Joker: Why Joaquin Phoenix Almost Didn’t Take the Role

"There was a lot of fear," Joaquin Phoenix says of taking on the role of Joker for the new DC movie.

Joaquin Phoenix may have dodged opportunities to play both Hulk and Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a starring role as the Clown Prince of Crime finally managed to retain his interest in signing up for a comic book movie …eventually. The actor says he hesitated at first when he was asked to play the Joker in Todd Phillips’ upcoming standalone DC film featuring the iconic villain.

“It took me a while [to commit]. Now, when I look back, I don’t understand why,” he admitted to Total Film. “There was a lot of fear, yeah. But I always say there’s motivating fear and debilitating fear. There’s the fear where you cannot make a fucking step, and there’s the kind where it’s like, ‘OK, what do we do? That’s not good enough.’ And you’re digging deeper and deeper. I love that kind of fear. It guides us, makes us work harder.”

Phoenix was certainly reluctant to get involved with a film that would portray any potential character he played as two dimensional:

“I think oftentimes, in these movies, we have these simplified, reductive archetypes, and that allows for the audience to be distant from the character, just like we would do in real life, where it’s easy to label somebody as evil, and therefore say, ‘Well, I’m not that,'” he explained, before adding “And yet we all are guilty. We all have sinned. And I thought that here was this film, and these characters, where it wouldn’t be easy for you as an audience. There are times where you’re going to feel yourself connected to him, and rooting for him, and times when you should be repulsed by him. And I like that idea of challenging the audience, and challenging myself to explore a character like that. It’s rare to explore characters like that in any movies, but specifically in the superhero genre.”

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Phillips says that his outlook on Phoenix’s casting was very straightforward, though. “The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe.”

Joker hits theaters on Oct. 4.

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