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He’s in every or almost every scene of the movie. When you have to film an actor that much, what kind of relationship do you have with them?

It’s all about creating a level of trust.  The transformation of Joaquin’s character also transformed my relationship with him on set. Even in prep, I didn’t say two words to him and, honestly, I think I was a little scared of him. I didn’t want to step on his process in any way. He does work with a level of artistry, but I knew that he also had a lot of pressure. Taking on that role, you’re living in the shadow of Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson and others. We wanted to respect that there’s a lot of people watching and waiting to see how he’s going to reinvent a character.

In the beginning, I didn’t really talk to him that much, but he actually broke the ice first. He apologized, saying, “Sorry, I know I’m acting a little odd, but I’m just trying to do this thing.” I went, “Jesus, man, please keep doing whatever you’re doing because it’s fantastic. If you never talk to me during the rest of this movie, I’m 100% cool with that, too.” I didn’t want to get in the way, frankly, and just try to capture the moments. I’d think, “How can I work very quickly to keep him in rhythm and make the technical aspects invisible so Todd and the Joaquin could have the most opportunity to capture lightning on-screen?” That was always my objective.

It’s funny, once we started shooting scenes with him as Joker, Joker’s confidence meant Joaquin was opening up more to me, off screen. Joaquin started watching the dailies to see what I was doing and we started talking more. By the end of the movie, it was a much more open conversation, in ways we could serve each other. Often we’d just roll the camera early and look for nuances of the character, sometimes when Joaquin knew and didn’t know. Like him lighting a cigarette or showing nervous energy or waiting for action, as we’re ramping up to do a take. Joaquin ended up loving that.  We did it very purposefully, 

The movie has a lot of handheld and improvisational camerawork.  There were never marks or rehearsals. Because I was operating along with Geoff, there was always an unspoken relationship between us, the camera and Joaquin.  I was always watching him and seeing what he was doing, and designing the camerawork around his actions in real time.

Like you said, you want your work to remain invisible to Joaquin and Todd so they can do what they want, so what were some heavily improvised moments where you achieved that? The bathroom dance was, right?

Exactly. We had coverage and storytelling elements in there, like him hiding the gun and washing the makeup off. This process began early enough in the shoot that we were able to say, “Let’s throw out what we were going to do and just see what happens.” The beauty of that first dance was, it was a oner in the bathroom, lit so he could go anywhere.  Todd started playing Hildur’s score [for the bathroom scene], Joaquin came in, closed the door and Geoff and Joaquin just organically worked around each other.  We didn’t even tell Geoff what was going to happen. That’s how good Geoff is as an operator, he could just flow with it.

Joaquin created that whole dance and, after the success of that scene, we started creating more moments like that.  Like when he’s playing with the gun and fires it into the wall.  All we knew was that he’d fire the gun into the wall at some point, but we never planned when or knew that he’d stand and have that conversation with himself and begin dancing.  We just had two cameras in there and let it happen, which became a major part of how we did a lot of things. 

While some scenes were very planned out, like when he’s in the phonebooth or walking up the stairs, others had no plan at all.  When he climbed in the refrigerator, we had no idea he was going to do that. We set up two camera positions, and Joaquin just thought about what he would do if he was a massive insomniac. Again, we lit it so he could go anywhere, and the first and only time he did it, we were mesmerized.  I remember thinking, “What is he doing? Did he just crawl in the fridge?” It was as fun and weird for us to watch it too.

I just wanted to say I think you and Todd Phillips make very good looking comedies.

Ah, I appreciate that.

Do you guys just want to make comedy cinematic or just do what feels natural?

It’s not as intentional as that. Our approach to The Hangover was no different than Joker, which is: let’s start from a place of authenticity, let’s take risks, take big swings, and do something that feels different. We never want to play to expectations that a comedy has to be bright or only service only the jokes, but instead serve the story and character first and the jokes will play.  Certainly, we wanted to make The Hangover and the sequels as cinematic as possible.

Every time Todd and I set out to make a movie, we have the same philosophy, “Let’s make this the best thing we’ve ever done. Let’s not have any compromises, let’s push each other every day.” When we get another chance to make a movie, we’re aware it’s hard to get them made, so we’re honored and grateful for the chance.  It’s for no other reason than, we’re trying to continue to get better at what we do. 

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