Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips Go Deep on the Challenges of Making ‘Joker’ and That Ending

     October 23, 2019

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Warning: Spoilers are discussed in this interview.

Before Joker was released, I got to sit down with the film’s director and co-writer Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix for an extended interview. While I was scheduled to speak with each of them individually, at the very last second, they decided they wanted to talk with me together and about ten seconds later I was sitting across from them in a hotel room.

During the very relaxed conversation (it’s clear Phillips and Phoenix really enjoyed working together), nothing was off limits – including spoilers – and that’s the reason I’ve been holding this interview back.

As you can read below, the two of them talked about how they found Joker’s look for the film, how much they pre-planned shots and setups, if they ever felt limited by the schedule and budget, how they hit upon the idea that some of the film could be from Arthur’s imagination, if the film has any Easter eggs, who kept Arthur’s journal after filming wrapped, if they were angry so many set photos and videos got out, why paparazzi can be right next to the camera when you’re filming on a subway platform in NYC, why Phoenix finally agreed to be in a “superhero” movie after saying no in the past, how Phillips had to use all of his goodwill at Warner Bros. to get Joker made, how they crafted Phoenix’s amazing performance, filming the Murray Franklin sequence, how every take of Joker walking down the hallway of Arkham at the end of the film was different, and a lot more.

Finally, a huge thank you to Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix for giving me so much time on a busy day, and for sharing some great stories about the making of Joker.

Check out what they had to say below.

Collider: So this movie must have been great for your smoking habit?

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Image via Warner Bros.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: You know what’s fucked up, Steve? I quit smoking for six weeks until I went to Venice.

TODD PHILLIPS: It’s true. I was there. And I implored you not to lift that cigarette and you just did.

PHOENIX: I know. I know. It’s so fucked. But I’m going back, don’t worry.

So who has Arthur’s journal now?

PHILLIPS: I do.

PHOENIX: Do you?

PHILLIPS: Yeah.

PHOENIX: You motherfucker!

PHILLIPS: I do. I tend to keep one prop from every movie and I said to the prop guy, “I want that journal.” I have it. And it’s the complete journal.

PHOENIX: The original.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. You want it? I’ll give it to you– I mean, you deserve it.

PHOENIX: No. I mean, will it to my kids or something.

PHILLIPS: Okay, fine.

PHOENIX: I don’t have any, but, you know, if I ever did someday.

PHILLIPS: I thought I already offered it to you once and you were like “No, no, it’s fine”.

PHOENIX: You deserve it.

PHILLIPS: You would lose it.

PHOENIX: Uh-huh. Right.

When we spoke last time, you mentioned the first cut was like two and a half hours.

joker-joaquin-phoenix-todd-phillips-interview-socialPHILLIPS: Right.

What was the last scene or scenes that were removed before locking picture?

PHILLIPS: I don’t know that it was a full scene, Steve. I mean the truth is it’s trims. If I have to think of a full scene that was removed —

Or what were you, okay —

PHILLIPS: No, but I mean, because trims is not interesting. But… Do you remember? Because there are always things that were on the fence and we’re like… I remember what we put back, which was the laugh in the apartment that’s there. That would have been an easy one. But —

PHOENIX: I’m trying to remember, because there was a point where you could, like… four cuts after the last time I saw, and it changed, just so much though.

PHILLIPS: Let me get back to you, I have to think about that for a second.

Are there a lot of deleted scenes, like full scenes or did you guys just pull the fat out of scenes?

PHILLIPS: No, there’s plenty of deleted scenes, yeah, but they’re not going to be on the DVD. I don’t do deleted scenes —

PHOENIX: There’s deleted acts. (laughs)

PHILLIPS: Right, there are deleted acts. He’s kidding. Deleted scenes are deleted for a reason. I have a thing against extended cuts and I kind of hate deleted scenes.  The movie that exists is exactly the movie we want it to be— I feel like all that adding deleted scenes do is confuse it.

