Joker director Todd Phillips has revealed he spent an entire year trying to convince Warner Bros to let him make a violent and edgy film on the iconic DC villain.
The film, which earned an expected R-rating by MPAA for “strong bloody violence, disturbing behaviour, language, and brief sexual images”, is an origin story of the Clown Prince of Crime, with Joaquin Phoenix playing the title role.
Phillips said it was “a year-long process” from the time the script was completed “just to get the new people on board with this vision”.
“There were emails about: ‘You realise we sell Joker pajamas at Target’. There were a zillion hurdles, and you just sort of had to navigate those one at a time…
“At the time I would curse them in my head every day. But then I have to put it in perspective and go, ‘They’re pretty bold that they did this’,” the filmmaker told the Los Angeles Times.
He said while the audiences may be acquainted with R-rated films thanks to Deadpool series, Joker is a different animal.
Phillips drew his references from matter-of-fact R-rated adult dramas such as Taxi Driver and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among others.
He said, “The movies that I grew up loving, these character studies from the ’70s, you couldn’t get those movies made in this climate. I said to myself, ‘What if you did a movie in that vein, but made it about (comic book) characters?'”
But when the film crossed that hurdle, another followed.
According to LA Times, Phoenix agreed to play the title role after a “drawn-out, four-month process” came to end.
The Oscar-nominated actor signed on the dotted line once he was assured that he would be allowed to play “a complex flesh-and-blood character in shades of gray rather than a black-and-white cartoon villain”.
“That’s really the only thing that’s worthwhile. The other thing is connect-the-dots and paint-by-numbers, and who the (heck) cares about that? There are certain areas of the character that frankly still aren’t clear to me, and I’m fine with that.
“There’s something enjoyable about not having to answer a lot of those questions. It requires a certain amount of participation from the audience that feels different,” Phoenix said.
Joker is set to have its world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival. It will also be showcased at TIFF and NYFF, before opening in US theatres on October 4.