Joaquin Phoenix. Photo: Magnus Sundholm for the HPFA:
  • Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2020: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”

It all began with a laugh. One of the first things that director Todd Phillips showed Joaquin Phoenix as preparation for his role in Joker was different videos of uncontrollable laughing fits. This was before the actor had even read the script and it became an element that was hugely important to his portrayal.“It was described as being almost painful,” says Phoenix, whose character carries a card saying: “Forgive my laughter. I have a condition”. “I thought this was a really smart way of approaching this trademark of The Joker.”Todd Phillips and his co-screenwriter Scott Silver had decided to explore the origin story of Arthur Fleck/Joker and describe how he went from being a failed standup comedian, who wants to make people laugh, to the ultimate villain – a killer-clown – in the Batman-universe. Phoenix found a very complex character to work with. He partly sympathized with him, but at the same time found him despicable.“This is not somebody who is purely innocent from the beginning: this is someone who is a textbook narcissist,” explains Phoenix. “I have really complex feelings about him, and I hope that I can empathize and understand what it is like, but there are other times where I think you have a certain fucking responsibility as well.”Phoenix shed 52 pounds in three months to become Arthur Fleck, giving him a disturbed, gaunt look. When out of his clown-costume, Arthur Fleck’s ribs and shoulder blades protrude and he is described as someone who is beaten down by the brutal world of Gotham City, while also suffering from mental illness. He seeks adoration but has a hard time receiving it. Phoenix did not relate to this part of the character. At least not to that extent.“I don’t like it,” says Phoenix. “I don’t have the desire to be adored or to stand out. I, of course, appreciate people that like the films that I am in if there are any and I appreciate that kind of support but the kind of adoration that Joker wants is very outside this and it is a super narcissistic approach to life. It is just not something that I identify with. It is nothing that I ever craved.”In the role of the Joker, Phoenix follows such esteemed actors as Jack Nicholson (Batman, 1989), Jared Leto (Suicide Squad, 2016), and, most notably, Heath Ledger with a stellar performance in The Dark Knight (2008). Phoenix’s Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Joker is his sixth. His first nomination was for Gladiator in 2001 and he won for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line in 2006.“Honestly, all I want to do is to have more opportunities to work and to do the things that I love,” Phoenix says about receiving awards and accolades. “Recognition allows me to continue to make movies that I have made in the past and want to make in the future, so I am obviously deeply appreciative when people respond favorably to a movie that I am in.”