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Joaquin Phoenix on playing the Joker: "It scares the fucking shit out of me"

Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. risked incurring the wrath of Jared Leto by announcing that it was moving forward with an origin story about the Joker that will star Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince Of Crime instead of Leto—who played a particularly damaged version of the character in Suicide Squad and is set to reprise the role in his own solo Joker movie. Phoenix’s Joker movie is coming from director and co-writer Todd Phillips, and it sounds like it will lift some elements from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke by making the villain a struggling comedian who becomes a funny criminal after a tragic series of events (and a fateful push from the Batman, who may or may not even appear in this movie).

Speaking with Vulture, Phoenix has shared some interesting thoughts on this Joker project, including his belief that Phillips has a “very interesting understanding of this world” (presumably meaning the DC universe) and he has some things to say with this project. Phoenix says it “feels unique,” like it is in “its own world in some ways,” but the most appealing thing for him is that, as he says, “it scares the fucking shit out of me.” Based on the context of that line, it sounds like he’s referring to the pressure of this unique vision Phillips has, rather than a general anxiety about inviting the inherent chaos of a character like the Joker into his heart—which sounds more like the sort of thing Jared Leto would be concerned about anyway.


Interestingly, Phoenix also notes that this kind of lower-budget, lower-stakes superhero movie is the kind of thing he’s wanted to do for a while. He says that he told his agent “three or four years ago” that he’d like to do a “character study” on a comic book villain like the Joker, though he specifically said he couldn’t do the Joker because “it’s just been done.” His agent tried to set up a meeting at Warner Bros. for him, but at the prospect of actually having to talk about this with a studio, Phoenix immediately gave up and forgot about it until he heard about Phillips’ idea.

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