This ‘Marvel’ Star Convinced Robert De Niro To Join ‘Joker’

Robert De Niro may be best known for his hard-hitting characters in films such as Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but over his decades-long career, he’s played a wide range of parts in a variety of genres.

One genre he never really ventured into until recently, however, was superhero films. Now, thanks to the urging of a good friend, De Niro can finally add portraying a comic book character to his ever-growing list of accomplishments.

Bradley Cooper convinced Robert De Niro to join the cast of ‘Joker’

Robert De Niro speaks onstage
Robert De Niro | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Film Independent

Bradley Cooper may be a Marvel star, voicing Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers films, but he took on a very different role in the DC universe.

Cooper was a producer on Joker, working alongside director Todd Phillips. Cooper and De Niro have acted in at least four films together, including the critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle and the two share a lot of respect for each other.

De Niro shared:

“I met Todd Phillips and I liked him. I thought ‘this will be an interesting project.’ Bradley was one of the producers and he told me to do it. He’s really terrific. What he did with A Star Is Born, the way he worked on it quietly by himself, put it together, found the right actors, the right people . . . When you know what you want to do, that’s a great thing, and you know it’ll be special.”

De Niro took Cooper’s advice and went on to play talk show host Murray Franklin in Joker. His character unwittingly gets in the crosshairs of Arthur Fleck, a.k.a. the Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix, when he shows clips of his stand up on his show. The film was a huge success and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year. 

Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix butt heads in during production

When it comes to acting processes, stars can be very specific, and very stubborn. De Niro takes a more old-school approach and holds to the tradition of doing a table read of the full script before filming. Phoenix, on the other hand, refuses to do table reads and thinks, “You should just feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, what you think the character is going through at that moment.”

Director Phillips had to bridge the gap between these two A-list actors with differing needs: De Niro wanting to “hear the whole movie” and Phoenix saying “There’s no fucking way I’m doing a read-through.”

According to Phillips, De Niro put his foot down about Phoenix: “Tell him he’s an actor and he’s got to be there, I like to hear the whole movie, and we’re going to all get in a room and just read it.”

In the end, De Niro’s wishes won out and Phoenix did the table read, but not without some emotional distress in the process. De Niro, ever kind and gentle reportedly kissed Phoenix on the cheek and said, “It’s going to be okay, bubbeleh.”

Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix barely talked during filming

After that, it was pretty smooth, though very quiet sailing for the two actors. Phoenix told Vanity Fair, “The first day we said good morning, and beyond that, I don’t know that we talked much.”

The lack of talking was not because of any lingering bad blood, however. The two just intuitively knew talking between takes would not serve them or their characters.

De Niro said: “His character and my character, we didn’t need to talk about anything,” in one interview and in another added, “There are times where it feels important to interact with the other actors. And you talk in between takes. But it didn’t seem right for this.”

Phoenix had an additional reason for not talking to De Niro much: “I was probably afraid that I would turn into a fan. He’s my all-time favorite actor. So I couldn’t allow myself to think of him as De Niro.”