Got it. Is there a scene that you remember —

PHOENIX: God I like that a lot.

Is there a scene that you remember that you were sad to see go?

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Good question.

PHOENIX: There was a scene that, that during the shoot we thought was one of the best scenes and we loved his behavior in the scene, and I’d always really liked the scene. And Todd told me and said, “We’re cutting that scene out.” And at first I thought, like, “Wait a minute, what do you mean have you cut that scene out?” And then of course I saw it, and it was very obvious. It has to go.

PHILLIPS: What was the scene? I’m siting here like, “What’s he talking about?”

PHOENIX: In Ha-Ha’s, in the stairwell.

PHILLIPS: Oh yeah, that’s a heartbreaker.

PHOENIX: Right?

PHILLIPS: Maybe I’ll release that one. I’m teasing.

PHOENIX: But it actually doesn’t work. That’s just what’s so cool about movies, right? You can have a great scene, it’s something that makes sense, but the movie is the collection of all of these scenes and they have to work together to tell the story, and it actually made that whole sequence so smooth.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. But that might’ve been the last scene I cut out when you just said that question and I was like, I have to think about it. And it was basically a scene between him and Randall — Randall’s the guy he kills with the scissors — and it was a scene with them on the stairwell leading up to the Ha-Ha’s offices.

We see the stairwell because that’s where you paint over on the sign.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Oh yes, exactly.

PHOENIX: It’s that —

PHILLIPS: There was a scene right after he paints the sign —

PHOENIX: It’s the continuation of writing on the sign.

PHILLIPS: That’s right. So there was an additional scene there. That’s the last scene we took out of the movie, to answer your first question, and that’s the scene he most probably wanted in, but then when he saw it without it, he’s said, “I get why he took it out.”

PHOENIX: Yeah, it makes total sense, and then you’re fine with it.

I think you’ve probably answered this, but I have to ask. How close did the makeup and the look of Joker come to being something else?

PHILLIPS: I’ll tell you this, man. Mark Friedberg, he’s our production designer, Mark introduced me to a guy named Hugh Sicotte.. and he’s a concept illustrator. Hugh did a lot of the concept drawings for our sets and for Joker in general. One of the first, obviously the biggest thing Hugh and I kept talking about was Joker’s look, and we were going through photos and references and all that. So that came up pretty early on. It’s not that we did it out of thin air, we discussed it a lot, but it didn’t change much from that point forward. Nicki Ledermann, she’s our Make Up Department Head, Nicki came in and then applied it to Joaquin… You know, there’s one thing to do it on a photo, an illustration, and another thing to apply it to somebody. And so then it was tweaked some more, just to be something you could actually do, but we didn’t go through like 20 iterations of what Joker looked like. We went through 20 iterations of other things, like what he wore and 20 variations of what Murray’s set looked like, but weirdly with Joker, we settled pretty quick. We wanted it to clearly be inspired by him being a clown. You know, some people were going crazy when we released the makeup test a year ago about, “Why does he have a red nose? And all that,” obviously not knowing at the time that his look was inspired by his clown look, you know what I’m saying?

Completely.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Right. So we got pretty close early on, is what I was trying to say.

Last night watching it again, I was struck by the cinematography and the choices of where the camera was placed and I loved it. How much was previz? How much are you finding it in the moment, and talk a little bit about collaborating with the cinematography and the look of the film.

