It is almost impossible to find anyone who wouldn’t rank Joaquin Phoenix among the top acting talents in the world right now, especially after his remarkably vulnerable performance in Todd Phillips’ 2019 adaptation of Joker. Winning several coveted accolades and receiving universal acclaim, Phoenix provided the world with irrefutable proof of his mastery despite being accused of propagating things like ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘alt-right ideas’.
While such claims are entirely facile, it is almost tragic that such ideological projects prevent some audience members from actually appreciating Phoenix’s performance. Starring as a mentally disturbed comedian who lashes out at the world when confronted with the extent of his failure, Joker presents a nuanced take on alienation and modernity even though its message might have been distorted by alt-right ideologues.
Phoenix explained why he chose the project, claiming: “I couldn’t come up with any answers. That’s what made me feel I had to do it. I felt overwhelmed and terrified by it. Usually when I’m scared of something, it makes me feel like I have to go towards it. I had so many mixed feelings about the character. And I like that. I don’t think we have enough of that in movies, particularly in a superhero genre movie. I hate the idea of labelling something, just mostly because I don’t really know what the genres are.”
“When I first read it, a lot of his behaviour and actions I felt were despicable,” he added. “There was manipulation and I felt he was self-pitying. But I recognised from my previous work with ‘You Were Never Really Here’ the signs of PTSD, and I saw that in certain moments he was in flight or flight. I recognised these signs that allowed me to think about him differently. It’s hard not to have sympathy for somebody who experienced that level of childhood trauma.”
Given the usual complexity and depth of Phoenix’s works, one would imagine that he draws inspiration from some of the most intense dramatic works in the history of cinema. Instead, Phoenix confessed that there’s one film he returns to from time to time, and he has probably watched that particular comedy flick more than anything else he has ever sat through. If you’re trying to guess what it is, don’t hold your breath.
The actor claimed that it was Adam McKay’s 2008 comedy Step Brothers, which made him “pee his pants and fall down laughing”. Starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, Step Brothers features them as two 40-year-old children who indulge in hilarious conflicts after their parents split up. Phoenix loved Reilly’s performance so much that he jumped at the chance to work with him on The Sisters Brothers.
McKay recently revealed that he felt the two main characters from Step Brothers would be QAnon conspiracy theorists as well as supporters of Donald Trump: “They’d be way into it, and they’d be torturing [Richard] Jenkins and [Mary] Steenburgen’s characters with it, and they would eventually be having meetings at the house and somehow QAnon would drift into Jenkins’s work life and the Q Shaman would show up at Jenkins’s workplace.”
Continuing, “They also would have loved Trump. I don’t want to speak for Ferrell and Reilly, but I think you could safely assume they would agree with that.” While talks of a sequel have been ongoing for a long time, Reilly stated: “For most artists, sequels aren’t the most attractive thing. Fans, of course, are different. If you like pizza, you want more pizza. I understand people really getting into the idea, but in terms of having something on the table, no, there isn’t.”