The Joker train just keeps on trucking on its way to Oscar night. The DC Comics blockbuster is nominated for 11 Academy Awards. While its chances of winning some of those categories seem slim, the film is all but guaranteed at least one trophy.
Casting Joaquin Phoenix promised to be a highlight of Joker even before its release. Even moviegoers who don’t love the film concede Phoenix commits fully to the emotionally, physically demanding role.
However, in his acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, Phoenix took the time out to acknowledge his fellow nominees, including Oscar winner — and former Batman — Christian Bale.
Joaquin Phoenix dedicates his SAG Award to his ‘favorite actor’
But Bale wasn’t the only The Dark Knight star Phoenix mentioned during his speech. Right before he left the stage, the actor acknowledged the man without whom his performance in Joker likely wouldn’t exist at all.
“Really I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor, Heath Ledger,” Phoenix said. “So thank you, and good night.”
Truly, Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight set a precedent. His was the first performance in a comic book movie to be taken seriously by awards-voting bodies like SAG. Without Ledger’s work, Warner Bros. would have been even more hesitant to greenlight a grounded, unabashedly dark movie centered on the Joker.
So Phoenix’s shout-out says a lot about how Ledger’s performance influenced the industry’s attitude toward comic book movies. Phoenix didn’t model his performance after Ledger or anything. But the level of craft Ledger brought to the Joker likely put the notoriously franchise-adverse Phoenix at ease in accepting the role.
All the actor’s fellow nominees got special mentions
With his SAG acceptance speech, Phoenix could have run through a laundry list of names he wanted to thank. But instead, he took the time out to personally share his admiration and respect for his fellow nominees.
For Leonardo DiCaprio, Phoenix shared a story of being a young actor and consistently losing roles to him. He recounts the near-mythic reputation DiCaprio had earned with casting agents. “No actor would ever say his name because it was too much,” Phoenix said, “but every casting director would whisper, ‘It’s Leonardo.'”
Phoenix also praised Adam Driver’s “nuanced” work over the last few years. He described Driver’s work in Marriage Story as “devastating” and said he should be up on stage. Then, Phoenix called out Taron Egerton’s “beautiful” Rocketman performance and said he “can’t wait to see what else [he does].”
The ‘Joker’ star took a playful shot at a former Batman
Phoenix delivered mostly earnest acknowledgment for his fellow nominees. But for Bale, Phoenix interspersed that admiration with a more competitive spirit. Although Phoenix lost 52 pounds for Joker, he remains in awe of Bale’s body of work.
“Christian, you commit to your roles in ways that I can only dream of,” Phoenix said. “You never turn in a bad performance. It’s infuriating. I wish you would one time. Just suck once. It’d be great, okay?”
Bale is famous for going all-in on every role. He has bulked up to play Batman, lost dangerous amounts of weight for The Fighter and The Machinist, and put on pounds for films such as American Hustle and Vice. So Phoenix’s playful comment feels inspired by his own preparation for Joker.
It’s too bad Bale has retired the role of Batman because seeing these two gifted actors try to outdo one another on-screen would have been a treat. With any luck, Phoenix and Bale can still collaborate on a project at some point.