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The Surprising Way Joaquin Phoenix Created His Joker Laugh

Get ready: Joaquin Phoenix's interpretation of the Joker might be even scarier than you imagined.

The Method actor is definitely bringing his own very specific touch to one of DC's most notorious villains, but some of the details are downright disturbing — including the inspiration behind Phoenix's Joker laugh.

Each version of the Clown Prince of Crime has a distinct and unsettling cackle, and in order to create his, Phoenix took inspiration from a real-life mental illness. While speaking with Italian magazine Il Vernerdi (via IndieWire), Phoenix revealed that he studied "pathological laughter" to craft his Joker laugh. Pathological laughter, also known as "the pseudobulbar affect," causes people to both laugh and cry uncontrollably, even in totally inappropriate situations, without any specific trigger. If it sounds funny, it's definitely not, considering it can have a horrible affect on the person suffering from the disorder.

Disturbing as this sounds, it also seems frighteningly appropriate for the Joker, especially Phoenix's version. Previous Jokers have ranged from cartoonish to straight-up scary — the Jokers played by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger bring the latter to mind — but it seems as if Phoenix's Joker will skew closer to real life than to DC's comics given that he's using a little-known real-life illnesses to inform the character.

Phoenix studying an actual ailment to craft his Joker laugh calls to mind the method Us actress Lupita Nyong'o took when coming up with the hoarse voice one of her two characters, Red, speaks in. Nyong'o explained to The New York Times that she studied spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that causes spasming of the larynx by which Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was famously afflicted, when shaping her character. She also shared with Variety, "[It's] a condition that comes about from a trauma, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, and it creates this spasming in your vocal cords that leads to an irregular flow of air." Her explanation for Red's raspy voice in Us wound up drawing criticism, with National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association executive director Kim Kuman coming forward to clarify that there's actually no "emotional or psychological" cause for spasmodic dysphonia, as it's a neurological disorder. 

Joker, the villain's first standalone film which is directed by The Hangover's Todd Phillips, is reportedly inspired by Martin Scorsese's dark oeuvre of films — and Scorsese's frequent collaborator, Robert DeNiro, will appear in the film. The first trailer certainly put that grittiness on full display, portraying a much darker Joker than anyone has seen just yet. Meanwhile, it makes sense to cast a versatile actor like Phoenix in the lead role; from Her to The Master to Walk the Line, Phoenix can run through the entire emotional spectrum with apparent ease, and he'll likely thrive in this part as well.

Joker will premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 31 before arriving in cinemas on October 4, so get ready for the creepiest Joker anyone's seen yet, courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix.