Joaquin Phoenix on ‘Joker’, Robert De Niro and How He Got the Acting Buzz

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“I always thought that acting should be like a documentary. That you should just feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, what you think the character is going through at that moment.” – Joaquin Phoenix

Few comic book characters have been portrayed so successfully on screen as Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime has been the subject of impressive portrayals by actors like Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger and now, Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. In an extensive profile in Vanity Fair, Phoenix spoke about portraying the iconic supervillain and working with co-star Robert De Niro.

When it comes to the Joker — or, more accurately, the man who would become the Joker — Phoenix points out that the character can be interpreted in several ways. He explains, “There’s so many different ways of looking at it. You can either say here’s somebody who, like everybody, needed to be heard and understood and to have a voice. Or you can say this is somebody that disproportionately needs a large quantity of people to be fixated on him. His satisfaction comes as he stands in amongst the madness.”

Regarding working with De Niro, Phoenix has high praise for the two-time Academy Award winner. Phoenix says, “He is my favorite American actor. I got the impression from him that he did things in [a]scene, certain behaviors, certain gestures or movements, whether the camera was on him and registering it or not. For me, I always thought that acting should be like a documentary. That you should just feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, what you think the character is going through at that moment.”

Nonetheless, because their characters were so distant, Phoenix reveals that the two didn’t speak much on set. He says, “I didn’t like to talk to him on set. The first day we said good morning, and beyond that I don’t know that we talked much.

For his part, De Niro agrees that not talking was appropriate for their roles. He says, “His character and my character, we didn’t need to talk about anything. We just say, ‘Do the work. Relate as the characters to each other.’ It makes it simpler and we don’t [talk]. There’s no reason to.”

Phoenix reveals that he was hooked on acting after one of his earliest roles, an appearance on Hill Street Blues. He remembers, “After they said ‘cut,’ I remember the other people and the other actors, I could feel that they went, ‘Oof.’ There was this moment and I felt it too, like my body was f*****g buzzing. I’ll never forget this feeling. It’s like the first time you drink or smoke a joint or something. You’re like, holy f**k, my whole body is aware of it in a way that I’ve never been aware. It felt incredible. It was an incredible feeling, and I think the organism went, ‘Oh, well, huh, we’re tapping something.’”

More: Joaquin Phoenix on Playing the Joker: “It’s shaky ground as an actor”

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