Joaquin Phoenix on Monday secured his third Academy Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck in Joker, marking Phoenix's fourth overall Oscar nomination. Phoenix was first nominated in the Supporting Role category at 2001's Academy Awards for his role as Commodus in Gladiator, later earning Best Actor nominations for his roles as Johnny Cash in 2005's Walk the Line and Freddie Quell in 2012's The Master. Because Phoenix was named Best Actor by both the Golden Globe Awards and the Critics' Choice Awards, Phoenix is considered the frontrunner to win the Best Actor Oscar during February's ceremony.
Director Todd Phillips developed and pitched Joker with Phoenix in mind before spending many months convincing the selective actor, who had a "lot of fear" about signing on to star in the dark and serious origin story behind the infamous Batman villain.
"But I always say there’s motivating fear and debilitating fear," Phoenix previously told Total Film. "There’s the fear where you cannot make a f—king step, and there’s the kind where it’s like, 'OK, what do we do? That’s not good enough.' And you’re digging deeper and deeper. I love that kind of fear. It guides us, makes us work harder."
More specifically, both Phoenix and Phillips shared a certain fear about stepping into the comic book movie genre.
"I think oftentimes, in these movies, we have these simplified, reductive archetypes, and that allows for the audience to be distant from the character, just like we would do in real life," Phoenix said. "I thought that here was this film, and these characters, where it wouldn’t be easy for you as an audience. There are times where you’re going to feel yourself connected to him, and rooting for him, and times when you should be repulsed by him. And I like that idea of challenging the audience, and challenging myself to explore a character like that. It’s rare to explore characters like that in any movies, but specifically in the superhero genre."
In Joker: Vision & Fury, a making-of featurette included on the film's home release special features, Phillips said he wanted Phoenix in the role because of the actor's "unpredictability." Phoenix is "playing jazz while other people are doing math. He’s just doing his own thing," added Phillips. "And I feel like that’s very much what we saw the character of Arthur-slash-Joker as. I thought, 'Boy, if we get him, we can really do something special.'"
On what drew him to Phillips, added Phoenix, "When I work with a director, I just want somebody that has a singular vision and a really unique take on the material. And it was clear from Todd’s screenplay that he had a real sensitivity to the challenges that Arthur is going through. He felt things in a way that I hadn’t expected."
The 92nd Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 9 on ABC.