Joaquin Phoenix on How He Found His ‘Joker’

“For me, the attraction to make this film and this character was that we were going to approach it in our own way. So for me, I didn’t refer to past interpretations of the character.” – Joaquin Phoenix

Three-time Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix is known for being very tight-lipped when it comes to the press — in fact, he’s known for sometimes not saying anything at all during press conferences. So when Phoenix does speak about his work, it’s a rare treat. It’s even more of a bonus in the case of Joker, when Phoenix spoke about playing the famed comic book villain when the film debuted at the Venice Film Festival (where it won the Golden Lion).

Though there have been several amazing iterations of the Joker on screen — from Caesar Romero to Jack Nicholson to Mark Hamill to Heath Ledger — Phoenix admitted that he sought his own approach to the character. He explains, “For me, the attraction to make this film and this character was that we were going to approach it in our own way. So for me, I didn’t refer to past interpretations of the character.”

Like other Joker actors, Phoenix engaged in a physical transformation. In his case, he didn’t just put on makeup — he also lost over fifty pounds to reflect the character’s mindset. He says, “The first thing for us was the weight loss—I think that’s really what I started with. And, as it turns out, that then affects your psychology. You start to go mad when you lose that amount of weight in that amount of time. There’s a book that I read about political assassins and would-be assassins that I thought was really interesting, and kind of breaks down the different types of personalities that do those sorts of things.”

Another key to finding his Joker identity was for Phoenix to journal in order to find the character’s thought process. Phoenix explains, “Very early on in the rehearsal, I was given the journal that he had—his journal and joke diary. And that was really helpful, because I had been there for a couple of weeks and wasn’t sure how I was going to start, and Todd [Phillips, director] sent this [empty]journal. I didn’t know what to write, so I asked [Todd] for some suggestions, and after a few days, I ignored his suggestions and suddenly it was coming out. It became a really important part of the discovery of the character at that time.”

Of course, one of the key trademarks of the Joker is his maniacal laugh, and Phoenix reveals that it required a lot of practice for him to find the right “voice” for his version of the Joker’s laughter. He revealed:

“Before I even read the script, Todd came over and talked me through what he wanted out of this character and this movie, and he showed me some videos, and he described the laughter as something that was almost painful. And so ultimately, I think Joker is a part of him that’s trying to emerge, and I think that was a really interesting way of looking at this laugh… It felt like a new, fresh way of looking at it. But honestly, I didn’t think that I could do it. I would practice alone and then asked Todd to come over to audition my laugh, because I felt like I had to do it on the spot and in front of somebody else. It took me a long time.”

via The Daily Beast

More: Joaquin Phoenix on Acting: “Don’t overthink it, let it be what it is”

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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