The Style Transformation of Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker

Joker Still - Publicity - H 2019
Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Call it character-building: The star's metamorphosis into the iconic villain included a broccoli-colored clown wig and an '80s color palette.

A clown wig inspired by the color of broccoli, a pair of white socks and a one-of-a-kind clown face are just a few of the designer tools used to transform Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck into one of the screen's most iconic villains in Joker. Director Todd Phillips looked to two-time Academy Award-winning costume designer Mark Bridges to fulfill his vision of Arthur becoming the Joker.

"When I first take on a job like this, it's a bit intimidating," says Bridges. "I want to do a service to the film and don't want to refer to anything else, as Todd was doing a stand-alone picture and the character is kind of known."

Forgoing the research of past Jokers, such as Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, the costume designer admits to checking out the purple suit and green shirt donned by Caesar Romero in the original Batman series: "He was my favorite Joker and a product of my misspent youth sitting in front of the television set."

Creating a backstory involved looking at Fleck's complex character and surroundings. "All of my choices were based on something to say about the person, and I looked at his vaguely outdated worn shirt, polyester pants and acrylic sweater that was inexpensive and might have been bought at a thrift store. I was trying to paint a picture as we learn about this man's life, and my choices also came from his personal appearance and financial status as he is living in a metropolitan area on the low rung, hand to mouth."

Because he was sharing an apartment with his mother, Penny (Francis Conroy), who calls him "my little boy," Bridges dressed Fleck in a hooded jacket that was too small and "vaguely juvenile" along with his signature white socks. "I never use white socks in a film, but if ever there was a time, it would be for Arthur Fleck!"

The film marks Bridges' third collaboration with Phoenix (The Master and Inherent Vice), and he created a character closet of mix-and-match outfits for the two personas. Since the time period was the early '80s, the color palette is blue, maroon, brown, mauve and gray, followed by an intensity of color as he transforms into the Joker.

The trousers and shirts were all custom (and distressed), with a few vintage sweater finds. The designer created a gold vest and a necktie for his clown outfit that gives insight into his pending mental breakdown when worn to his mother's funeral. Bridges also took his cues from the writer, who wrote in the script "a rust suit Arthur had for many years," which translated into a rust-colored waistcoat, a mustard-toned vest and a patterned bottle-green shirt.

The designer looked to his youth, once again, for the suits for Robert De Niro's Murray Franklin, a comedian and TV host. "I loved looking back at the iconic television hosts, whether it was Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas or Johnny Carson, and what they were wearing night after night. The quality of menswear always looked great and tailored, and they wore it with so much ease," he says. "There was a formula for men's dressing in those days: two solids and a pattern (for example DeNiro wears a plaid jacket and a solid shirt and tie)." Influenced by three-piece suits, Bridges made two ensembles for DeNiro's character to wear on his show, Live With Murray Franklin.

For the Joker's wig, Emmy-winning hair designer Kay Georgiou met with Phillips, Bridges and makeup artist Nicki Ledermann to discuss the color palette and came up with an unusual inspiration: broccoli. "It's so organic, and there are so many colors, so I went to the grocery and matched them up (with the dye)!" Georgiou also gave Arthur a "simpleton, social outcast look" with cut bangs and a hairpiece and coiffed the female movie extras with scrunchies, perms or an '80s flip.

Ledermann found that, due to copyright laws, no two clowns can look alike, which proved to be a bit of a challenge. "When I first met with Todd, he showed us a concept board of the Joker and what he should look like — very clean, very classic and very clown," says the makeup artist. As a result, she chose reds, blues and darker brown tones for an antique feel and, of course, a pair of menacing eyebrows.