Radiating palpable discomfort at having to take part in late-night chit-chat is nothing new for Joaquin Phoenix, even when he’s not engaged in a disinformation campaign on behalf of a pal’s performance art film. So it wasn’t surprising that the Joker star’s appearance on Tuesday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! saw Phoenix not so much bristle at Kimmel’s praise for, and questions about, his turn as DC Comics’ most iconic villain, as hunker down and gamely engage in a show business ritual he’s constitutionally unsuited for. Kimmel tried to loosen Phoenix up with a few lightning round questions about mundane topics, but the actor squirmed until he gave up on trying to remember the first movie he saw in the theater, before a quick edit put an end to the exercise. “You are a mysterious man,” pronounced Kimmel in introducing the bit, to which Phoenix responded, “What does that mean?”
Fair enough, though the famously intense and committed Phoenix has indeed cultivated an air of mystery in his choice of roles and his process over the years. Kimmel, seemingly not content with how uncomfortable his guest was already, unexpectedly played an outtake reel from Joker sent to him by director Todd Phillips. In it, Phoenix berates someone named Larry on set for breaking his concentration. “It’s just so embarrassing,” said Phoenix, once the clip was done. “That was supposed to be private. Sorry about that. Sorry you guys had to see that.” Still, Phoenix did go on to say that Larry (who turns out to be Joker’s cinematographer, Lawrence Sher) was always whispering while he was trying to channel the proper mindset to embody the Crown Prince Of Crime. So Phoenix took the time to both apologize publicly to the D.P., and to complain that Larry really shouldn’t have been whispering.
The clip is just one prickly detail of Joker circulating in advance of the film’s opening this Friday. There are also rumors that this iteration of Joker’s journey from the film’s unstable, lonely, disregarded Arthur Fleck to a painted lunatic terrorist has been taken up by incel types as aspirational. There’s the fact that fears of violence have caused some theaters to ban costumes from screenings, while the U.S. military has apparently put its soldiers on alert for potential mass shootings. Meanwhile, the film’s director has done nothing to combat the idea that Joker is a rallying point for white male grievance, with Phillips blaming “woke culture” for both killing his career in dude comedies, and for stoking fears that frustrated young white men in America are in any way conditioned to lash out. Comics purists might be more upset at Phillips for turning the intriguingly mutable, multiple-choice origin story of Batman’s nemesis into what looks like a barely-connected-to-the-comics roadmap for thwarted, entitled white-guy griping.