A Month After Joker, Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips Reflect on Controversies, Sequels, and More

Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips on the set of Joker.
Photo: Warner Bros.

No one expected it. Not the star, not the director, and we can safely assume not the studio either. But a little over a month since the at-the-time controversial release of Joker, the film is soon to cross a billion dollars worldwide.

“It’s not the box office but the reception that’s been vindicating,” director Todd Phillips told the LA Times in a new interview. “It’s the fact that I get emails from people telling me that the movie made them look at their sister who suffers from schizophrenia in a different light. Ultimately, the movie is about the power of kindness and the lack of empathy in the world, and the audience seems to have picked up on that. It’s amazing that a movie that was supposed to inspire, as they put it, mass mayhem really has just inspired a bunch of people dancing down staircases. I think that speaks more to our times than anything.”

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Weeks before its release, many were worried the film’s depiction of a man with mental illness resorting to violence because of how the world treats him would cause more harm than good. The U.S. military was warned of possible violence, the studio canceled interviews before the film was released, eventually having to put out a statement standing by its product, and some theaters added extra security. Though star Joaquin Phoenix was criticized for not addressing these issues, he’s now had some time to reflect on it all and explain why he didn’t want to talk about potential violence.

“It was an awkward position to be in because I thought, ‘Well, I can’t address this because this is the thing that is potentially part of the problem — that’s precisely what you shouldn’t do,’” Phoenix told the paper. “So it suddenly seemed like I was being evasive and trying to avoid this topic because it made me uncomfortable. But really I was thinking, ‘This is the very thing that would excite this kind of personality.’”

Now that the film is out there though, Phoenix is more interested in how deep fans have gone with their interpretations of the film but he’s unsure about the answers to most of those questions: what’s real, what’s not, what the film is trying to say, and what could happen next. He thinks all interpretations are valid but, in his mind, he does think his character, Arthur Fleck, is actually the Joker from the comic books. “But I don’t know, it’s just my opinion,” Phoenix said “with a wry smile,” described by the Times.

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Phillips said he and Phoenix would be interested in a sequel but that nothing is in the works. However, he doesn’t think that if it happens it would simply follow what happens next in Arthur’s life. To be true to this film, it would have to go deeper than that.

“It couldn’t just be this wild and crazy movie about the ‘Clown Prince of Crime,’” Phillips said. “It would have to have some thematic resonance in a similar way that this does. Because I think that’s ultimately why the movie connected, it’s what’s going on underneath. So many movies are about the spark, and this is about the powder. If you could capture that again in a real way, that would be interesting.”

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Head to the LA Times to read even more from the pair. Joker is still in theaters.

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Correction: A previous version of this article stated Phoenix did not think his version of the Joker was the real one when in fact the opposite was true. We regret the error.


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Germain Lussier

Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo