, “It’s a horrible way to live. I think he should be kind of heavy. Todd was like, ‘I think you should do the real thin person.’” Phoenix ended up losing a whopping 52 pounds for the role.
That's hardly all. Later in the chat, Phillips revealed that, at certain points during filming, Phoenix would just get up and leave, freaking out his co-stars. Phillips explains to the New York Times, “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.” Phoenix's co-star Robert De Niro, whose own work on Taxi Driver inspired the tone of Joker, didn't see any of that, however, saying, "Joaquin was very intense in what he was doing, as it should be, as he should be. There’s nothing to talk about, personally, on the side, ‘Let’s have coffee.’ Let’s just do the stuff.” Either way, it doesn't sound like a particularly jovial on-set environment.
Also weighing on Phoenix during the making of Joker was how closely the movie tied into the comic book mythology, especially how the characters of Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) and his son, Bruce (Dante Pereira-Olson) grow up to be Batman and feature in the film. According to Phillips, "[Phoenix] never liked saying the name Thomas Wayne. It would have been easier for him if the movie was called ‘Arthur’ and had nothing to do with any of that stuff. But in the long run, I think he got it and appreciated it." Phoenix's ultimate acceptance is good news, as the forthcoming film looks to be one of the biggest movies of the year. It surprise won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award and is hotly anticipated before it hits theaters on October 4. Watch the trailer below and read Itzkoff's entire piece here.