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SYFY WIRE Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix breaks silence on his Joker casting, explains why he wanted to take the role

By Matthew Jackson

This week, after months of rumors and whispers, we finally got confirmation that Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe winner Joaquin Phoenix (The MasterWalk the Line) will star as The Joker in an dark origin story film for the character not connected to anything in the DC Extended Universe. Now, Phoenix is finally speaking about taking the role and what we can expect from the project.

The Joker film in question was first reported nearly a year ago, and will be co-written and directed by The Hangover's Todd Phillips. While Jared Leto's Joker, who first appeared in Suicide Squad back in 2016, will continue to frolic around the DCEU's massive superhero epics, this film is expected to be more of a crime drama produced with a budget of around $55 million. It's an opportunity for Warner Bros. to use one of its most recognizable DC Comics heroes on a smaller scale and with a grittier tone, and landing an actor like Phoenix to lead such a film is a huge win for the studio. 

So, what led Phoenix to take on the project in the first place? Speaking to Collider about his reported casting, he both praised Phillips' approached and hinted that his own motivations were at least a little rooted in fear.

“I take a lot of time and consideration when making decisions and what I’m gonna work on always. So, in some ways, the process, which is obviously reading a script and meeting a filmmaker and then continuing to have meetings and discussions with Todd [Phillips]," Phoenix said. "I think he’s very impressive and he seems to have a very interesting understanding of this world and what he’s trying to say. And so there is something very appealing about that and working with him on this particular project. It feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe, mostly, it scares the f**king sh*t out of me or something. It might as well be the thing that scares you the most.”

Phoenix, who was widely reported to be one of the leading contenders to play Doctor Strange at Marvel before Benedict Cumberbatch got the role, has apparently had an interest in approaching comic book roles in a new way for some time. He told Collider that, a few years back, he even suggested to his agent that he'd be interested in a film that would approach a comic book villain or something similar through intimate character drama rather than blockbuster spectacle. Now, it seems Phoenix has gotten his wish, and he's apparently set to make a film that, in his eyes, isn't a comfortable fit in any particular genre box.

“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 then anything, and probably the most important thing, is Todd seems very passionate about it and very giving, and so that’s exciting," he said. "I think, underneath the excitement of these films, and the size of them, there are these incredible characters that are dealing with real life struggles. And sometimes that is uncovered and exposed, and sometimes it isn’t, and so I always felt, like, there were characters in comics that were really interesting and deserve the opportunity to be kind of studied. And so I think that’s what Todd sees appealing about this idea."

The still untitled new Joker film could begin shooting as early as September. It does not yet have a release date.