Writer-director Todd Phillips met with creatives at DC Comics after pitching Joker, his origin story examining the infamous Batman villain, but studio Warner Bros. was “pretty loose” and had “no rules or mandates” for the R-rated character study that would go on to gross $1.06 billion worldwide. In Joker: Vision & Fury, a revealing behind-the-scenes featurette included on the Joker home release special features, Phillips details the early process behind his film scripted with co-writer Scott Silver that was part of Phillips' pitch for a villains-centric label housed at Warner Bros. called “DC Black.”
“I had never really thought about doing a comic book movie. For me, it was more about this idea of doing a character study but about somebody people have no idea who, what, where he came from or anything like that,” Phillips says. “So I kind of came it that way. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I want to make a Joker movie.’ It really came from, ‘How do you make a great character study, and make people want to see it?’”
Both Phillips and eventual star Joaquin Phoenix had reservations about tackling a comic book movie, but the film, separated from mainstream DC film continuity, enjoyed a “pretty loose” leash from DC parent company Warner.
“I pitched it to them as an idea first and they said, ‘Okay, go and explore.’ I met with some people at DC and then we went off and wrote it,” Phillips explains. “Scott Silver and I wrote for, really, a year and came back with the script, but there was no rules or mandates from them. We really departed from a lot of the comic book things, we made up a new character, we gave him this name and we chose it out of the blue, so to speak.”
He continues, “And maybe to the chagrin of true comic book fans, we didn’t see dropping Arthur Fleck into a vat of acid and turning him white. That wasn’t the movie we’re making. We just wanted to make something that felt grounded in a reality.”
Phoenix's Fleck might not be the real Joker, adds Phillips, who says the amount of Joker actually grounded in that reality depends on how willing the viewer is to believe a story spun by an institutionalized madman.
“There’s many ways to look at the movie. He might not be Joker,” Phillips says. “This is just a version of a Joker origin. It’s just the version this guy is telling in this room at a mental institution. I don’t know that he’s the most reliable narrator in the world, you know what I’m saying?”
Joker is available to own on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray January 7. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.