One of the more baffling moments in “Joker” finds Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck coping with his violent descent into the eponymous villain by clearing out the contents of his refrigerator so that he can fit inside it. Arthur fits himself into the fridge and shuts the door behind him, as director Todd Phillips holds the shot for a couple extra seconds to show Arthur will remain inside the tight space for awhile. Phoenix’s refrigerator move was an improvisation that no one on the crew knew until the moment happened during filming, “Joker” cinematographer Lawrence Sher reveals in a new interview with /Film.
“While some scenes were very planned out, like when he's in the phonebooth or walking up the stairs, others had no plan at all,” Sher said. “When he climbed in the refrigerator, we had no idea he was going to do that. We set up two camera positions, and Joaquin just thought about what he would do if he was a massive insomniac. Again, we lit it so he could go anywhere, and the first and only time he did it, we were mesmerized. I remember thinking, ‘What is he doing? Did he just crawl in the fridge?’ It was as fun and weird for us to watch it, too.”
The refrigerator moment was hardly the only time Phoenix used improve to make a “Joker” scene work. Phillips has already revealed that the infamous bathroom scene, in which Arthur begins to dance while coping with his first acts of murder, was improvised on the day of filming. The original scene was supposed to find Arthur talking to himself in the bathroom mirror in disbelief over his actions, but Phillips and Phoenix scrapped it in favor of having Arthur process his violent act through dance. Sher told /Film the dance itself was improvised on the spot. The moment Arthur accidentally fires a gun in his mother’s apartment was also improvised.
“Joaquin created that whole dance and, after the success of that scene, we started creating more moments like that,” Sher said. “Like when he's playing with the gun and fires it into the wall. All we knew was that he'd fire the gun into the wall at some point, but we never planned when or knew that he'd stand and have that conversation with himself and begin dancing. We just had two cameras in there and let it happen, which became a major part of how we did a lot of things.”
Phoenix’s unhinged performance has made him a top contender to land an Oscar nomination for Best Actor at the 2020 Oscars. “Joker,” which has earned over $740 million and counting at the worldwide box office, continues to play in theaters nationwide. Head over to the /Film website to read Sher’s interview in its entirety.
Director Todd Phillips and his longtime cinematographer Lawrence Sher knew their latest film, Joker, would have more eyes on it than usual. But neither expected the runaway success train it has become, winning a prestigious Venice Film Festival award, making over $740 million at the worldwide box-office, and attracting awards heat for its star, Joaquin Phoenix.
Sher, who’s an economics major with a background in still photography, has been working with Phillips since the Hangover trilogy. Before the duo’s first collaboration on that hit series, Sher shot Garden State and I Love You Man, to name just a few . This year, he played on a huge, beautiful canvas with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and was able to make a comic book movie that’s a throwback to the ’70s and the Martin Scorsese movies that made him want to be a cinematographer in the first place. It’s a big year for Sher, who recently talked to us about some of Joker‘s most memorable sequences, working with Joaquin Phoenix, and the line between fantasy and reality in the movie.
This interview contains major spoilers for Joker.
The scene where Arthur is dancing down the steps and embracing his new identity, how did you want to express what he was feeling in that scene with light and color?
That scene is a celebration of him accepting his truest self, which is his most villainous self and the person we all know. It’s unlike the slow, deliberate and very meditative camerawork that exists at the beginning of the movie. In the early scenes on the stairs, we pan very slowly, and tilt-up with him to see those 180 stairs he climbs every day. For the last scene on the stairs, we used a techno crane, which gave us fluidity to move with him and create energy. He dances through the frame, backlit with a hopeful warm sunlight. We are low with the camera and he for perhaps the first time in his life is powerful.
A large part of the color scheme in the movie is based on sodium-vapor lights, which is an ugly greenish-orange that existed in the streetlights back in the day, before they recently switched to LEDs. It represents two sides of him: the dusk blue representing his isolated and lonely side and the warmer light the more hopeful side of someone seeing a different future. Even if that future is with his mom, before we learn the truth about her. When he’s watching TV with her or bathing her in the bath, there’s a more comforting warmth. Towards the end of the movie, he chooses that dark part of himself and we bring the warmth back. He is, once again, hopeful, even if it’s for a nihilistic and chaotic in the future. In his mind, it’s the future he wants to embrace.
