While there’s still a review embargo in place until tonight, early reports from the Venice Film Festival about the upcoming Joker movie sound pretty promising: Screenings Saturday reportedly earned the loudest cheers and applause of the festival so far. Star Joaquin Phoenix and the film’s director, Todd Phillips, talked to reporters at the event, and while there are still no stories of anything approaching Jared Leto’s Joker method madness, Phoenix discussed the steps he took to embody the legendary villain.
The movie follows the transformation of Arthur Fleck, a down-and-out clown and aspiring comic, into the villainous Joker. In telling the story, filmmakers had “a lot of freedom because Joker never really had an origins story in the comics,” said Phillips. “We thought it was really liberating because there really were no rules or boundaries.”
Phoenix lost 52 pounds for the role, a process that he suggested informed his performance. “The first thing for us was the weight loss,” said Phoenix. “I think that’s really what I started with. And, as it turns out, that then affects your psychology. You start to go mad when you lose that amount of weight in that amount of time.”
The actor also discussed how he developed his take on the character’s trademark chortle. In a prior interview, he’d described watching videos of people who suffer from pathological laughter, a disorder marked by bursts of uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing. And a new synopsis of the movie reported by The Hollywood Reporter revealed that in the film, Fleck himself suffers from the disorder.
“I think Joker is a part of [Fleck] that’s trying to emerge, and I think that was a really interesting way of looking at this laugh,” said Phoenix. “But honestly, I didn’t think that I could do it. I would practice alone and then asked Todd to come over to audition my laugh, because I felt like I had to do it on the spot and in front of somebody else. It took me a long time.”
“Who he was in the first few weeks of shooting was completely different than who he was in the end,” Phoenix said of the character. “He was constantly evolving. I’ve never had an experience like this. The more unpredictable and looser we left it, the more exciting it was.”