With the success of The Hangover trilogy and the most recent version of A Star is Born — which he produced — behind him, writer/director Todd Phillips was driven to come up with something unique. It seems that he found it with Joker, the Joaquin Phoenix film that brings the arch-enemy of Batman to the screen in the first for a superhero movie: a villain origin film.
“It’s different tonally than a lot of my work,” he explained to the media at the Venice Film Festival, “but ultimately it’s storytelling. I was influenced by the movies I grew up on, character studies of the ‘70s, so I thought why can’t you do genre film like that in the comic book world with a deep dive on a character like Joker? I thought with a great actor, we could really do something special.”
Enter Joaquin Phoenix in the title role as well as his alter-ego, Arthur Fleck, and an exploration of Arthur’s descent into madness and eventual rebirth as Joker. “What drew me to the project,” Joaquin explains as he shares the stage with Todd, “was that we were going to approach it in our own way. I didn’t refer to any past iterations of the character. It just felt like it was our creation. I think what was so attractive is that he’s so hard to define, and you don’t really want to define him.
“There were times,” he continues, “I would find I was identifying certain parts of his personality and then I would back away from that, because I wanted there to remain a kind of mystery. Every day felt like we were discovering new aspects of the character. I wanted the freedom to create something that wasn’t identifiable. I didn’t want a psychologist to be able to identify the kind of person he was.”
When it’s suggested that he has a penchant for tormented characters, Joaquin counters that in this case, “I was interested in the light of Arthur for lack of a better word. It wasn’t just the torment, it was the joy, his struggle to find happiness and to feel connected. To have warmth and love. I don’t think of a character as tormented. This character was so many different things to me at different times. The more unpredictable it was, the more inspiring.”
Audiences will find out the results on October 4 when Joker reaches theaters.