PHILLIPS: Generally we haven’t done a lot of previz in the past. It’s funny you bring it up because on this movie we actually tried previzing the Murray Franklin show. As weird as it sounds. It’s not an action scene, but it was more about such a big set and so many pages, so Larry and I, the cinematographer, we tried previzing that scene. We gave up halfway through, it was too cumbersome. It was just about coming up with a shooting plan that was time efficient. And then we’re like, “Ah, let’s not do that. Let’s just do it the way we always do,” which is we feel it when we’re there. We block the scene out and then we talk about where to put the cameras. So there’s not… Larry and I talk about camera placements on location scouts and tech scouts, and then we get on the day live and Joaquin decides he wants to sit on that chair and not that chair, and it changes everything, which is great and that’s sort of how movies are made. And then you kind of change your camera plan to it, you know? But there are a few shots in the movie, things like on the stairs that I could show you pictures I took on my iPhone like, “Ooh, like this.” And then it’s in the movie later on, you’re doing it. So it’s a mixture of things.

The scene of you walking into the exit door at the hospital. Just to ask, are you walking into that door filming that thing? Talk a little bit about that.

PHOENIX: Yeah. I did.

PHILLIPS: I mean the script said, “He walks into a glass door,” and so my boy does it (laughs).

PHOENIX: Yeah.

Is that like a multiple take sequence that you’re like, “Todd, please fucking get it in one.”

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHOENIX: Not that one. No, that one was fine —

PHILLIPS: “No” meaning “that one was multiple takes and you were fine with it.”

PHOENIX: Right.

PHILLIPS: There were a couple other physical things that he had a harder time with. That one, you tell me. Did you sell it more by hitting it with your knee? Wasn’t really your face —

PHOENIX: Well you can’t give away the tricks. I mean, come on now, we can’t reveal everything (Iaughter).

PHILLIPS: No, because I know when we shot this way your face walked into the door, but on the shots from behind…

PHOENIX: But not wanting to… Yeah, I probably did a little acting trick.

PHILLIPS: Right.

Todd likes to ruin things.

PHOENIX: No, but obviously that’s what you would do.

Todd wasn’t… He’s not even looking.

PHOENIX: Because he’s not paying —

Not even, he was mouthing to you.

PHILLIPS: Oh.

A few quick things.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHOENIX: This is what it’s like when we’re working together. I’m cursing at him and he’s looking at someone else.

You guys made this thing, I don’t know if it’s accurate, for around 60 million.

PHILLIPS: Around.

And that’s a healthy amount of money. But no matter how much money you have, you never have enough money, you never have enough time. So what were the things before filming began that you were sort of nervous to achieve with the time and money you had?

PHILLIPS: To be honest with you, I’ve done enough movies where I know if I get the number that I think I need, it’s because we’ve scheduled it out and we’ve thought about it, so once you get that budget… I needed that number to make the movie comfortably, and I think we made the movie fairly comfortably. You know, we had time —

PHOENIX: We had the time. That was the biggest thing. I remember early on meeting Todd, and he said the one last thing that he was trying to work out with the studio was to have more days, and he had a certain amount of days that he felt were necessary. And I thought, “I mean, really? We don’t need that much. And I’ve made so many movies at like six weeks.” And he was so right. We absolutely used all of those days and we could have done even more.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. We could have used three more weeks because Joaquin and I could still be shooting because we really loved it and we loved changing stuff and diving into it. But I knew to fight for a certain amount of days. We used every minute of every day, but it kind of perfectly ended when it needed to.

PHOENIX: Yeah. Really, looking back I go, “It’s unbelievable that you knew that,” because it was just the right amount of time to get what we needed.

If you take the ending to mean that Arthur and Joker made this whole origin story up, do you have any idea what landed him in lock up in the first place?

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: No, but I don’t want to play this game of “If we accept that.” We want people to make their own interpretations regarding the ending.

I love that there are going to be a ton of people who are saying, “Oh, this all happened.” And the other half are going to be like, “No, this is all in his imagination.” How early on did you guys realize that was a crux of the movie?

PHILLIPS: Scott and I realized in writing it. When we were writing the script, Scott Silver and I really thought there’s a fine line in this movie with delusion and reality, with his own delusions. And there’s something to the character of Arthur where he may be exaggerating to make himself a victim in certain things to make you want to feel for him. So it’s very much, and I know this term gets used a lot, but he’s very much an unreliable narrator. And he’s not your standard unreliable narrator, he’s also Joker. So it’s almost like a double unreliable narrator, because he could also be… Some of it could be a goof to him, right? So yeah, early on it was a big part of the screenplay where you’d read it and go, “Oh, okay, I’m not really sure what’s happening here.” In a fun way, I hope. Not in a frustrating way.

Are there any Easter eggs that people have not found yet?

PHILLIPS: Oh, I’m not a big “Easter egg” guy… but there are some fun things buried in the film for sure. I just don’t know that they are “Easter eggs”.

PHOENIX: I was saying to the last press, they asked me this thing about the clock and 11:11 and I said, “Paul is dead.” And he was like, “What?” I said, “Paul is dead.” He’s like, “I don’t know.” And the other guy that was like my age, was like, “It’s a Beatles reference, dude.” It’s these fucking 22-year-old kids, they don’t know “Paul is dead.” I go, “You see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear.” Everybody thought it said “Paul is dead” backwards and shit.

PHILLIPS: But that 11:11 is not an Easter egg to me. Everything is intentional.

Sure.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Isn’t that what an Easter egg is?

Well the Easter egg probably like —

PHILLIPS: “Easter egg.” That’s such an annoying term.

PHOENIX: I know, it’s awful.

PHILLIPS: That’s the other thing. I don’t even know why it’s called “Easter egg.”

Well, an Easter egg would be like he’s walking on the street —

PHILLIPS: Tell me about it.

— and there’s a newspaper, and the newspaper is like the Daily Planet, referencing, Superman.

PHILLIPS: Right. If you find any of that in the movie, it was entirely an “art department sneaking something in that would make me crazy if I knew about it.” (laughs)

Right. But that’s an Easter egg.

PHILLIPS: Got it. We don’t have that. I don’t think.

PHOENIX: So, Easter eggs are things that the art department is sneaks in and makes the director crazy.

Did you guys lose your mind during filming when all the video and pictures were hitting the internet? Or were you sort of like, “This is just a sign of how much people want to see this movie”?

PHILLIPS: I think for me it was a mixture of both. And I think it also, not empowered me, but I countered it by releasing our makeup tests, our hair and makeup tests. Do you remember that first thing?

A hundred percent. I knew you were going to be filming the next day because that’s how you get ahead of it. You do it the day before.

PHILLIPS: That’s exactly right. That’s right. I thought, “Well, Joker’s going to be on the street tomorrow, I’m releasing this today.” So I did that to counter some of these sort of paparazzi that were following us around. So it was frustrating, not so much that they’re releasing even footage, just having them around was frustrating, right? For me. I don’t know if it bothered you.

PHOENIX: Yeah, but it’s also —

PHILLIPS: But he liked it because it made me crazy, so I think you got a little bit of a kick out of that.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHOENIX: Yeah, and it’s all part of it. Everything that you come in contact with while you’re working becomes a part of the movie, and sometimes you are really frustrated by things and you think, “What is the point of this that’s getting in the way?” And you look back on it and you go, “That’s great.” I mean there’s one particular scene —

PHILLIPS: See, he has the greatest attitude about stuff. That’s what I love about you. Seriously. No, but I know it’s sincere.

PHOENIX: But I’m being honest.

PHILLIPS: No, I know it is. You’re right.

PHOENIX: It’s because I was thinking about a scene and I’m not going to say which scene because it will take credit away from me, but I was looking at the scene and there is like a burning in my eye?

PHILLIPS: I know the scene.

PHOENIX: And I was like, “Whoa, what the fuck? What was going on that day?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, there’s a fucking paparazzi right behind the camera,” and I was staring at him —

PHILLIPS: Yes, I know exactly —

PHOENIX: Sending these bad thoughts.

PHILLIPS: I know the thing.

