Joaquin Phoenix lost a lot of weight for his role as the Joker. It was so serious that filming could only be done once, with no opportunity for reshoots. Todd Phillips had to write the script during production.
Joaquin Phoenix's first role in a comic book film. He previously turned down the title role in "Doctor Strange" (2016) as well the chance to replace Edward Norton as the Hulk in "The Avengers" (2012), because he was unwilling to sign onto the multi-picture deal that Marvel Studios was requiring.
The Joker's make-up is very similar to John Wayne Gacy's, a serial killer who would often entertain children while dressed as Pogo the Clown. This make-up style was shunned by working clowns at the time, as they strictly prohibit "sharp" ends in their make-up, as it scares children.
The joke "When I was a little boy and told people I was going to be comedian, everyone laughed at me. Well no one's laughing now" is inspired by the late British comedian Bob Monkhouse's "People used to laugh at me when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well they're not laughing now."
Three of the previous actors who have played the Joker - Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto - are Oscar winners (with Ledger winning for playing The Joker). Joaquin Phoenix has been nominated for an Oscar three times.
Early footage shows Arthur walking by a sign for Amusement Mile, Gotham City's version of Coney Island, which features prominently in the original Killing Joke graphic novel. Joker cocreator Bill Finger was partly inspired by a sign for Steeplechase Park in the real Coney Island which featured a grotesque grinning face.
Robert De Niro's role as Murray Franklin, the talk-show host who gives Arthur Fleck/The Joker his big break, is an ironic role reversal. In The King of Comedy (1982), De Niro himself played Rupert Pupkin, an unsuccessful, mentally-unstable comedian who stalked and kidnapped his favorite talk-show host, Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis).
Due to differences in time zones the first trailer was released on April 4th in Australia which is also the birthday of the late Australian actor Heath Ledger who played the Joker in the Dark Knight (2008)
Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy expressed hope that Joker voice actor Mark Hamill could reprise the role in the film while DC Extended Universe Joker actor Jared Leto wanted to reprise the role as well.
Phoenix the villain's iconic laugh, calling it "something that's almost painful. I think for Joker it's a part of him that wants to emerge. I think we all kind of assume what a Joker laugh is and it felt like a new, fresh way of looking at it." "I didn't think that I could do it," he added. "I kind of practiced alone but I asked Todd to come over to audition my laugh. I felt like I had to be able to do it on the spot and in front of somebody else. It was really uncomfortable. It took me a long time."
With Joaquin Phoenix playing the Joker, all the major cast members of Gladiator have now played mentors/origin story characters for all the current DC superheroes so far. Russell Crowe has played Superman's father Jor El, Connie Nielsen played Wonder Woman's mother Queen Hippolyta and Djimon Hounsou played Shazam the wizard and King Ricou in Aquaman.
Shailene Woodley was offered the role of Sophie Dumond but turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with Big Little Lies. (2017) Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Dakota Johnson and Aja Naomi King were all considered for the the part. Mary Elizabeth Winstead went on to play Helena Bertinelli/Huntress in Birds of Prey (2020). Zazie Beetz was cast in the role.
The film will reportedly feature a younger actor portraying the Joker and will be separate from the DC Extended Universe and be part of a new film label by DC Comics and Warner Bros. Ironically enough, Joaquin Phoenix is only 2½ years younger than Jared Leto.
Speaking at the Venice Film Festival where the film premiered, Joaquin Phoenix stated he wanted his version of the Joker to be so complex, he read various personality disorder that even psychiatrist could not be being able to identify what his character was. He also added that even the filmmaker and the actor himself were in the process of discovering new aspects of the character and his personality up until the very last day of the shooting.
Todd Phillips described Joaquin Phoenix's take on Arthur as, "a guy who is searching for identity who mistakenly becomes a symbol. His goal genuinely is to make people laugh and bring joy to the world."
Todd Phillips' won the Venice film festival's prize, the Golden Lion for Best Film. During his acceptance speech, Phillips thanked "Warner Bros. and DC for stepping out of their comfort zone and taking such a bold swing on me and this movie," according to The Hollywood Reporter. Phillips also thanked Phoenix, who joined him on stage. "There is no movie without Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin is the fiercest and brightest and most open-minded lion I know. Thank you for trusting me with your insane talent," said Phillips.
Joaquin Phoenix disagreed about gravitating towards tormented characters, stating he had been "interested in the light of Arthur for lack of a better word. It wasn't just the torment, it was the joy, his struggle to find happiness and to feel connected. To have warmth and love. I don't think of a character as tormented." Ultimately, Phoenix said of Arthur/Joker, "He was so many different things to me at different times, the more unpredictable it was the more inspiring."
When asked if Joker meant anything for the DC/Marvel rivalry, Todd Phillips stated: "I'm not about the competition with Marvel and I've not been in the comic book world. When we conceived of this idea, it was a different approach. I don't know the sort of effect it will have with other filmmakers. Comic movies are doing really well. They don't need to change."
According to the MSN.com film website, this film got made because the producers pitched a production budget of just $35 million to Warner Bros, and the actual final cost of the film (i.e before advertising, distribution and promotion) stayed within that figure. This is partly because Todd Phillips is known to not be a flamboyant director, the film is not an effects heavy movie and Joaquin Phoenix is not considered to be an expensive A list superstar actor but a down to earth character actor who prefers to work on low key projects.
Phillips and Silver found the most common Joker origin story, in which the character is disfigured after falling into a vat of chemicals, too unrealistic. Instead, they used certain elements of the Joker lore to produce an original story, which Phillips wanted to feel as authentic as possible. Because the Joker does not have a definitive origin story in the comics, Phillips and Silver were given considerable creative freedom and "pushed each other every day to come up with something totally insane." The two wrote the script with Phoenix in mind: "The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe."
Joaquin Phoenix talked about how his conception of Joker changed during production and what interested him in the character. "Throughout the course of shooting it felt like every day we were discovering new parts of his personality, up until the very last day," said Phoenix. "It was his struggle to find happiness and to feel connected and to feel warmth and love and that's the part of the character I was interested in. He was so many different things to me. Who he was in the first few weeks of shooting was completely different than who he was in the end. He was constantly evolving. I've never had an experience like this. The more unpredictable and looser we left it, the more exciting it was."
Phoenix had been interested in a low-budget "character study" of a comic book character, and said the film "feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe [...] It might as well be the thing that scares you the most.
In terms of prep, the first part for Phoenix was physical: "You really start to go mad when you start to lose that much weight in that amount of time." He also read about political assassins and would-be assassins, but was careful not to overly define Arthur. "I wanted the freedom to create something that wasn't identifiable. I didn't want a psychologist to be able to identify the kind of person he was," he explained. A key element of finding the character came during rehearsal when Phillips gave Phoenix a journal which acts as a prop in the film. Said Phoenix, "That was really helpful but I wasn't sure how to start. It became a really important part of discovery for me at that time."
When asked about violence in the R-rated film, Todd Phillips said, "Violence in the movie was always meant to be a slow burn. People assume and think it's going to be a really violent movie; it affects you differently. You could watch something like John Wick 3 and there's a much higher amount of violence. We tried to paint it with as realistic a brush as possible so that when it comes it feels like a punch in the stomach. But it's all a balancing act of tone." And when asked about tone, "I think movies are oftentimes mirrors of society, but never molders. We wrote it in 2017 so inevitably certain themes find their way in." When he continued, "It's not a political film" there was laughter in the press room, and he added "for some I think it depends the lens which you view it through."
Following the disappointing critical and financial performance of Justice League (2017), in January 2018 Walter Hamada replaced Jon Berg as the head of DC-based film production at Warner Bros. Hamada sorted through the various DC films in development, canceling some while advancing work on others; the Joker film was expected to begin filming in late 2018 with a small budget. By June, Robert De Niro was under consideration for a supporting role in the film. The deal with Phoenix was finalized in July 2018, after four months of persuasion from Phillips. Immediately afterwards, Warner Bros. officially green-lit the film, titled it Joker, and gave it an October 4, 2019, release date. Warner Bros. described the film as "an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale".
Zazie Beetz was asked by Variety at TIFF about whether or not the movie sympathizes with Phoenix's Arthur Fleck, a struggling stand-up comedian and clown for hire whose psychological unraveling leads him to become the notorious Batman villain. Beetz doesn't deny that "Joker" has a sympathetic viewpoint, but she argued that it's less towards Arthur/Joker and more towards Arthur's predicament on a broader scale. "It's kind of an empathy toward isolation," Beetz said, "and an empathy towards what is our duty as a society to address people who slip through the cracks in a way. There is a lot of culture of that right now. So is it empathy for that or just an observation on personalities who struggle?"
In Sept. 2009 "Joker" director and co-writer Todd Phillips said he wants comic book movie fans to know that there is no chance of Joaquin Phoenix's villain and Robert Pattinson's Batman ever crossing over on the big screen. He added that doesn't mean Pattinson won't ever possibly face off against Joker, it just won't be his version.
An early reference for Phillips and co-screenwriter Scott Silver was 1928's silent film The Man Who Laughs. They felt they had "a lot of freedom because Joker never really had an origins story in the comics. We thought it was really liberating because there really were no rules or boundaries, Scott and I just pushed each other every day to come up with something totally insane."
For the Joker's laugh, Todd Phillips broke down into three types: "the affliction laugh, the one of the guys laugh and the authentic joy laugh", the director described it to Phoenix as "something that is almost painful, part of him that's trying to emerge." That was "a really interesting way of looking at this laugh. We all assume what a Joker laugh is. This was new and exciting."
According to Todd Phillips about writing the script: "It was a yearlong process from when we finished the script just to get the new people on board with this vision, because I pitched it to an entirely different team than made it. There were emails about: 'You realize we sell Joker pajamas at Target.' There were a zillion hurdles, and you just sort of had to navigate those one at a time. At the time, I would curse them in my head every day. But then I have to put it in perspective and go, 'They're pretty bold that they did this.'
Phillips and Silver wrote Joker throughout 2017, and the writing process took about a year. According to producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, it took some time to get approval for the script from Warner Bros., partly because of concerns over the content. Similarly, Phillips commented that there were "a zillion hurdles" during the year-long writing process due to the visibility of the character. Phillips said that while the script's themes may reflect modern society, the film was not intended to be political.
Production moved to New Jersey afterward. Filming in Jersey City started on September 30 and shut down Newark Avenue, while filming in November (starting on November 9) shut down Kennedy Boulevard. Filming in Newark began on October 13 and lasted until October 16. Shortly before filming in Newark began, SAG-AFTRA received a complaint that extras were locked in subway cars for more than three hours during filming in Brooklyn, a break violation. However, the issue was quickly resolved after a representative visited the set. That month, Dante Pereira-Olson and Douglas Hodge joined the cast. Whigham said towards the end of October the film was in "the middle" of production, adding that it was an "intense" and "incredible" experience. By mid-November, filming had moved back to New York. Filming wrapped on December 3, 2018, with Phillips posting a picture on his Instagram feed later in the month to commemorate the occasion.
Joaquin Phoenix was cagey during interviews at the Venice Film Festival when asked about siding with Arthur. Phoenix told press that any questions they might have about "Joker" will be left up to the audience to decide. "The great joy of the film for the audience is that they get to decide for themselves [what to think about Arthur's transformation]," Phoenix said. "That's what I was attracted to. In most movies, certainly in genre movies where there is a hero and the villain, the motivations of the character are clear. What I like about this is that I was never certain what was motivating him. I have my own opinion. I think I know what it is for me. But I wouldn't want to impose on anyone who hasn't seen the movie."
On September 22 2018, a scene depicting a violent protest took place in Brooklyn, although the station was modified to look like Bedford Park Blvd. In late September 2018, filming of robbery scenes took place at the First Central Savings Bank in Astoria, Queens. According to Zazie Beetz, Phillips rewrote the entire script during production; because Phoenix lost so much weight for the film, there would not be an opportunity for reshoots. She recalled: "we would go into Todd's trailer and write the scene for the night and then do it. During hair and makeup we'd memorize those lines and then do them and then we'd reshoot that three weeks later."
Joaquin Phoenix explained he wanted his spin on the character to be unidentifiable by real-world psychiatrists after noting he didn't consult past portrayals of the Joker, including Ledger's Academy Award-winning performance. "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 any past iterations of the character," Phoenix said. "It was just something that felt like it was our creation in some ways, and I think that's what was really important for me and key to it."
Co-writer and Director Todd Phillips doesn't see Joker as that big of a departure from comedy. "It's different tonally than a lot of my work, but ultimately it's storytelling. I was influenced by the movies I grew up on, character studies of the 70s, so I thought why can't you do genre film like that in the comic book world -- a deep dive on a character like Joker. I thought with a great actor we could really do something special."
During a press conference at the Venice International Film Festival, Phoenix was asked if he prepared for the role by watching any other takes on the character, and it seems this version does not find its roots in anything that's come before "For me what the attraction to make this film, this character, was that we were going to approach it in our own way, so for me, I didn't refer to any past iterations of the character," Phoenix said. "It was just something that felt like it was our creation in some ways and I think that's what was really important for me and key to it."
By September 2017, Warner Bros. was considering casting Leonardo DiCaprio as the Joker, hoping to use his frequent collaborator Scorsese's involvement to lure him, but by February 2018, Phoenix was Phillips's top choice for the role. Padraig Cotter of Screen Rant noted that since the film was a standalone story, Phoenix would not have to appear in sequels as he would have in the Marvel offer. Phoenix said when he learned of the film, he became excited because it was the kind of film he was looking to make, describing it as unique and stating it did not feel like a typical "studio movie". However, it took Phoenix some time to commit to the role, as it intimidated him and he said "oftentimes, in these movies, we have these simplified, reductive archetypes, and that allows for the audience to be distant from the character, just like we would do in real life, where it's easy to label somebody as evil, and therefore say, 'Well, I'm not that.'"
Phillips confirmed he was in the process of editing Joker in March 2019. At CinemaCon the following month, he stated the film was "still taking shape" and said it was difficult to discuss, as he hoped to maintain secrecy. Phillips also stated that most reports surrounding the film were inaccurate, which he felt was because it is "an origin story about a character that doesn't have a definitive origin". Brian Tyree Henry was also confirmed to have a role in the film. The visual effects were provided by Scanline VFX and Shade VFX and supervised by Matthew Giampa and Bryan Godwin, with Erwin Rivera serving as the overall supervisor.
In August 2018, Hildur Guðnadóttir was hired to compose the film's score. Guðnadóttir began writing music after reading the script and met with Phillips, who "had a lot of strong ideas" about how he thought the score should sound. She worked on the Joker score alongside the score for the drama miniseries Chernobyl; Guðnadóttir said switching between the two was challenging because the scores were so different.
Joaquin Phoenix didn't say that he went mad doing the role of the title character What he actually said, during the movie's press conference: "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" So context matters in this case. He is specifically referring to how one is physically and mentally impacted by dramatic weight loss in a short amount of time (he lost a reported 53 pounds for the role). You can extrapolate what you want from that quote and play up the angle of method-style commitment through physicaly transformation I'm sure it will come up a lot during the next few months of promotion but it's still an important distinction to make.
Phoenix disagreed about gravitating towards tormented characters, stating he had been "interested in the light of Arthur for lack of a better word. It wasn't just the torment, it was the joy, his struggle to find happiness and to feel connected. To have warmth and love. I don't think of a character as tormented." Ultimately, Phoenix said of Arthur/Joker, "He was so many different things to me at different times, the more unpredictable it was the more inspiring."
Joaquin Phoenix said he was drawn to the project because "we were going to approach it in our own way. I didn't refer to any past iterations of the character. It just felt like it was our creation." He expanded on that to add, "I think what was so attractive is he's so hard to define and you don't really want to define him. There were times I would find I was identifying certain parts of his personality and then I would back away from that because I wanted there to remain a kind of mystery. Every day felt like we were discovering new aspects of the character."
Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera has identified Joker as an early Oscar contender following its premiere screening at the 76th annual event on Saturday. In an interview with Deadline, Barbera discussed Joker's resoundingly positive reception and further stoked awards buzz by endorsing critics' praise for Joaquin Phoenix's apparent Oscar-worthy performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. "They're very good," he said of the film's Academy prospects. "Absolutely, it will be in the running. "The film deserves the reception it is getting," he continued. "It goes beyond the boundaries of the genre. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is outstanding and Todd Phillips did a great job."
According to Todd Phillips on New York Times, Joaquin Phoenix "lost his composure on the set, sometimes to the bafflement of his co-stars." "In the middle of the scene, he'll just walk away and walk out," Phillips said. "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 might have walked off set, but he always returned after taking a breather. Phillips remembered Phoenix reassuring him after an especially tense moment, "We'll take a walk and we'll come back and we'll do it." One person Phoenix never walked out on was Robert De Niro, De Niro told The Times that Phoenix was a "consummate professional" when they were on set together. "Joaquin was very intense in what he was doing, as it should be, as he should be," De Niro said. "There's nothing to talk about, personally, on the side, 'Let's have coffee.' Let's just do the stuff."