Joaquin Phoenix Stormed Out Of An Interview After A Question About Joker Pushed Him Over The Edge

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If you’ve heard about the Oscar buzz around Joaquin Phoenix, you may be asking yourself one question: is Joker actually any good? Well, if an eight-minute standing ovation at the movie’s Venice Film Festival premiere is anything to go by, the answer is quite clearly “Yes.” And if you need further convincing, you should probably know that the Phoenix-starring thriller currently possesses an impressive 89 percent favorable audience review figure on Rotten Tomatoes.

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But it’s not just the quality of the film that’s hit the headlines; the amount of arguably gratuitous violence on display during the movie has also garnered attention. And Phoenix, who plays the picture’s eponymous anti-hero, may only have added to the controversy during an awkward interview in September 2019.

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On that occasion, Phoenix was ostensibly attempting to promote the movie in which he stars – although the chat may not have gone quite as he had envisioned. Yes, ahead of Joker’s highly anticipated arrival in October 2019, the actor took part in a number of interviews with various media outlets in a bid to further boost the film’s profile.

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So, as part of this process, Phoenix sat down for a conversation with movie critic Robbie Collin, who was quizzing the star on behalf of U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph. As the interview progressed, however, Collin appeared to touch upon a seemingly sensitive topic. And as a result of the chat’s unexpected direction, the Oscar nominee decided to storm right out of the room.

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Way before Phoenix apparently decided to take offense at the critic’s line of questioning, though, he had grown up in quite unusual circumstances. In fact, the future actor had spent his early years traveling around South and Central America with his parents, who at the time were both members of a spiritual group named the Children of God. Then, in 1978, Phoenix’s mom and dad made a big decision. The pair opted to abandon their cause, choosing instead to pack their bags for the United States.

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Specifically, Phoenix’s family made Los Angeles, California, their new home. And alongside his brother, River, and three sisters Liberty, Rain and Summer, Phoenix was then encouraged to find work by his parents. The young quintet thus tried to showcase their talents in a number of ways – including through street performance.

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That practice seemingly paid off, too, as in 1982 Phoenix made his small-screen debut in an episode of the television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. That wasn’t the last that viewers would see of him, either, as from there, the aspiring performer would maintain a presence on TV over the next few years.

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Then, after Phoenix had established himself in television, he made the jump to movies. The young actor appeared on the big screen for the first time in 1986 after having bagged a part in SpaceCamp, which also starred the likes of Lea Thompson and Kate Capshaw.

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A part in the drama Russkies followed, along with more television work. Then, to round off the decade, Phoenix earned a plum role in 1989’s classic dramedy Parenthood, where he shared screen time with stars such as Diane Wiest, Steve Martin, Keanu Reeves and Mary Steenburgen. But while the promising young talent could have further capitalized on his success by going on to bigger and better things, he decided to change tack completely.

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Following his turn in Parenthood, you see, Phoenix took a break from acting to go traveling. The teenager ventured through South America once again before heading back to L.A. to resume his career, ultimately taking on a leading role in the Nicole Kidman-starring To Die For.

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Phoenix steadily built up his resume after that through appearances in U Turn, 8MM and Clay Pigeons in the late 1990s. Yet he had to wait until the turn of the millennium before he truly made an impact in Hollywood – all thanks to a little movie called Gladiator.

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In Gladiator Phoenix memorably portrayed the villainous Commodus, with his performance going on to earn him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately for the star, though, he ultimately lost out to Benicio Del Toro, who scooped the Oscar for his efforts in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.

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Nevertheless, that wouldn’t be the last time that Phoenix would receive a nod from the Academy. After starring in a string of movies throughout the early 2000s, the actor was then cast in 2005’s Walk the Line. Taking on the part of music legend Johnny Cash, he led the film alongside Reese Witherspoon.

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And thanks in part to Phoenix and Witherspoon’s convincing performances, the biopic proved to be a big success at the worldwide box office, taking in over $186 million in total. The film’s two stars would pick up several award nominations to boot.

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Yes, Phoenix was in contention for another Oscar – this time in the Best Actor category – for his work on Walk the Line. Yet again, though, he would miss out, as Philip Seymour Hoffman would take the prize for his turn as the eponymous author in Capote. Witherspoon, by contrast, had better fortune, as she ultimately scooped the Best Actress gong.

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And seemingly undeterred by being thwarted by the Academy, Phoenix appeared in four more movies – including the acclaimed Reservation Road and I’m Still Here – over the next five years. In 2012 he also produced another stunning performance as troubled protagonist Freddie Quell Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, and this would go on to bag him his third Oscar nomination the following year.

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As was almost becoming tradition, Phoenix subsequently went home empty-handed on Oscar night, although he continued to hone his craft in movies such as Spike Jonze’s romantic sci-fi flick Her. And even though the star already had sizeable name recognition, his profile grew even further after he was named as the lead in a brand-new superhero movie that was tipped for release in 2019.

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Yes, in a somewhat surprising move, Phoenix signed up for Todd Phillips’ Joker – a stand-alone picture about the famous DC villain. The actor would join an impressive ensemble cast, too, with Zazie Beetz and Robert De Niro also lending their talents to the project. Yet unlike many superhero movies of the current era, Joker would be fairly gritty in tone.

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For, you see, the movie principally focuses on the iconic psychopath’s backstory, tracing how the Joker was tipped over the edge into crime and madness. And while speaking to Empire in July 2019, Phillips said of the film’s focus, “We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from.” Given how well-known the character is, though, that can’t have been a simple task.

