Joaquin Phoenix on 'Joker' Criticism: "It's Good" People Have a Strong Reaction

Joaquin Phoenix - Joker LA Premiere Chinese Theater - Publicity - H - 2019
Rich Fury

“I didn’t imagine that it would be smooth sailing,” the actor says of the pushback that the film, not yet in theaters, has received.

Joaquin Phoenix has opened up a bit more about his upcoming film, Joker, and the numerous headlines the movie has created in the lead-up.

Speaking to Vanity Fair for a cover story published online Tuesday, Phoenix discussed the pushback the film has gotten from victims of gun violence and those who fear his character, Arthur Fleck, could become the poster boy for those who would inflict deadly harm.

“I didn’t imagine that it would be smooth sailing,” Phoenix told the magazine. “It’s a difficult film. In some ways, it’s good that people are having a strong reaction to it."

A strong reaction is putting it lightly. Both the Los Angeles and New York City police departments are deploying extra officers to theaters showing Joker on opening weekend. Multiple theater chains have also altered their policies, not allowing customers to dress up for Joker screenings. 

Phoenix, who has not talked about the situation much in the media (Warners Bros. barred press from the Los Angeles premiere red carpet) told Vanity Fair he wanted viewers to "sympathize or empathize with this villain.”

"It’s like, because that’s what we have to do," he told VF. "It’s so easy for us to — we want the simple answers, we want to vilify people. It allows us to feel good if we can identify that as evil. ‘Well, I’m not racist ’cause I don’t have a Confederate flag or go with this protest.’ It allows us to feel that way, but that’s not healthy because we’re not really examining our inherent racism that most white people have, certainly. Or whatever it may be."

He continued, "Whatever issues you may have. It’s too easy for us and I felt like, yeah, we should explore this villain. This malevolent person. There’s no real communication, and to me that’s the value of this. I think that we are capable as an audience to see both of those things simultaneously and experience them and value them.”

Joker opens wide Oct. 4.