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The strange ways Joaquin Phoenix prepared to play The Joker

If you know anything about the Batman universe, then you know it takes a lot to play the Caped Crusader's arch-nemesis, the Joker, and Joaquin Phoenix is poised to be the next in a long line of actors who've become the Clown Prince of Crime.

Although it's a big undertaking, the enigmatic actor isn't a bad choice for a role that requires a maniacal attitude and the ability to convey inner pain, as well as a touch of old-fashioned silliness. Whether it's explaining how he got his scars, shooting down the Batwing with a comically large pistol, or socking Bruce Wayne with a mighty "POW," every actor has brought something menacing to the role, and it's likely Phoenix will be no different.

What all of those portrayals had in common were talented actors putting in some strange work. Fortunately for Phoenix, he has a few things working in his favor, such as an all-star creative team including The Hangover director Todd Phillips and a script by Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile). However, the icing on the cake is the fact that, whether he knows it or not, Phoenix has been preparing for this part for almost his entire career. So it's safe to say he's in a position to show fans something they've never seen before.

To help fans keep track of Phoenix's rise to the top of Batman's hit list, here's a rundown of all the strange ways Phoenix has prepared for the role of the Joker. 

Phoenix is taking his Joker in a new direction

When it comes to playing the Joker, every actor post-Dark Knight is living in the shadow of Heath Ledger. The man won an Academy Award for his dark depiction of the killer clown, a terrorist who loves creating chaos. Prior to Ledger, most actors didn't stray too far from Cesar Romero's campy take in the 1966 TV show. But Ledger decided to get gritty, and as a result, he made cinematic history.

So how is Joaquin Phoenix going to handle his character in light of Ledger's phenomenal performance? Well, speaking with Collider, Phoenix said he'd been giving that a lot of thought, and that his take on the Joker would have to be something new. As he explained, there are different writers and artists telling Joker stories in the comics, and they're constantly giving "different interpretations" of the character. And as Phoenix admits, that's what he'll have to do to make his character work.

"Maybe it's like doing a play," Phoenix said, "like you always hear about people doing something, 'You should have seen this actor in this performance,' but then other actors do it, and it's a different kind of film.'" The actor went on to say, "I think that genre, comic books, kind of lends itself to having different people play the same character and interpret it in a different way." In other words, when Phoenix finally shows up in all that clown makeup, expect a completely different Joker than what we saw in The Dark Knight.

Phoenix is getting scared so he can play the Joker

Joaquin Phoenix is well aware that all eyes will be on him as he tackles the iconic Batman villain. Speaking to Collider, he not only laid out the ways in which the film's unconventional style poses more of a risk to his image than a big-budget superhero movie, but he explained that director Todd Phillips' vision for Joker is something he's afraid of ruining. 

Talking about the film, Phoenix explained, "It feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe, mostly, it scares the f*****g s**t out of me or something." When taking a role, Phoenix says that it "might as well be the thing that scares you the most."

However, not wanting to betray Phillips' vision and not wanting to betray Joker fans are two different things. When asked directly about any anxieties of letting people down, the actor had some blunt words to share. "I could care less," he told IndieWire. "I don't really think that much about what people think. Who cares, who cares? My approach to every movie is the same. What I'm interested in is the filmmaker and the idea of the character."

Phoenix has been losing a lot of weight

When it comes to losing weight, some actors take it way too far, like Christian Bale for The Machinist and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. And now, it looks like Joaquin Phoenix is joining the A-list weight loss club.

Fans were stunned in August 2018 when Just Jared posted what appear to be paparazzi photos of Phoenix walking the streets of New York City, looking noticeably slimmer than he did in his previous role for The Sisters Brothers. Many assumed the actor had begun the process of looking thin in order to properly capture the typical body type of a certain always-smiling villain. 

While there has been a diverse slew of portrayals of the Joker throughout movies, TV shows, and comics, none of them were portly. (Well, Jack Nicholson's Joker was a little hefty.) The Joker is typically skinny with long limbs, and it seems Phoenix is living up to the image. When the first trailer for the film dropped in April 2019, Phoenix looked absolutely emaciated. We can count every rib, see every bone in his back, and the man's face is looking super gaunt. Phoenix has never been afraid to go the extra mile in his movies, but now it seems there's definitely some madness to his method acting.

Phoenix is beating up his body

Phoenix did a lot to his body to prepare for the role as the Joker, but in addition to losing weight, his on-screen body work also needs to be acknowledged. Paparazzi have snapped countless photos of the actor running down the streets of New York, in full clown makeup and his burgundy suit. The dude is clearly putting on the miles for this part.

In the particular scene in question, he's being chased by two of his co-stars, Shea Whigham and Bill Camp, who are dressed as police detectives. While most actors would do their own running, most wouldn't jump straight into a car. Phoenix, on the other hand, is a different breed of actor. Some passerby on the street videoed the scene in which Phoenix's Joker runs headlong into traffic and gets hit by an oncoming taxi cab. The actor hurls himself at the windshield and even flips over the top of the vehicle, crumbling to the ground beside it. 

For a movie that seems to be more about human drama and the character's inner struggles, it's doubtful there will be a lot of action, but it seems the star is willing to take on as many tough scenes as he can. Judging by the cab collision, it seems Joker won't be completely without its fair share of mayhem, and we're tipping our hat to Phoenix for his dedication to playing the part.

