Why Joaquin Phoenix Was Hesitant To Star In 'Joker' And How Todd Phillips Won Him Over

Joaquin Phoenix is a hard man to win over, but somehow The Hangover director Todd Phillips did, with a can of face paint and some green hair dye. But it took more than that to convince the Oscar-nominated actor to sign on to Joker. Phoenix revealed why he took on the role of the Clown Prince of Crime in the upcoming Joker origin film when he has been notoriously resistant to blockbusters.

Phoenix has crossed paths with superhero project before, most notably Marvel's Doctor Strange, for which he was considered for the title character before he declined. But Phoenix had always been resistant to superhero movies, which made it more of a surprise when he was cast as the Joker in Warner Bros.' upcoming comic book film. In an interview with TotalFilm, Phoenix admits that he had reservations about the role at first:

"It took me a while [to commit]. Now, when I look back, I don't understand why... There was a lot of fear, yeah. But I always say there's motivating fear and debilitating fear. There's the fear where you cannot make a fucking step, and there's the kind where it's like, 'OK, what do we do? That's not good enough.' And you're digging deeper and deeper. I love that kind of fear. It guides us, makes us work harder."

So why did he end up making a 180 on his view of superhero movies? It was co-writer and director Todd Phillips' vision that sold him, one that bucked traditional comic book storytelling in favor of an intimate character study:

"I think oftentimes, in these movies, we have these simplified, reductive archetypes, and that allows for the audience to be distant from the character, just like we would do in real life, where it's easy to label somebody as evil, and therefore say, 'Well, I'm not that.'"

Phillips has reiterated in the past that Joker won't pull from any comic-book arcs, and that this film is a character drama first. Describing the crux of the character's arc, Phillips said, "And yet we all are guilty. We all have sinned. And I thought that here was this film, and these characters, where it wouldn't be easy for you as an audience. There are times where you're going to feel yourself connected to him, and rooting for him, and times when you should be repulsed by him. And I like that idea of challenging the audience, and challenging myself to explore a character like that. It's rare to explore characters like that in any movies, but specifically in the superhero genre."

But why did Phillips pursue Phoenix for the role? "The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe." So basically this means that everyone who sees Joker will be forced to watch You Were Never Really Here immediately after, right?

Joker hits theaters on October 4, 2019.