PHOENIX: And that’s literally what’s in the movie —

PHILLIPS: It’s a great point.

PHOENIX: — and I don’t know what would’ve happened without it. I want to believe that I’m a good enough actor that I would have done it. But really when I thought back on it I was like, “Oh that, that moment, that moment towards the end —

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Staring right at him, I know —

PHOENIX: — towards the right end of the take, there was like three seconds —

PHILLIPS: I know. We were locked in.

PHOENIX: — and I saw it, and I felt it. And I was like, “I really should send him a thank you note.”

PHILLIPS: Because you know, Steve, in New York, it’s not like LA, they don’t make it that friendly for filming. You can’t “own” a sidewalk, right? So if we have a movie camera shooting you right here on the sidewalk, paparazzi can be right next to the camera, an inch. His lens is almost touching our lens and we can’t do anything about it. It’s shocking.

You can’t put up a… just have security sort of stand?

PHILLIPS: Well, we can put some cones around our camera, but he can be right next to the cones, but you can’t block passage on the sidewalk, so you don’t —

PHOENIX: But see then that scene, the subway, getting off the subway. That’s a scene where I thought it really interfered. It was really hard to find that because that was, I think, one of the first times that we were shooting Joker. And we didn’t know —

PHILLIPS: I know, and that was the MTA. The MTA only gave us half a platform, we couldn’t have the other half. So the other half of the platform is a live train with real commuters going through on the —

I actually saw video.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, you’ve seen that.

I’ve seen that shot where I’m like, “How is this video right here next to the camera?” It was crazy to me. It was like they were there.

PHILLIPS: I know. It’s amazing. But you know, one of the things to do the movie and to make it for — 60 million,  which is a lot of money, but in comic book land it sounds like an independent film — is stripping it down and making a movie on the ground, so to speak, with not a ton of CG. So that’s what you’re going to get with it. You know what I’m saying? In a real big action movie, comic book movie, that would have been built on a stage and green-screen subways everywhere and you’d have the control.

But that’s one of the reasons why, to me, the real locations shine through in this movie and it adds so much realism and depth to every shot.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Of course. I agree.

Bruce and Thomas Wayne are present as is Alfred. Did you come close to bringing up any other DC references, or were you sort of just, “I want to be very limited with this”?

PHILLIPS: There’s a —

PHOENIX: There’s a Wonder Woman Easter egg in there, but you probably didn’t catch it. (Laughter)

I was saying you have a few references to the DC Universe.

PHILLIPS: Oh yeah. Well, yeah of course. I mean like we have things like, you know, there are some things, actually. There is an Easter egg.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

PHILLIPS: But I forget how we did it.

I literally asked this question, and you gave me shit for asking it, and now you’re telling me that there is something there!

PHILLIPS: Man, I might be wrong. I don’t honestly remember now. Honestly. But anyway —

So I had a good question.

PHILLIPS: My point is there’s a ton of shit. Well, Gotham is a DC thing, isn’t it? Right? Some of these networks and things. And Martha Wayne’s in the movie because she’s the wife of Thomas Wayne.

100% but —

PHILLIPS: So it’s not just Alfred, Bruce and that, but —

But it’s like the Wayne family. And what I’m wondering about is, there’s a huge DC Universe, and —

PHILLIPS: Oh no, there’s no, like, other things that… No.

Did anything else come close to being in the film?

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: No.

PHOENIX: (Joking) You don’t wanna tell them about the Aquaman thing?

PHILLIPS: No. I don’t want to tell them that.

PHOENIX: No? Okay. So fuck that was….

There were a lot of rumors for a long time about you (Phoenix) possibly being in a superhero movie. Did you ever come close to being in a Marvel movie or something else with DC or another superhero thing?

PHOENIX: What’s “come close” mean?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, but let’s say “come close” is talk.

Did you almost sign on to something else and for whatever —

PHOENIX: For several movies.

