Joker Director Reveals a Big Key to Joaquin Phoenix's Award-Winning Performance

Joker is still gaining steam in its quest to bring home the hardware at The Oscars. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance has been an absolute hit and his director Todd Phillips talked to Deadline about one factor that may have contributed to the tremendous effort. Costume design goes under the radar sometimes but Phillips seems convinced that the setting and attire played a huge product in Joker’s appeal among so many audiences. But, there were also a lot of hurdles for the filmmakers to clear before they could realize their vision. It turns out that some of the more inspired choices that echo the grit of another era had to be done with some serious creativity.

“I think certain actors, it affects them a lot and others it doesn’t,” Phillips answered. “I would say with Joaquin and a lot of actors I work with they get really affected by their wardrobe and with Joaquin as fas as like the garbage being piled on the streets and all that stuff. I think you can’t help but feel it, but I know with him it was much more wardrobe based than necessarily the production design. And you know, some of the production design, to be fair, is we don’t do a lot of CGI in this movie, but there is a certain amount of world-building we did.”

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“I’ll give you an example, you know with the MTA here in New York, they’ll give you a train, but you can’t put the spray paint on it,” he continued. “Even though they know the trains were spray-painted in the 1980s, you just can’t do it. Even if you could wash it off, they just don’t want it like that. They said, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it in post.’ Like all of the graffiti on the outside of the train coming by, that wasn’t there when we shot so, you know, when Joaquin’s getting off that train to kill those guys, there is no graffiti there. But, he is somebody who I think just really got into it through all of the characteristics of Arthur, but also the wardrobe seems to inform him.”

There are other touches as well. Phoenix’s version of Joker benefitted from some inspiration derived from old footage of mental health institutions. That was another risk that seems to have paid off, judging by all the awards-season success. Still, it will be a little while longer to see if Joker can capture the ultimate prize.

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