TIFF 2019: Joaquin Phoenix Explains The ‘Limitless’ Potential Of Joker


Arguably the most anticipated film of the fall, Joker keeps giving fans new reasons to be excited. Over the weekend, it won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, an unheard of triumph for any Hollywood blockbuster, let alone a comic book movie. On Monday, the film had its North American premiere at TIFF, giving co-writer-director Todd Phillips, star Joaquin Phoenix, and several other cast members a chance to explain how they brought a new respectability to the world of superhero movies.

Real freedom

According to Phillips, one of the greatest appeals of making Joker was the title character’s fluid origin story. “What’s great about the Joker is that a) he’s an unreliable narrator and b) he really has no origin story, so we had a freedom,” he said. “We picked and chose a little bit from some of the comics and some of the past… there was a real freedom with it. It was very liberating. Even the people at DC had said, ‘Yeah, just do what you want. Take a shot at just doing something different,’ so the real idea was just about doing an in depth character study, a deep dive into, what if you take a comic book movie and you do it in a different way?”

Going to Phoenix

Phillips makes it clear that the concept for the film was never just about the Joker—it was always about the actor he had in mind to play the role. “I said I want to write it for Joaquin Phoenix,” he explained, recalling the project’s origins. “I didn’t know Joaquin at all. Like everybody here, I knew and loved his work and I just thought… for me, as a writer, it always helps me to write with an actor in mind. Whether we end up getting that actor or not is another story, but it just helps. We really started writing it for Joaquin—and then getting Joaquin was a whole other thing. Easier said than done.”


Limitless potential

Phoenix is the first to admit that he was reluctant to sign on, but he couldn’t ignore the project’s potential. “It seemed limitless in how you could interpret the character and what you could do with it,” the actor explained. “It didn’t feel like there were any rules and that was very attractive to me, but really it was meeting Todd. He has such a unique understanding of this character and the film and the tone. It was just really attractive. Honestly, it wasn’t an easy decision at first, but I knew I really liked Todd and I wanted to work with him… it just evolved as we worked together. It went through prep, it started becoming something more than I could have anticipated, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my career.”

Standalone supervillain

Based on good buzz alone, fans are probably wondering about sequels or the film’s place in the DC Universe, but Philips insists that Joker was never meant to be part of a franchise. “It’s not really connected to that universe and it was really intentionally not,” he explained. “When I went to Warners, the idea was not just about one movie, but about a label—sort of a side label to DC—where you can do these kind of character studies, kind of low-rent, low budget movies, where you get a filmmaker to come in and do a deep dive on a character. It was never meant to connect, so I don’t see it connecting to anything in the future. I think this is just this movie.”

Joker arrives in theatres on October 4. Check out the trailer below.