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The Joker made his debut back in 1940 in the very first issue of the Batman comic. And since then, the supervillain and his nemesis have been entwined both on the page and on the big screen. Indeed, the pair both made their film debuts at the same time in 1966’s Batman movie.

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On that occasion, Cesar Romero took up the role of the Joker. Romero’s performance was arguably eclipsed, however, by Jack Nicholson, whose portrayal of the warped funnyman has since defined the character for many. And when Mark Hamill voiced the character in 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, he therefore had very big shoes to fill.

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Heath Ledger had a tall task ahead of him, too, when he was cast as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. By many accounts, though, the Australian actor more than rose to the occasion. And although Ledger tragically passed away before the film’s release, he went on to win a posthumous Oscar for his outstanding performance.

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Jared Leto was then cast as the next live-action Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad before Phillips’ film emerged three years later. Compared to the other movies, though, Phillips wanted to look at the character through a very different lens this time around – perhaps even taking cues from Martin Scorsese’s dark classics The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver.

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So with all that in mind, Joker was never going to be a typical blockbuster – especially when measured against other comic-book films. “You can’t beat Marvel,” Phillips admitted to The New York Times in September 2019. “It’s a giant behemoth. Let’s do something they can’t do. It’s just another interpretation, like people do interpretations of Macbeth.”

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In Phillips’ take on the Joker’s tale, then, we’re introduced to Arthur Fleck – an arch outsider with severe self-esteem problems. He’s a failed stand-up comic, and his crushing lack of success is just one contributing factor in Fleck taking on his new persona. Fleck then starts his life of crime after street bullies beat him and the humiliation of failure overwhelms him. And from there, he gets hold of a gun and kick-starts a movement.

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Phoenix grabs the role by the scruff of the neck, too, and has subsequently won acclaim for his portrayal of the grotesque social deviant. No small amount of work had been put in by the actor, though. Indeed, Phoenix showed his commitment to the movie by losing no fewer than 56 pounds before shooting in order to be the right size for the part.

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And prior to Joker’s release, Phoenix explained why he was attracted to the unique project. He told The New York Times, “I didn’t really know what [the movie] was. I didn’t know how to classify it. I didn’t say, ‘This is the character I’m playing.’ I didn’t know what we were going to do. It was terrifying.”

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Then, finally, after much anticipation, Joker hit the big screen in October 2019 and made a huge impact on fans around the world. But while, as previously mentioned, the Rotten Tomatoes audience score for the film presently stands at 89 percent, the critics’ score is a lot lower than that: just 69 percent.

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And if you’re questioning that disparity, well, there may be an explanation. In particular, the graphic bloodshed in the film has caused a heap of controversy along with a considerable amount of critical opprobrium. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich was particularly damning about Joker, labeling it “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.”

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Then Phoenix himself waded into the debate – or, more accurately, failed to engage with it – during his interview with Collin. And while the encounter between the pair seemed to start well enough, the Telegraph writer would ultimately light the fuse.

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Notably, Collin asked Phoenix if he considered the idea that Joker “might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.” Then, a few moments later, the actor replied, “Why would you…? No… No.” And after sharing that brief response, Phoenix got up and walked out of the interview.

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Incredibly, though, the chat didn’t conclude there. Around an hour later – apparently time that Collin spent with the PR people for Warner Brothers – Phoenix came back. And once the air had been cleared, the Oscar nominee explained that the query had caught him off guard. Nevertheless, the reviewer didn’t actually get an answer to his question.

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One individual associated with the production may not have been surprised at Phoenix’s fiery display, however. You see, Phillips had grown used to the star’s penchant for storming out of a room, as he hadn’t hesitated to leave a Joker scene if he was unhappy with his own performance.

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“In the middle of the scene, [Phoenix will] just walk away and walk out,” Phillips recalled while talking with The New York Times. “And the poor other actor thinks it’s them and it was never them. It was always him, and he just wasn’t feeling it.” That said, the actor didn’t subject everyone on the set to the same fate.

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Indeed, when Phoenix worked with De Niro, he very much stayed put – regardless of how he felt. The veteran actor said of his co-star, “Joaquin was very intense in what he was doing – as it should be, as he should be. There’s nothing to talk about, personally, on the side – ‘Let’s have coffee.’ Let’s just do the stuff.”

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And De Niro also offered up his own take on the controversy surrounding Joker’s violent content. In particular, even though the character inspires a movement off the back of his actions in the film, the Hollywood stalwart couldn’t see something similar happening in the real world. De Niro himself has played some damaged characters in the past, after all, and to seemingly no ill effect.

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Plus, according to the acting legend, characters such as the Joker do indeed have a rightful place in cinema. De Niro added, “People identify with it in some way – not that they go to those extremes. They can understand the sentiment. Sometimes those things are cathartic.”

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It should be noted, too, that not every movie critic out there has slammed Joker; IGN’s Jim Vejvoda, for instance, has instead showered it with praise. And after comparing Joker’s aesthetic to classic movies from the ’70s and ’80s in his review, the writer then zoned in on the director and his star.

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Vejvoda wrote, “Director Todd Phillips’ Joker presents a Gotham City that is unmistakably a stand-in for the hellish New York City of the era. Phoenix delivers a tour de force. Joker isn’t just an awesome comic-book movie – it’s an awesome movie, period.” And the film’s box-office performance is continuing to deliver as well.

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Yes, while Joker may not be a traditional blockbuster, it’s certainly bringing in a whole lot of money. Incredibly, Phillips’ movie has earned over $936 million worldwide so far on an estimated budget of $55 million. Yet while the film is undoubtedly a massive hit, one question still remains: will Phoenix nab his fourth Oscar nod in 2020? Well, only time will tell.

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