Joaquin Phoenix in Joker.
Image: Warner Bros.

From the sounds of it, Joaquin Phoenix’s behavior on the set of Todd Phillips’ Joker film was a far cry from Jared Leto’s alleged abhorrent Suicide Squad antics, but that’s not to say that the actor wasn’t prone to moments of classic Hollywood extra-ness that can make film sets rather chaotic places to work.

While it’s not unheard of for actors who’ve given their entire selves over to a character to stop in the middle of a scene and storm off set to deal with some interior emotional needs, it’s always a little eyebrow raising when you contemplate all that entails. A lead actor stomping off the set during filming can utterly grind a production to a halt, and if the rest of the cast and crew has no idea why the actor’s having a moment, there’s little they can do other than simply wait out the storm or try to coax the actor back so everyone can return to the work at hand.

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In a recent interview with The New York Times, Phillips opened up about his experiencing helming the film and was frank about having to deal with Phoenix frequently pausing in the middle of scenes to wander away without much explanation:

“In the middle of the scene, he’ll just walk away and walk out. And the poor other actor thinks it’s them and it was never them — it was always him, and he just wasn’t feeling it.”

The Times interestingly reports that while Phoenix did this frequently with some actors, he never once fell to pieces while shooting with Robert De Niro, suggesting that while the actor might have been giving into some deep psychological need to withdraw, he was more than capable of pulling himself together when he was working with someone he didn’t want to see him that way. Make of that what you will.

Though Phillips didn’t go into detail explaining what he did to assure the other actors that Phoenix’s outbursts weren’t their specific fault or problem, or why he put up with the actor’s behavior, he was candid about how passionately he wanted to work with Phoenix for this film in particular. Every actor has their own specific process they use to both get into character and to maintain that character’s headspace as they’re bringing them to life, but there’s a very particular way in which stories like these—stories where actors are seemingly given free reign to huff and puff before they’re in a mood—always make you appreciate the space that Big Hollywood Names™ take up in pursuit of their projects.

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Still—it’s a film about an angry clown who goes on to fight a man who dresses up like a bat, folks. It’s not that heavy. Joker is out October 4.


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