Joaquin Phoenix’s lead turn in Joker, DC’s R-rated standalone spin-off, was bound to earn raves. Not only is he one of his generation’s finest, but the role tends to earn whoever plays it some of the best notices of their career. (Unless they’re Jared Leto.) Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier stole the 1989 Batman from Caped Crusader Michael Keaton, while Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for playing him like a psycho anarchist. Even Mark Hamill is arguably even more beloved for his voice work on Batman: The Animated Series than for Luke Skywalker.
Not that Phoenix studied those performances. Speaking at the Venice Film Festival, where Joker premiered to rapturous applause and rave reviews, the Oscar-nominated thespian spoke about how he went out of his way to make his take unique.
“For me the attraction to make this film was we were going to approach it in our own way,” Phoenix said. “I didn’t refer to any past iterations of [the Joker]. It just felt like our own creations, which was really important to me and the key to it.”
So, sorry Cesar Romero, but Phoenix didn’t need to binge the ’60s Batman TV show to find his footing.
Joker, which has no connection to the semi-fumbling DCEU, tells the story of one Arthur Fleck, a struggling comedian and clown-for-hire living in Gotham City in 1981. For the role Phoenix lost a whopping 52 pounds, which wound up helping him get into character.
“It turns out that affects your psychology,” he revealed. “You start to go mad.” For advice on how to deal with dramatic weight change, perhaps he turned to one of his co-stars, Robert De Niro, who famously gained 60 pounds for Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.