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Todd Phillips Pursued Joaquin Phoenix for Months to Star in 'Joker'

There were moments when the actor lost his composure on the set, the director revealed.

Todd Phillips has made it clear: No one was going to play the title role of Joker in his new film other than Joaquin Phoenix.

After Joker was announced, there was speculation multiple actors were being sought for the role of the classic Batman villain, such as Leonardo DiCaprio. However, Phillips told the New York Times recently that was never the case.

What's more, it was a bit of a long road to get his man.

"He was not keen on jumping into costume in any comic-book movie,” Phillips told the Times' Dave Itzkoff. “It’s not necessarily in his five-year plan — although I don’t think he has one.”

When asked whether others were in mind for the role of Arthur Fleck, aka Joker, the writer-director replied, “We wrote the movie for Joaquin.” 

It would take numerous visits with the three-time Oscar-nominee over about three months to get Phoenix on board with the R-rated take on the Warner Bros. property.

“I asked him to come over and audition me for it,” Phoenix told Itzkoff. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but he kept saying, ‘Let’s just be bold. Let’s do something.’”

Phillips recalled, “I kept waiting for him to just say, ‘OK, I’m in,’ And he never did that.” Where Phoenix is concerned, he said, “You just never get a yes. All you get is more questions.”

The duo said their disagreements about the character were aplenty, such as Joker's body type, according to the profile.

Phoenix saw him as a heavier man, Phillips wanted him drastically thin. The writer-director won. Phoenix lost 52 pounds for the part.

“It’s a horrible way to live,” Phoenix said of considerable weight loss for a role, which he had done numerous times.

Phoenix also revealed that he did not know how serious fans and the media took the role being played, calling himself “blissfully naive, according to the Times.

“This is a really big deal,” adding, “I’m so, like, not in the game that I didn’t know people would do this.”

Once work was underway, Phoenix held himself to a tremendous standard and there were moments when the actor lost his composure on the set.

“In the middle of the scene, he’ll just walk away and walk out,” Phillips told the newspaper. “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.” And after taking a breather, he said, “we’ll take a walk and we’ll come back and we’ll do it.”

Joker, which just won the Golden Lion as the 76th Venice International Film Festival, is due in theaters Oct. 4.

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