10 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About “The Joker” (2019): DC comics’ grand roster of characters, including heroes and villains, is a significant part of modern pop culture. There are numerous adaptations of the characters on screen. One character, however, has generated enthusiasm over and over again. The character is Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker, and the character’s story and the mystery surrounding his activities make him one of the most chilling and intriguing comic book villains of all time.
Since his first comic book appearance on April 25, 1940, the Joker was an instant favorite with comic book lovers and inspired several screen adaptations of the character. Starting from the 1960s, his on-screen portrayals had various shades, and the early adaptations had him as a comical prankster. But after Jack Nicholson’s darker take on Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman” and the legendary turn of Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan‘s 2008 film “The Dark Knight” which posthumously won him an Academy Award and is considered the best on-screen portrayal of Joker to date, further films of Batman lore explored the darker aspects of the character.
In 2019, director Todd Philips took on the grand task of directing a solo movie for the beloved villain. Joaquin Phoenix was roped in to play the lead. While Phoenix’s turn as the “Man Who Laughs” received acclaim from audiences and critics alike and earned him an Academy Award, the movie itself had a polarizing reception. During production, the film underwent various behind the scene incidents that are as fascinating as the movie. Let’s look at some of the facts that you probably didn’t know about the movie –
1. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese were initially on board for the project:
In the initial stages of production, Warner Bros. director of choice was Martin Scorsese, who would take inspiration from his film “The King of Comedy,” and Leonardo DiCaprio was set to portray Arthur Fleck, the film’s version of Joker. Robert DeNiro was still the first choice for Murray Franklin. However, DiCaprio couldn’t join the film cast due to his commitment to “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” (2019), and Scorsese dropped out to film “The Irishman” (2019) instead. DeNiro stayed on to play Franklin and also starred in “The Irishman.” Ultimately, the theatrical release saw that the movie was still heavily inspired by “The King of Comedy.”
2. Joaquin Phoenix was once considered for Batman:
After the colossal failure of “Batman and Robin” (1997), Warner Bros decided to reboot the character of Batman, and they chose Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One for live-action. Darren Aronofsky was roped in to direct, while Frank Miller himself stayed on to write the script. The script was entirely different from the material it was based on, depicting Bruce as homeless after his parents’ death, Gordon being suicidal, Alfred renamed to an African-American character named Little Al, and focused mainly on Bruce rather than Gordon as in the original graphic novel. Darren Aronofsky’s first choice for this version of Bruce was Joaquin Phoenix, but the film was ultimately shelved. In 2005, Warner Bros finally rebooted Batman with Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” which also used elements from Year One.
3. Joaquin Phoenix was previously offered two superhero roles:
Before agreeing to appear in “Joker,” Joaquin Phoenix was the top choice for DC’s rival Marvel Studios twice. In 2012, Phoenix was the favorite for the executives to replace Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, which later went to Mark Ruffalo. In 2015, when the “Doctor Strange” solo movie was in production, Joaquin Phoenix was offered the lead role of Stephen Strange as well, but he again turned it down. He turned down these roles because he wanted to avoid signing on for multiple films and crossovers, which he said slowed down the character development. What piqued his interest in signing Joker was it was a low-budget character study, something he was very keen to do.
4. The lead character became a symbol of protest:
After the release of the film in 2019, the character of Arthur Fleck/Joker became a symbol of protest against government corruption in various countries over the world, like Lebanon, Chile, Iraq, and China. The character later also appeared during the “Black Lives Matter” protest in 2020.
5. The film became a sleeper hit and is DC’s first R-rated film to cross a billion dollar mark:
Warner Bros. was wary of its box office success due to its extreme content. Todd Philips had to persuade them for so long to get their approval for the script that was deemed controversial. They even gave Phillips a discreetly low budget for a comic book film to dissuade the director. However, Phillips was ready to work on whatever budget he was given, and in the end, all of Warner Bros’ worries were proven wrong. Joker became the first R-rated film to break one billion USD at the international box office, making it DC’s first R-rated film. Since it had a low budget, its box office collection made it one of the most profitable comic book movies of all time. Due to this success, a sequel was greenlit, with Phoenix returning as Arthur and Lady Gaga being cast as Harley Quinn. The film “Joker: Folie à Deux” will be released on October 4, 2024.
6. Todd Philips tried to lure his lead actor with pretzels:
Joaquin Phoenix underwent a massive transformation for his turn as Arthur Fleck. He lost an extreme amount of weight, i.e., 52 pounds, to play the titular villain. Director Todd Philips used to taunt Phoenix with pretzels from his favorite place to check his commitment to the role, and to his satisfaction, Phoenix held his temptation and never flinched. But the director later stated that he had fun taunting him with food, but the prank lost its charm when Phoenix stayed firm in his transformation for the role.
7. Arthur’s blood-curdling laugh in the movie is based on an actual disorder:
In an interview with Il Venerdí, Joaquin Phoenix revealed that he did extensive research to portray the title character. He watched videos of people suffering from pathological laughter and gave his nuanced approach to this real-life medical condition. It is a real and rare neurological disorder that causes a person to laugh uncontrollably or cry in stressful situations. In the film, Arthur is seen to be suffering from a similar condition.
8. The script underwent various changes during the shoot:
The movie’s cast had to adapt to the numerous script changes that happened right before shooting a scene, making the cast improvise most of their dialogues. Actress Zazie Beetz’s character was the most changed from the initial script to when the scenes were actually shot. Director Todd Philips was impressed with Beetz’s improvisation and called it a “beautiful collaboration.”
9. There was tension between two primary cast members:
Robert DeNiro and Joaquin Phoenix have different approaches to acting. DeNiro insisted on a full read-through of the script before shooting, something Joaquin doesn’t do. Joaquin’s refusal to do a table reading before the shoot got a strong reaction from De Niro, as he reportedly told Todd Phillips: “Tell him he’s an actor, and he’s got to be there. I like to hear the whole movie, and we’re going to all get in a room and just read it.” In the end, Phoenix agreed to a table read since he had been a fan of DeNiro since “Raging Bull” (1980), although he mumbled through the read-through. Later, everything ended on a positive note as DeNiro gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, “It’s going to be okay, Bubbleh!”
10. The bathroom dance was totally improvised:
In an unusual turn, director Todd Philips asked composer Hildur Guðnadóttir to start writing music off the script, which is not usually done for movie production. Her music was used during the shoot to set the mood for the movie, as the tracks were already composed. The script’s bathroom sequence was written far more simply as Arthur runs to the bathroom, hides the gun, and washes his face. When Philips played Hildur’s track while shooting the scene, Joaquin Phoenix started slowly dancing, which Todd Philips liked so much that he kept the shot which later became iconic.