So what was it that kept you from saying yes while you said yes to doing this?

PHOENIX: Really it’s the script and the filmmaker. That’s always the deciding factor in why I say yes to something. I think there was a complexity to this character. I think the themes that Todd was trying to explore were interesting and relevant and dangerous and that was exciting to me. I think typically in most movies, not to mention superhero movies, the motivation for both the hero and the villains are very straightforward and very clear. There’s not a lot of gray area. And to me, that doesn’t reflect what I see in our world. And I’ve always thought that it was possible to make a movie in that genre that felt more real. And so I think that’s ultimately —

PHILLIPS: And existed in that gray area a little bit, I like that, yeah, that’s cool.

PHOENIX: Yeah, absolutely, right? The feelings that I had towards Joker when I read the script were really complex. I didn’t know how to feel. I would bounce back and forth between feeling sympathy for him and then I would be repulsed by him. And I like that. I think that it’s challenging. It challenges the audience. And I think in the other films that I looked at, the motivations of the character were very clear cut, and it just didn’t seem really exciting for me, both as an actor and as an audience member. I just didn’t have as much interest in it, and this film had so much, it really challenged me.

PHILLIPS: Very well said.

Actually, it’s a great answer. I love this concept of like essentially a one-shot. You can just do what you want, tell your story. And I think the collaboration between the two of you is awesome. I think that when people see the movie…they’re going to freak out, love the movie, and ask this question. Is there a chance of you two collaborating again on a different kind of one-shot? Does that interest you at all or are you sort of like…

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHOENIX: Yes, we’ll definitely do something.

PHILLIPS: I would do anything with this Joaquin. He’s not only the one of the greatest actors but he’s also one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet. (Joaquin Groans)  I’m not really allowed to talk good about him, in front of him, I wish this part was alone —

PHOENIX: Stop.

PHILLIPS: Fine. Let’s just say “I would do anything with him at anytime.”

PHOENIX: Anyways, the answer to the question is, “Yes.”

So you two working together is a real possibility.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely.

And my other question, though, is —

PHILLIPS: It might not be a movie though. We might open up a store. A barber shop.

PHOENIX: Stop it. Fucking…(laughing)

I think it takes a lot of stones in this day and age for Warner Bros. to greenlight this movie, because it is not doing what everyone else is doing with its shared universe, and you guys are making an individual story set alone. So my question is, how was it working with the studio in terms of were there any lines that they’re like, “Listen, you just can’t cross that one.” Or were they sort of like, “Go do it”?

PHILLIPS: I mean it took a long time to convince them, but I have to say… And I’ve complained about it in the past because it was a lot. For the amount of success I’ve had at the studio, I expected it to be a little bit easier, quite frankly, to get made. A great old school producer said to me one day, after all the Hangover movies and Due Date, he said, “You’ve earned a lot of goodwill at that studio, but in Hollywood, goodwill is perishable. Go use it.” And I will say I used ALL of it to get this made. Now I’ll hopefully earn some more because it looks like it’s working, but I used every ounce of goodwill I had to get them to say yes to this movie. Once they did say yes, they let us do what we want, I have to say, and we made the movie we wanted to make. There were no rules from DC, from Warners. There was no, “You can’t say this, or you can’t cross that line.” They really let us make this movie.

How did you hit upon the idea of Arthur going on the talk show and murdering Murray live on the air?

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: Are we going to put this in an article?

This interview will run after release.

PHILLIPS: Got it.

How did that come about?

PHILLIPS: Well we were, we were trying to think of… Scott and I, that was obviously in the script, it wasn’t improvised, like “I have an idea. Shoot De Niro in the head on take four.” No, it was something we wanted him to have an impact on TV. To change… to send a message out there in a way, as fucked up as it is. If you watch the movie, you do get the feeling like… I hate talking about this stuff, quite frankly, I haven’t ever talked about it. But you get the feeling that Arthur is going to kill himself on TV, that that’s where it’s headed. And Arthur changes his mind in the moment. He was going to do that, if you ask me, and then he sort of changes his mind. So what was the question? Why did we do that?

I’m just wondering where it came from in the scripting process.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, it’s just…

PHOENIX: Yeah, and I remember we talked that around. It’s also that particular personality type. It’s somebody that is seeking recognition and all of these personality types are suicidal, and yet they want their death to mean something. He has that part in his journal, where he says that, “I hope my death makes more sense than my life.” So we’d remember talking early on about the sequence in which somebody wants to take their own life, but they want the biggest audience possible because in some ways they feel like that will fulfill the feeling that they need, this need for recognition. And that was really an intense —

PHILLIPS: Yeah. We don’t really talk a lot about what Arthur’s symptoms are, we don’t want to speak like psychiatrists. I didn’t want even to tell him what we think Arthur has. The one thing we all had agreed on was Arthur has intense narcissism. Outside of that, his other mental conditions or what have you, we’re not really specific with what he suffers from, but I’m just thinking about the narcissism of, he wants to kill himself but wants to do it in front of… you know like do this idea that it should mean something.

What was the first meal you had after wrapping?

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHOENIX: I don’t remember.

Because I was watching it last night, again, and it just looked like you were desperate for a meal.

PHILLIPS: He was hungry.

PHOENIX: Yeah, I don’t remember.

Your performance in the film is fantastic and watching I wasn’t sure what the character is going to do. What is it like on set? Because normally helping to craft that performance and working together to hit that performance. Because it’s phenomenal.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

And I think people are going to universally… I mean you’ve already heard people talking about it, but I’m just curious about whether you can talk a little bit about crafting the performance and hitting that on set and shaping it, when he’s in a zone, if you will, delivering.

PHOENIX: Todd is so amazing at figuring something out amidst all the kind of deranged vomit that is happening on a scene. I just remember so many times, like for instance the Randall scene at the end. I remember we’d been shooting and I really struggled with this line saying, “I’m going to be on Murray Franklin tonight.” And I hated the line, and my solution was just to cut it out. And Todd was so amazing because he didn’t make me feel bad. He didn’t make me feel like, “No, it’s a key line. You’ve got to say it. Just say it.” He didn’t give me a line reading. He just went back and said, “Okay, don’t don’t say it.” And I didn’t say it for the next take, and then he came back, and I’d been mocking Kay who was our hair —

PHILLIPS: She is the Hair Department Head. She’s British.

PHOENIX: She’s English and she has a very refined, nice accent, but I used to mock her, saying that she (hoarse Cockney accent) talked like this. (normal) And Todd came out and he goes, “You should say that line with that accent you do for Kay.” And it just immediately —

joker-movie-posterPHILLIPS: Because the actor Gary (Leigh Gill), he’s English.

PHOENIX: He’s English, right? And so it freed me up. It took all the kind of weight off of that line. And so it’s just something that is —

PHILLIPS: You going (Cockney accent) “I’m going to be on Murray Franklin. I’m going to be on the telly tonight” (normal) is my favorite thing.

PHOENIX: Yeah. I think that it was just loaded with that, right? We would talk about things in advance. We’d talk virtually every night after work —

PHILLIPS: Yeah, we did.

PHOENIX — for hours, texted, and then eventually we’d been texting so much that we would call. And we’d talk about possibilities, and we never defined specifically what we were going to go for, we just had a lot of possibilities.

PHILLIPS: A lot of possibilities, yeah.

PHOENIX: And then we would go in and sometimes —

PHILLIPS: And what actually was great about Joaquin, I know he was talking well about me, but not every actor… Some actors just want to know how to do it and that it’s going to be structured in a way. He likes it like I do. And even when we do comedies, it’s pretty unstructured. The inmates are running the asylum. It feels like a student film to some extent, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It feels very loose, you know? So I think that my style and his style really match. And again, I don’t even know that that’s his style. On this movie, that’s what he needed. And so our styles just really matched up on this.