Phoenix has been thinking about playing a part like this for years

Joaquin Phoenix wanted to play a Joker-like role even before he heard rumblings of a standalone, experimental movie. Apparently, he was enamored by the idea of exploring a comic book character by way of a study or cautionary tale rather than a paint-by-numbers origin story that usually ends on a rooftop. Speaking with Collider, Phoenix said that, "Three or four years ago, I called my agent and said, 'Why don't they want to take one of these characters and just make a lower budget film about it, a movie but a character study, and why not take one of the villains?" So when he heard there was a Joker film in the vein of a Martin Scorsese movie, Phoenix was super psyched, explaining, "I was like, 'Oh, that's so exciting, that's the kind of experience I want to have, with a movie based on a comic character.' I felt like you could get something on-screen." So if Phoenix has been thinking this long about playing a well-developed bad guy, then we can't wait to see what he has in store for the Clown Prince of Crime.

Phoenix is perfect for the part because he tanked his own career

It takes a lot to play the Joker. Fortunately, Phoenix demonstrated he's the perfect choice for an experimental leading man when he tanked his own career for roughly two years to achieve a viral stunt.

In 2010, Phoenix played himself in I'm Still Here, a mockumentary about Phoenix's year-long "retirement" and his new hip-hop career. For a while, everyone thought Phoenix really had quit acting, but the star later admitted it was all a stunt for the film that chronicled his "fall" and his desperation to get his celebrity back. While the actor committed hard to the stunt, even going viral for a bonkers appearance on the Late Show David Letterman, the film was critically reviled.

Phoenix didn't act again for two years after I'm Still Here bombed. However, he still enjoyed the entire ride, calling it "an amazing experience: not finding your light, not hitting the mark, not memorizing lines." Despite the negative attention, the process was good for him as an actor, and as he explained to T: The New York Times Style Magazine, "It allowed me to be bold in my decisions instead of being safe."

In other words, playing in I'm Still Here sounds like something the Joker would do. It's chaotic, scary, and pure anarchy. And chances are good that Phoenix still has that crazy edge, which is perfect for the Clown Prince of Crime. In other words, if you're looking for a person to play an iconic and beloved character in an origin story, then the guy who was willing to tank his own career is a pretty good choice.

Phoenix has been playing a lot of cool characters before the Joker

If you consider every movie that Phoenix has made as preparation for Joker, then the man has quite a bit of experience under his belt. Phoenix is a three-time Oscar nominee, and all three times, he was playing violent, angry men. There was the psychotic emperor in Gladiator, a drug-addled Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, and an angry and volatile cult member in The Master.

He's also had critically acclaimed roles in films like Inherent Vice (playing a zonked-out detective), the indie breakout Her (showing up as insecure introvert), and You Were Never Really Here (starring as a brooding hitman). Sure, his work has been all over the place in terms of genre and tone, but the man chooses roles that fulfill him artistically instead of financially. And the Joker is a character with just as much depth as evil. It may sound like a dream role for any actor, but it requires a lot of work and immense talent to pull off. Fortunately, almost all of Phoenix's performances have been building up to this moment.

Phoenix has been playing dangerous men on the edge of sanity for quite some time. Plus, he also specializes in quieter roles about characters suffering from serious inner turmoil. Combine those two personas, and you've got the perfect actor to play a failed comedian-turned-successful supervillain.

Phoenix is avoiding the comics

Instead of being the antagonist to the Caped Crusader, Joaquin Phoenix is getting the chance to play the Joker as a main character. However, he probably won't be using any comics to help prepare for the part. Speaking with Empire, writer-director Tod Phillips said they weren't going to adapt an existing comic book story. As he explained, "We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from." So it's safe to say that Phoenix isn't going to be pouring over any particular comics. 

Still, if the trailer and plot details are to be believed, savvy superhero fans will see a strong resemblance to 1988's The Killing Joke. Written by Alan Moore, this graphic novel sees the Joker hatching a devilish scheme to finally break Batman, and during the story, it flashes back to the Joker's early days as a failing stand-up comedian. Desperate to support his pregnant wife, he takes on a life of crime. One vat of chemicals later, and we have our Joker origin story. And based on what we know about the Joaquin Phoenix film, it does sound kind of similar to Moore's classic tale. So yeah, we're wondering if Phoenix has ever peeked at The Killing Joke, and if maybe Moore's twisted story will influence his performance at all.

Phoenix is ignoring the budget

Joker is reshaping the mold a bit when it comes to how superhero movies are typically made. DC has thrown a lot of money at projects like Aquaman, Justice League, and Wonder Woman, to varying levels of success. However, The Hollywood Reporter notes that Joker only has a budget of about $55 million. While that likely means there will be fewer buildings blowing up, that shouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention, as both Phoenix and Todd Phillips have teased a gritty character study and not a rooftop-brawling hero romp. 

While most actors might balk at the idea of getting into experimental territory, Phoenix previously told Collider that he's not one to pick roles for safety. Instead, he's more interested in artistic fulfillment. As he explained, "I wouldn't quite classify this as like any genre. I wouldn't say it's a superhero movie or a studio movie or a … It feels unique, and I think more than anything, and probably the most important thing, is Todd seems very passionate about it and very giving, and so that's exciting." 

Phoenix went on to say that it doesn't really matter about the size of the movie. What's more important is that a superhero film has "incredible characters that are dealing with real life struggles." So clearly, the budget isn't worrying Joaquin Phoenix about his upcoming film. It might not have major money behind it, but the actor is far more concerned about story, and when it comes to quality, that's a super promising sign.