Joaquin Phoenix Lost 52 Pounds to Play the New Joker

Actor Joaquin Phoenix appears extremely thin and gaunt after a 52-pound weight loss for his role as the Joker
A gaunt Joaquin Phoenix| VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

It seems that whenever somebody plays the Joker, they go full Method on us. Now Joaquin Phoenix has joined the club. 

Warner Bros. released a second trailer for Joker, with director Todd Phillips revealing that the actor dropped a significant amount of weight to immerse himself in the role. If you bulk up to play the hero, you slim down to play the villain — unless you’re playing Bane like Tom Hardy. 

Joaquin Phoenix lost 52 pounds to play the Joker 

MovieWeb reported that Phoenix lost all that weight to better fit into his costume and accentuate his makeup with a more gaunt appearance. Other actors have also lost or gained weight significantly to play certain roles, but the goal here is also to make this a different breed of comic book movie.  Phillips said: 

“It really came from this idea: what if you just did a comic-book movie differently? We all grew up on these character studies and they’re few and far between nowadays. So it was like, ‘Let’s do a deep dive on one of these guys in a real way.’ No one is going to fly in it. No buildings are going to collapse. It’s just going to be on the ground, so to speak.”

It’s not exactly breaking new ground for comic book movies to take a deeper dive into their characters. One need only look at Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies to see how they examine the often blurred lines between hero and villain. What makes the new movie a little different is that the villain is the focus, with Batman nowhere to be found. Warner Bros./DC will take the same tact with next February’s Birds of Prey, which puts Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn front and center. 

Joker’s De Niro and Scorsese connection 

Phoenix’s weight loss is ironic because one of his co-stars in Joker is Robert De Niro, an actor famous for his own transformations. In the movie Raging Bull he played real life boxer Jake La Motta, playing him at both lean fighting shape and then gaining 60 pounds to play him later in life when he was washed up. He won a Best Actor Oscar for his trouble. 

Raging Bull was directed by Martin Scorsese, and there’s a Joker connection there besides De Niro. People have called Joker a fusion of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, two other De Niro/Scorsese collaborations. Both are studies of sociopathy, with De Niro’s characters making extremely questionable moral judgments. 

Adopting Scorsese tropes is bold for two reasons. First, it’s a departure for Phillips, who is best known for comedies like the three Hangover movies. Second, Scorsese and De Niro have a new movie coming out a month after Joker, The Irishman. De Niro and Scorsese are practically synonymous with each other, but this is the first time they’ve worked together since 1995’s Casino

How other actors have played the Joker

The clown prince of crime brings out the wild side of the actors who have played him. Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 Batman so dominated the movie some argue he stole Batman’s thunder. 

Heath Ledger offered a very different take on the character in The Dark Knight, playing him as someone with psychological trauma who was skilled at turning people against each other. When Ledger died before the movie came out, some wondered if playing the character contributed to his drug overdose, but this is mere speculation. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role. 

A lot of buzz rose up around Jared Leto’s Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad, with reports of the actor trying different laughs on people in public to see which one made people the most uncomfortable. He also didn’t break character on the set. Alas, the movie was so frenetic and haphazard that his Joker got somewhat lost in the noise, although his Joker may still return in future movies. For now, we’ll see how the slimmed down Phoenix does when Joker comes out October 4.