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Joaquin's Comments Put A Joker Sequel In Serious Jeopardy

It appears Joaquin Phoenix is out to leave a few patently unhappy faces on the Warner Bros. bosses who financed Joker

Though the film has danced its way to nearly a billion dollars at the box office since hitting theaters a few weeks back, Phoenix — whose entrancing performance as the deeply disturbed man behind the titular, iconic Batman villain has driven much of the film's success — is reportedly not quite as on board with a return engagement as one might think. If his comments in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times are any indication, his participation in a potential Joker sequel is far from a given.

"I guess the fear was that you'd get locked into doing something repeatedly that you don't really care about, that doesn't motivate you or excite you. Part of the whole attraction to me [of Joker] was there was no expectation. I didn't sign a deal to do [more films]. It was a one-off," the actor said. "I wouldn't just do a sequel just because the first movie is successful. That's ridiculous."

The Times interview comes a full month after the release of Joker — a month that's seen the film survive a seemingly endless wave of unwelcome controversy to become a bonafide hit with critics and moviegoers alike. Over that period, Joker has also become the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time, is on track to join the billion dollar movie club in the very near future, and is fully expected to be a major player come awards season. Needless to say, success like that has led to a lot of talk around a franchise-obsessed Hollywood about not just whether or not there will be a sequel to Joker, but if Phoenix would be open to returning for a second round of bloodletting and happy dancing.

Phoenix — who's somehow managed to never appear in any sort of sequel across a career of nearly four decades — has continued to play coy on the subject while on the Joker press circuit. Those recent statements to the Times, however, offer a little more insight into where he stands on the possibility of a sequel, and why he was excited about the possibility of a standalone Joker movie to begin with. They also suggest that if Warner Bros. brass chooses to move forward with a possible continuation of Joker, they're going to have to do more than a little wooing to get Phoenix back in the greasepaint. 

It's also pretty clear, however, that simply flashing some extra green in Phoenix's face won't do. The actor's statement about getting "locked into doing something repeatedly that you don't really care about," is particularly telling, as it implies he's definitely not in it just for the money. That notion also jibes pretty clearly with his career track, as he's frequently found himself on the precipice of superstardom via high-profile roles (see Gladiator, SignsWalk The Line), only to retreat into the indie underground where he's made his name. 

Joker has once again raised Phoenix's profile in the public forum, so another retreat to indie world may be in the cards moving forward. Either way, while Phoenix has remained crystal clear that a return to the twisted mind of Arthur Fleck isn't out of the question, he's been just as adamant that it'll take another truly compelling story to get him to suit up for any Joker sequel.

Joaquin Phoenix is not the only wildcard in play for a Joker sequel

Of course, the good news for all the Fleck-heads out there is that Phoenix is definitely not ruling out a return to Gotham for a Joker sequel. In the same Times interview, Phoenix admitted that he'd talked a bit with Joker director Todd Phillips about finding a way to delve even deeper into the twisted psyche of Arthur Fleck via a follow-up movie. 

"Long before the release or before we had any idea if it would be successful, we talked about sequels," Phoenix said. "In the second or third week of shooting, I was like, 'Todd, can you start working on a sequel? There's way too much to explore.' It was kind of in jest — but not really."

The actor went on to offer that he'd even gone so far as to make mock posters for a Joker followup, photoshopping the character into some of the greatest movies of all time. "I basically said, 'You could take this character and put him in any movie.' So I did a photo shoot with the on-set photographer and we made posters where I photoshopped Joker into 10 classic movies: Rosemary's Baby, Raging Bull, Yentl... if you see it, you're like, 'Yeah, I'd watch that movie.' Yentl with Joker? That would be... amazing!"

That photoshopping bit seems like a particularly Fleckian flight of fancy, though one fueled less by violently psychotic narcissism than by Phoenix's playful sense of admiration for a truly complex character. Playing Fleck offered the actor an opportunity to immerse himself in the mind of a twisted man, not just transforming himself emotionally, but also physically. Phoenix has rarely (if ever) been better in a movie, and he's clearly relishing every second of his time in Arthur's skin throughout Joker. But will a chance to dig deeper into the character's damaged psyche be enough to get him on board for a sequel? Only time will tell.

As it happens, Phoenix is not the only wildcard in play in this situation — director Todd Phillips seems equally ambivalent about signing on for a follow-up film. Despite the fact that the final moments of Joker leave the door wide open for a sequel, he seems even less psyched about the prospect of a actually making one than Phoenix, and even insinuated via the same Times piece that the fate of a Joker 2 may hinge entirely on the return of both actor and director.

"We haven't talked about it a ton. We've only talked about the fact that if we ever did one — and I'm not saying we are because right now we're not — it couldn't just be this wild and crazy movie about the 'Clown Prince of Crime.' That just doesn't interest us," Phillips said. "It would have to have some thematic resonance in a similar way that this does." 

The director continued on to say, "I think the reason why [Joker is] resonating is what's going on underneath the movie. So many movies are about the spark, and this movie is about the powder. If you could capture that again in a real way, that would be interesting." 

Phillips' thoughts on why Joker is connecting are particularly revealing — mostly in the context that if Joker is indeed all about the "powder," the film itself has certainly delivered quite the spark among moviegoers the world over. Inasmuch, it seems like the concept of returning to Gotham for another fistful of powder is all but impossible. After all, it's clear as Joker closes that the powder is set, the fuse is lit, and if Arthur Fleck is to return in any form, an explosion seems not just imminent, but also quite necessary. 

With that in mind, the real question becomes whether or not Phoenix and Phillips can find as much intrigue in the explosion as they did in the simmering fuse that is Joker. Either way, the fire is still burning for more; here's hoping that actor and director can both find something interesting in the flames.