What was a really, really tough day on set for whatever reason?

PHILLIPS: There was a lot.

PHOENIX: Any day that I was there.

PHILLIPS: Which was, he was in every scene, so basically every day.

PHOENIX: It was probably difficult.

PHILLIPS: Yeah.

I know it’s a generic question…

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHOENIX: I think they were all difficult but in the best possible way, in that it constantly forced you to be in this mode of investigation because we never kind of settled on anything. And it was the demands of the character that we didn’t know the answer. So every day, I think we were constantly searching for what more could we do that will reveal a different part of this person’s psyche and how can we explore that through his action. But certainly a sequence that I think we all thought it was a lot of pressure, was the Murray Franklin sequence. First, it was like a nine page scene. There was a lot of moving parts to it, but it was the first time that I was going to be playing Joker. Other than that, we’d had the scene on the subway where I just walked through the subway and kind of danced out and that was it. This was the first time we were going to hear him. And I don’t think we really knew precisely what that was going to be. And so that was, I think that was maybe nerve wracking in that way.

PHILLIPS: It’s funny, you talked about deleted scenes before and I was just thinking, while I don’t like deleted scenes, we did cut this fun thing together of all the times — I haven’t showed it to you yet — of him walking out on Murray Franklin because every time the guy would go, Murray would stand and go, “Please welcome Joker,” and the curtains would open and he comes out and does something different every time. You know the thing in the movie, he spins, he kisses the woman. But we cut this thing together of, “Please welcome Joker,” and I don’t know, we did it 13 times maybe, and they’re all different and they’re so funny and there’s so many good ones. I was like, “Oh, I wonder why I didn’t use that one?” The one that we used, I love, but there’s a lot of great… So it was really just about trying a bunch of different things all the time.

If you want to share you should put that on Instagram. After the movie’s out.

PHILLIPS: But it’s two and a half minutes, I don’t know how to do that.

Instagram can probably hook you up. I’ve spoken to a lot of actors and they say that they get comfortable sometimes on the last day of filming. Like they get it towards the end. What was the day that you sort of felt like, “I got this”? Like, “I have this”?

PHOENIX: Never, because there wasn’t anything to get. There wasn’t… The character is undefinable and so there wasn’t a thing to get. And in fact, the very last thing that we shot walking down the hallway of Arkham, every single take was different.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: It’s true.

PHOENIX: Sometimes I wasn’t alone, and sometimes I was alone, and every single take was different.

PHILLIPS: I’m not ignoring you, I’m looking for a photo from that day, because it’s my favorite photo.

PHOENIX: It’s fun to have the freedom to explore different possibilities, but oftentimes with a character, it’s very clear that you should just be playing in this area with these colors. Joker wasn’t like that at all. Any version that we did, while some may have worked better than others, they all seem to make sense for him, and so it felt… I think at some point we really realized that that was the only way to approach the character. When we started to define things, it sucked the life out of it. And we suddenly realized, “No we can’t define what it is in this moment that’s motivating him.”

PHILLIPS: It’s so true.

PHOENIX: So it was like the only way to to pull it off. We had to actually have that energy in the room, something that was exciting and terrifying. To go, “What is going to happen next?”

PHILLIPS: It’s a really weird experience, I have to say.

PHOENIX: It was. It was the weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever done.

PHILLIPS: The whole thing is so unexpected.

I would have paid good money to be on that set.

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Image via Warner Bros.

PHILLIPS: It was fun. It was a trip, but this is the last photo we took, on the last day. That’s amazing. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s my favorite photo.

Look at his eyes.

PHILLIPS: I know, because it was a —

PHOENIX: What is it?

PHILLIPS: That photo is my favorite. I think it’s the weirdest —

PHOENIX: I don’t know if I have that.

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