“I would have done that movie in a second,” he said at an April 5 screening in West Hollywood of his new indie film You Were Never Really Here. “I was desperate to do it.”
The film went on to be a box-office and critical hit starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. “I feel so honored that people would think that I was worthy enough to be in it, but it was never offered to me,” Phoenix said.
Phoenix is keeping coy when it comes to rumors that he’ll be starring as the Joker in the upcoming origin movie about the iconic Batman villain. “I don’t even know what this movie is,” he said with a big smile. “What is everyone talking about?”
He did say that he thinks Ledger’s performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is “fucking brilliant,” but he’s never really been a “huge fan” of the Batman comic series.
This wouldn’t be Phoenix’s first foray into the DC Comics universe. He was just 15 when appeared in an episode of TV’s Superboy in 1989 playing a character named Billy Hercules. “I played a boy that fantasized he’s Superboy,” Phoenix recalled.
In You Were Never Really Here, Phoenix stars as a veteran who now works as a vigilante trying to rescue young girls from underage sex rings. His character can be brutally violent, with one scene showing him beating several brothel guards and johns to death with a hammer.
If one of the first attacks looks more real than others it’s because Phoenix surprised the actor when he thought they hadn’t started filming yet: “It was a fake hammer so obviously he wasn’t in any danger, but he was fucking amazed,” Phoenix said. “His reaction was perfect. It was so real.”
Despite the film’s gritty and gruesome material (it’s based on Jonathan Ames’ book of the same name), director Lynne Ramsay said she made efforts to lighten the mood on set. “I knew Joaquin was going to be playing Jesus next,” Ramsay told THR of the actor’s work opposite real-life girlfriend Rooney Mara in the upcoming Mary Magdalene. “I sent my assistant out to buy plastic loaves of bread and fish. I’d give them one by one to Joaquin.”
And you can blame Mr. Phoenix for an unexpected bump in the movie’s cost when he improvised the Psycho knife noises not once, but twice in the film. “Each time cost $15,000, so it was $30,000” in licensing, Ramsay said. “It was a huge part of the budget, but I had to have it because it was so amazing.”
Charlize Theron, John C. Reilly, Lucas Hedges, singer Cody Simpson and King Cobra star Garrett Clayton were spotted at the screening’s afterparty, which also served as the opening night of Ramsay’s interactive art show about the movie at The Taschen Gallery.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.