Joaquin Phoenix Explains Why He Felt ‘Debilitating Fear’ Over Playing The Joker

Warner Bros.

Jack Nicholson gave an indelible performance as the Joker in Batman, only to be knocked down the “best performance in a superhero movie” hierarchy by Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight. It’s an iconic character played by two great actors — and also Jared Leto — which is why Joaquin Phoenix was hesitant to sign up for Todd Phillips’ Joker. Y’know, the same Joaquin Phoenix who has been nominated for three Oscars, and should have been nominated for a fourth for You Were Never Really Here.

“There was a lot of fear,” he told Total Film about taking the role. “Now, when I look back, I don’t understand why.” Phoenix explained that he separates fear into two categories: there’s “motivating fear and debilitating fear. There’s the fear where you cannot make a f*cking step, and there’s the kind where it’s like, ‘OK, what do we do? That’s not good enough.’ And you’re digging deeper and deeper. I love that kind of fear. It guides us, makes us work harder.”

There was another reason why he didn’t immediately jump at the opportunity:

“I think 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.’ And yet we all are guilty. We all have sinned. And I thought that here was this film, and these characters, where it wouldn’t be easy for you as an audience. There are times where you’re going to feel yourself connected to him, and rooting for him, and times when you should be repulsed by him. And I like that idea of challenging the audience, and challenging myself to explore a character like that. It’s rare to explore characters like that in any movies, but specifically in the superhero genre.”

Phoenix infamously turned down the role of Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, probably because Marvel makes, in his words, “fun movies,” and this guy isn’t the person thing who comes to mind when you think of “fun.” Phillips is glad Phoenix joined Joker, though, but “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.”

Joker opens on October 4.

(Via Games Radar)