Star Joaquin Phoenix took no inspiration from past iterations of the character when developing his role in the upcoming Joker movie. Debuting in 1940, the character was intended to be a one-off villain. Following an intervention from editors, however, The Joker ultimately survived and has since endured throughout the decades, emerging as Batman's most iconic nemesis. As such, the Clown Prince of Crime has been adapted multiple times across a variety of mediums. Though most notably voiced by Mark Hamill in animation and video games, he's been played to critical acclaim on the big screen by both Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. The latter even went on to win a posthumous Oscar for his performance. He was most recently played, to somewhat less success, by Jared Leto in 2016's Suicide Squad.
Following the underwhelming reception experienced by Justice League, DC and Warner Bros. have shifted back towards more standalone projects. Thus far, the results have been largely successful, with Shazam! earning positive reviews and a solo Aquaman outing going on to dominate at the box office. Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker will mark the furthest step in that direction yet. Set in 1981 Gotham City, the film with have no ties whatsoever to any of the DCEU movies of the last decade. Equally, the film is expected to predate Batman altogether and won't adhere directly to any comic book storylines. Despite initial skepticism from fans, audiences have been largely won over by the recent trailers. Critics, meanwhile, have hailed the film a dark masterpiece.
Speaking with Variety at the Venice Film Festival, where Joker held its premiere, Phoenix revealed that the studio's willingness to embrace an original take extended to him as a performer. As a result, the actor was given the exact kind of freedom he'd craved with the role. "I didn’t refer to any past iteration of the character,” he said. “It just felt like something that was our creation in some ways." Phoenix went on to add that not only did he have freedom from past iterations but also from anything at all identifiable. "What was so attractive about this character for me is he’s so hard to define. You don’t really want to define him. Every day felt like we were discovering new aspects of his character…up until the very last day."
With the film set to dive more fully into the character's backstory and mental illness, Phoenix revealed that it was actually books centered on political assassins that he turned to for information and inspiration. Such books served to make the character something that defied familiarity and therefore was able to avoid easy categorization. "I also wanted the freedom to create something that wasn’t identifiable. This is a fictional character. I didn’t want a psychiatrist to be able to identify the kind of person he was." The new details lined up with the previously revealed real-world origin of Phoenix's Joker laugh.
The effort would appear to have very much paid off. Amid all the praise and rave reviews being heaped upon the film, Phoenix's performance is being especially singled out. So much so, some are already predicting a fresh Oscar nomination could be in the actor's future. Phoenix was last nominated for Best Actor following his turn as Freddie Quell in The Master. Whether or not that will indeed be the case remains to be seen. Fans, however, will be able to judge the results of Phoenix's intense preparation for themselves when Joker finally hits theaters.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
- DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
- Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022