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13 Behind-The-Scenes Stories About The Making Of ‘Joker’

List RulesVote up the most over-the-top details about the supervillain origin story.

Wash off the clown makeup and turn that bloody frown upside-down. Check out these wild Joker behind-the-scenes stories.

Todd Phillips’s Joker is a psychological character study of a tormented, mentally ill, alienated man who transforms into a vicious, sociopathic murderer. It’s hardly the lighthearted comic book movie fare that superhero genre fans are accustomed to. Joker is a throwback to the gritty New Hollywood movies of the 1970s like Taxi Driver and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Despite the disturbing transformation of Arthur Fleck into a supervillain, Phillips’s 2019 drama became the first R-rated film to ever gross $1 billion at the global box office. It also earned 11 Academy Award nominations. 

Phillips, a filmmaker mostly known for his hilarious comedies like The Hangover and Old School, fought for his bloody vision against all odds. Get the backstory on the battles the writer-director waged to get the origin story of a failed comedian and party clown onto the big screen. Also, learn all about the extraordinary journey of Joaquin Phoenix’s methodical transformation that resulted in his first Academy Award for best actor.

Make your voice heard. Vote up the most over-the-top details about the supervillain origin story.

  • 1

    Joaquin Phoenix Improvised Many Of The Movie's Most Memorable Scenes

    Somehow, Warner Bros. knew to just let Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix do their thing. Producers handed Joker filmmakers $55 million and basically stepped off - a rarity in modern-day movie production.

    Phillips was constantly tinkering with the film's script. Actors had to adjust and improvise to accommodate the daily script changes. The madness definitely suited Phoenix, who grew more and more improvisational as his character shifted from Arthur Fleck into the Joker. 

    Phoenix more than earned his Academy Award for best actor by expanding what was written on the page and taking Joker to a new height of surreal insanity. The film's cinematographer Lawrence Sher discussed the one-take scene when Phoenix unexpectedly climbs into the refrigerator:

    While some scenes were very planned out, like when he’s in the phone booth 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.

    Fleck's bathroom dance following his subway murder spree was also improvised. Sher explained:

    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.

    Interesting peek behind the curtain?
  • 2

    Joaquin Phoenix Made It A Point Not To Examine Other Joker Performances

    Photo: The Dark Knight / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Many actors have played the Joker in many different mediums over the years. The best-known big-screen performances include Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman, Heath Ledger's Academy Award-winning turn in The Dark Knight, and Jared Leto's committed take in Suicide Squad. 

    Joaquin Phoenix made it a point to not draw any inspiration from those Joker performances. The actor also did not want to study specific mental illnesses or assign a psychological diagnosis to his character. Instead, he decided to read a book on political assassins in an attempt to try and understand what makes a murderer turn to violence. 

    "I did identify Arthur as a particular personality, a particular type," Phoenix said. "I also wanted the freedom to create something that wasn’t identifiable. This is a fictional character. I didn't want a psychiatrist to be able to identify the kind of person he was... Let's step away from that, and we want to have the room to create what we want."

    "I didn't refer to any past iteration of the character," he added. "It just felt like something that was our creation in some ways."

    Todd Phillips enjoyed the freedom of his Joker character. "It was really liberating," Phillips said. "There really were no rules or boundaries for it."

    Interesting peek behind the curtain?
  • 3

    Joaquin Phoenix And Robert De Niro Barely Talked To Each Other During Filming

    What happens when two method actors work together on the same movie? Chances are, if their characters are not friendly in the film, then the actors who portray them won't be friendly off-screen, either. 

    Robert De Niro plays talk show host Murray Franklin in Joker. The longtime TV personality is not happy that the latest media sensation Arthur Fleck will be on his show and lets everyone know exactly how he feels. Franklin is one key cog in Arthur's collapse into a ruthless sociopath. The actors only have one significant scene together in the movie, and it's a shocking one.

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that both Phoenix and De Niro saw absolutely no reason to converse with one another unless the cameras were rolling.

    "I didn't like to talk to him on set," admits Phoenix. "The first day we said good morning, and beyond that, I don't know that we talked much."

    "His character and my character, we didn't need to talk about anything," added De Niro. "We just say, 'Do the work. Relate as the characters to each other.' It makes it simpler, and we don't [talk]. There's no reason to."

    Interesting peek behind the curtain?
  • 4

    Joaquin Phoenix Studied People Afflicted With PBA To Develop Fleck's Painful, Uncontrollable Laughter

    There is a medical condition called pseudobulbar affect (PBA). It causes its sufferers to laugh or cry (or both) uncontrollably. It can lead to weeping and often has absolutely nothing to do with how the person is actually feeling. 

    In Joker, Arthur Fleck suffers from PBA. He even has to carry a card with him to let people know about his condition that reads, "Forgive my laughter. I have a condition." When Fleck is nervous or in a stressful situation, he produces painful, cacophonous laughter. 

    Fleck's laughter is off-putting and awkward, far from the pleasant jolliness typically associated with laughing. It makes the people around him uncomfortable and perhaps even scared. In order to prepare for the role, Phoenix studied videos of people affected by PBA. 

    "I started [with the laugh]," Phoenix said. "I watched videos of people suffering from pathological laughter, a neurological disorder that makes individuals laugh uncontrollably."

    Interesting peek behind the curtain?