‘Joker’ Director Todd Phillips Wanted Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur to Look ‘Wolf-Like and Malnourished’

‘Joker’ opens on October 4

Joker photo Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips on the set of Joker (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Joaquin Phoenix lost 52 pounds to play “Joker” in the upcoming film after director Todd Phillips said he wanted his character to look “wolf-like and malnourished and hungry.”

“Neither of us put a number on it,” Phillips told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman in an interview last Friday. “He just started losing weight. When we finally looked at what he lost, it was 52 pounds. He goes hard. That’s my boy, I love him so much.”

“Joker” goes wide on October 4 and is a “deep-dive character study” of the famed Batman villain “in the vein of a Sidney Lumet/Martin Scorsese picture,” according to Phillips. Phoenix is introduced to audiences as Arthur Fleck, a social outcast who begins to rebel against the world around him.

Phillips said that while Phoenix committed to losing all the weight to get into character, Phoenix wasn’t method acting while on set.

“He’s not someone who was lost in this pain,” Phillips said. “People would be surprised that it was a light set. We had a lot of fun. You can Google image search us on set because of the paparazzi. Ninety percent of them were laughing him I off in a corner somewhere.”

Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight” — which won him a posthumous Academy Award — also reportedly went through a rigorous transformation during the filmmaking process.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” the late actor told the New York Times in 2007 in preparation for the film. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”

But, Phillips made it clear Ledger was not in mind while crafting Phoenix’s character.

“We made a thing about not looking back at Jack Nicholson, Heath and Jared Leto because it would paralyze us with fear to live up to these things,” he said.”We just had to pretend like they didn’t exist to be able to do it in its own space.”

More Hollywood actors have taken the challenge of dramatic weight loss or gain in the recent years (see: Christian Bale in “Vice” and Adam Driver in “Silence”), and Phoenix himself has been here before, too. He said he Phoenix has admitted to gaining weight for the 2010 mockumentary “I’m Still Here” and then he reportedly lost the added weight for 2012’s “The Master.”

Phoenix recently said fluctuating weight for a role before made doing it for “Joker” easier.

“And so, it was something that I’ve done before and… I swore when I did it before that I’d never do it again. But, it seemed like it was very important for the character and I think it ended up affecting me in ways that I hadn’t anticipated,” he told Entertainment Tonight.

“Joker” has come under criticism for depicting a disturbed supervillain who goes unpunished in the film for his violent acts. Five family members of victims who died in the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado urged Warner Bros. — the studio behind “Joker” — to make a donation to charities that support victims of gun violence.

U.S military personnel have also been warned about a potential threat of violence because of the movie. “Posts on social media have made reference to involuntary celibate (“incel”) extremists replicating the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, at screenings of the ‘Joker’ movie at nationwide theaters, iO9 reported.

Todd Phillips recently pushed back on the rhetoric, saying “we didn’t make the movie to push buttons.” Warner Bros. responded to the letter, saying that “Joker” was not meant as an endorsement of real-world violence.