Remember when Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix shared the screen for Joker; that was wild, wasn’t it? Even wilder, though, is the way the pair lambasted one another for their respective acting habits, despite having the utmost respect for one another.
For any comic book movie to secure the talent of either of those big names would have been a huge coup, but when the DCU got two of the best actors of all time to star in Joker, fans were understandably hyped for the new movie. What ended up on the screen may have been a triumph, but behind the scenes, things got a little heated, it seems.
According to a GQ profile on Phoenix, it’s claimed the actor’s refusal to rehearse the script riled up his idol, De Niro, so much that the latter had to demand director Todd Phillips speak to Phoenix and “Tell him he’s an actor and he’s got to be there.”
De Niro had a very fair idea of how things should work on the production, telling Phillips: “I like to hear the whole movie and we’re going to all get in a room and just read it.” Phoenix, however, had a very different approach, insisting, “There’s no fucking way I’m doing a read-through.”
In the words of Heath Ledger’s own version of the iconic DC villain, “this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” De Niro is old school, he clearly likes to do things more traditionally and doesn’t want any surprises on the day. I get that. I respect that. It makes a lot of sense from a practical point of view.
However, when you’re taking on the role of a DC character as unhinged and unpredictable as the Joker, I have to say I agree with Phoenix’s approach. You can’t be considered among the best Joker actors without letting chaos reign a little, right? By over-rehearsing each line and action, you lose something organic in the performance, and you hinder that wild energy needed for such a role.
Despite their differences in preparing for a role, Phoenix has a massive amount of respect of De Niro, who he pins as his favorite American actor. In fact, the portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull is a huge inspiration for Phoenix, and it is thought he is “always looking for” the kind of nuance and attention to detail De Niro brought to that performance. Funnily enough, De Niro himself was a tad troublesome on the set of Raging Bull, and he even shut down production on the Scorsese movie when he decided to pile on a load of weight for the role.
Phoenix eventually gave in, and made his way to De Niro’s offices for a read-through of the script, albeit a very unconvincing one. The Joker star apparently mumbled his way through the rehearsal, but later cleared the air with De Niro, who gave his co-star a kiss on the cheek and said: “It’s going to be OK, bubbeleh.” Sounds to me like De Niro actually knows exactly where Phoenix is coming from, and probably recognized many of the same sensibilities he possessed himself as a younger performer.
It will be fascinating to see how Phoenix’s method works alongside, or clashes with, that of Lady Gaga, who will star alongside him in the upcoming DC movie, Joker 2. I’ve a feeling the pair will thrive off one another’s more instinctive and dynamic approach – after all, Gaga is used to getting up on stage and living in the moment at her shows, so bouncing off Phoenix’s vibe should be a similar experience. That said, I am curious whether we will get musician Gaga, or actor Gaga. Given this is a musical, a happy balance of the two could be tricky to achieve.
We can’t wait for the Joker 2 release date, but until then, we’ve plenty of time to rehearse for the big day with a marathon of all the DC movies in order. There’s also all the new stuff coming in Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters, with Superman Legacy looking like a standout among the slate of projects in the pipeline.