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

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“Maybe there’s something enjoyable about a character in which we don’t really know what motivates him” – Joaquin Phoenix

Critics and fans have had a variety of reactions to Joaquin Phoenix‘s portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis in director Todd Phillips’ Joker, and so does Phoenix himself. In an interview with USA Today, Phoenix spoke about the difficulty of finding the character at first, and how that led him to a surprising conclusion about what motivates the character.

Phoenix points out that Arthur Fleck/Joker is unique in terms of comic book characters in that he is unpredictable and his motivations are rarely clear. He explains, “Most of these villains and heroes, their motivations are so clearly defined. Maybe there’s something enjoyable about a character in which we don’t really know what motivates him.”

In fact, Phoenix admits that he was having trouble finding the character — until he realized there was a good reason why it was difficult. He revealed, “When we were prepping for it, I felt very frustrated because I couldn’t lock on anything that felt like a foundation for the character. And at some point, I realized that was the (expletive) point. He was unstable. It’s shaky ground as an actor. I enjoy not knowing precisely what a character may do, but you want to have like a couple moments that you feel solid about. And that never really happened. We just became very comfortable with not knowing.”

While Heath Ledger admittedly went to some dark places in order to portray the Joker in The Dark Knight, Phoenix explains that while he separates the character from himself, he didn’t find portraying the Joker particularly dark. He explains, “As humans, we’re so malleable – it’s probably how we survive and adjust and adapt. [When making a movie] my whole life changes. I go to a new city, I’m living in a new place. I don’t have photos from home or anything that reminds me of my life. I don’t know that you know how it changes you, or whether it does. But I certainly don’t have any great actor stories about having nightmares or (stuff) like that. Honestly, I had so much fun making this.”

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