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When it came to getting inside Joker's head, Joaquin Phoenix had an easier time than most

By Josh Weiss
Joaquin Phoenix Joker

Joaquin Phoenix can do crazy really, really well. For all the definitive proof you'll ever need, just check out his tour-de-force of a performance as the tempestuous Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. With that in mind, it made a ton of sense for Todd Phillips to cast the actor in this October's Joker, an origin film about Gotham City's most famous villain as he rises to bad guy prominence in the early 1980s.

Given the character's depraved and laughter-filled outlook on life, it's probably safe to assume the role is a challenging one for actors, forcing them to venture into the darkest recesses of the human mind and bring back whatever monsters might be living in them. Maybe not for Phoenix, though, who, according to Phillips, inhabited the central part of failed comedian Arthur Fleck as if it was second nature.

"My goal wasn't to take Joaquin Phoenix and put him in the comic book universe. My goal was to take comic books and put them in the Joaquin Phoenix universe," Phillips recently told USA Today, adding that Joaquin is very well aware of the unhinged headspace required to play Batman's greatest adversary. "Joaquin was aware of that. I would say he's unusually comfortable in that space."

Joaquin Phoenix Joker

More of an intense psychological character study akin to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver than it is a comic book movie, Joker co-stars Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Brian Tyree Henry, Douglas Hodge, Marco Maron, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Josh Pais, and Bryan Callen. In particular, Cullen is playing Thomas Wayne; Hodge is Alfred; and De Niro is Murray Franklin, a talk show host meant to be an homage to 1983's The King of Comedy (yet another Scorsese picture) in which De Niro played a deranged, law-breaking comedian.

Joker will screen at the Venice Film Festival later this month before enjoying its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month. It chuckles its way into theaters everywhere Friday, Oct. 4, and then (AND ONLY THEN) will we know for certain if Phoenix's take on Gotham's Clown Prince of Crime is more unchained than those put forth by Romero, Nicholson, Hamill, Ledger, and Leto.