Joker backstage secrets: How Joaquin Phoenix became the Joker | Films | Entertainment

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Joaquin Phoenix as Joker applying his make up in Joker


Joaquin Phoenix is a method actor who has been known to go to extreme lengths to portray characters. He has lost weight, taken up “rapping” and carried a sword *everywhere* for a role. Playing a maniacal failed stand-up comedian has, of course naturally led to some similar methods.

Phoenix is known for doing some whacky things for work.

He became a real life firefighter for his role in Ladder 49, enrolling in a fire academy and riding along with a crew; he went to rock ’n’ roll boot camp to get a voice just like Johnny Cash’s.

And who can forget when he almost ended his entire career by pretending he had retired from acting to become a rapper, for which he acted very strangely in interviews and released countless rap videos.

The first thing which is fairly obvious about Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is that he is far more gaunt than he is in real life.

He lost a great deal of weight for the role, three and a half stone to be exact – so much so it almost turned into a “disorder.”

Joaquin Phoenix as Joker applying his make up in Joker (Image: Warner Bros)

In an interview with US TV host Jimmy Kimmel, Phoenix said: “It was difficult at times but then there’s something very empowering about it as well. 

“I think just having that level of control over yourself is something – I don’t know…

“In the beginning, you’re exhausted – you sometimes you look at a flight of stairs and it takes 30 seconds to talk yourself into it.

“‘I can do this, I know I can do it…’ but once you reach your target weight you suddenly feel energised and excited.

“It’s tough because you can’t watch TV because a commercial comes on for food which is f****** maddening.

Joaquin Phoenix in his Arthur Fleck clown make-up in Joker

Joaquin Phoenix in his Arthur Fleck clown make-up in Joker (Image: Warner Bros)

“It rears its head in strange ways – in dreams and stuff like that… it’s the worst.

“You don’t socialise, at all, because you don’t realise that food and drink is what all of our social activity revolves around. 

“So without that, it’s like ‘What do the f*** we do? I don’t want to talk to you!’ It’s the worst.”

Not only did Phoenix lose weight – he also had to nail the iconic make up look which would become Joker – signifying the move from Arthur Fleck to Joker.

Speaking to CNet, Nicki Ledermann, the film’s make-up artist, said: “We started with a concept from Todd [Phillips, the director].

“It was a picture of Joaquin with some makeup photoshopped on it – it was pretty raw.

“But it was definitely like, ‘OK, this is how you wanna go, a kind of creepy but simplistic clown.’

“Which I thought was fantastic — the more simple and raw you keep it, the more intense it’ll translate…

“There were two different looks [for the character] – well, there were many different looks, but in terms of clown makeup it was the hired clown who gets beaten up, and then it’s Joker.”

Ledermann revealed there was an extensive process in trying out different make-up types, and how to perfect the colour tone.

Joaquin Phoenix applying Joker make-up in Joker

Joaquin Phoenix applying Joker make-up in Joker (Image: Warner Bros)

She even said while sometimes the make up needed to look smeared, it had to stay perfectly in place in order to be consistent between takes.

She added: “On the working clown, it was really important to make it perfectly symmetric, versus the Joker where everything’s asymmetric, everything’s off, and that makes it creepy.

“And then obviously, Joaquin’s facial expression and his eyes intensify everything a thousand times.

“It’s definitely a collaboration between the makeup and the acting.”

Ledermann praised Phoenix’s performance, saying he is “the best American actor I’ve ever worked with.”

Arthur Fleck looking in the mirror with Joker make-up

Arthur Fleck looking in the mirror with Joker make-up (Image: Warner Bros)

She added: “The part of the Joker is incredibly challenging because you have Arthur Fleck and then when he turns into the Joker he’s a completely different being.

“That’s hard, to go back and forth all the time.

“Joaquin’s physical performance, his physical language – he did a lot of stunts himself, he was like a rubber doll flying all over the place, down stairs and being beaten up.

“Oh my god, this guy is unbelievable. I mean the whole crew was in awe of his talent.”

Joker is in cinemas now



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