The movie strikes a nice balance of looking beautiful without painting Arthur’s acts in a positive light. How do you pull that off?
The direction we always tried to take, even back in The Hangover days, was to make it feel real and authentic. The violence he commits is quite real and raw. If it feels real to the audience, then it has more emotion. We’re just trying to connect people to the character and the story we’re telling. I think Todd did a really good job with the violence in this movie. There’s no joy for Joker or Arthur when he commits acts of violence. In fact, he always looks a bit sick after it happens, even after the Wall Street guys. The moment he kills that last guy, his ears are literally ringing and the face he’s making is one of sickness and deep understanding of the power he’s been given. Even at the end with Murray or his mom, there might be a sense of relief, like he’s being freed from his old self, but it’s not a sense of joy. The violence causes some level of pain in him, even if that side of him is his true self. I think we very intentionally, especially Joaquin with his amazing performance, show that violence has consequences.
What can you tell me about that train sequence? What did you do visually there to show a change within Arthur?
When Todd and I first talked about that scene, he kept talking about it like a fever dream. So, how do you interpret that? For me, it was with the sights, sounds, and lighting, building to a crescendo of confusion. We actually got a subway car, put it on a stage, and created all the backing, so it looked like the car was driving on a subway track, using LED panels and lights. We did this so I had full control over both the lights inside the train, as well as all the lighting that came outside the train.
We have this amazing camera operator we’ve worked with all the way since The Hangover, Geoffrey Haley, and he was in the subway car with a handheld camera. We ran the scene each time all the way through until Joaquin was punched to the ground, and I would be sitting at a control board with a dimmer, controlling the lights inside and outside the car. At the moments of tension and violence, we could shut the lights off and have flashes of hot lights in different colors from outside of the car. As the Wall Street guys approach, we used the lighting to build the downward pressure of feeling surrounded, confused, like a nightmare. It was about creating the storm of energy he’s feeling, that leads to this violent act that’ll change his life forever.
No matter your thoughts on Joker, there’s at least one thing we can all agree on: it’s not three hours long, and that’s good. The Todd Phillips-directed film comes in at 122 minutes, compared to 181 minutes for Avengers: Endgame; it’s also shorter than Marvel’s other two movies this year, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home, and unlike the latter, won’t be released into theaters for wallet-draining “extra” footage. In fact, don’t expect any deleted scenes or director’s cut on home media, either.
In an interview with Collider, Phillips said that he doesn’t “do” deleted scenes because they’re “deleted for a reason.” He continued, “I have a thing against extended cuts and I kind of hate deleted scenes. The movie that exists is exactly the movie we want it to be.” But, hypothetically speaking, if he and Joaquin Phoenix were to add a scene that didn’t make the final cut, it would be one that Phoenix called one of the “best scenes” in the movie.
“There was a scene that, that during the shoot we thought was one of the best scenes and we loved his behavior in the scene, and I’d always really liked the scene,” he said. “But it actually doesn’t work.” Phillips added, “It was basically a scene between him and Randall [played by Glenn Fleshler] — Randall’s the guy he kills with the scissors — and it was a scene with them on the stairwell leading up to the Ha-Ha’s offices.” It’s a continuation of the scene where Arthur paints over the sign in Ha-Ha’s he’s twisted!, and it’s “the last scene we took out of the movie,” according to Phillips.
But the dancing remains.
the dance of freedom. the death bells. the rising of the joker.
one of the most magnificent, sublime, monumental, extraordinary scenes in cinema history pic.twitter.com/VixBgiigXn
It didn’t take long for the “Joker” stairs in The Bronx to go from hilarious internet meme to full-blown tourist attraction. The New York City borough is the setting of a now-iconic scene in Todd Phillips’ comic book drama in which Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck fully emerges as the Joker and maniacally dances on the stairs while Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” blasts over the soundtrack. The stairs are located off Shakespeare Avenue and have driven tourists to the area where they are posting photos while recreating Phoenix’s dance moves and poses. While “Joker” fans are loving the stairs, Bronx natives Desus and Mero most certainly are not.
During the October 21 episode of their eponymous late night talk show on Showtime, Desus and Mero devoted just over four minutes of airtime to taking down the “Joker” stairs becoming a Bronx tourist attraction. The segment, entitled “Don’t Get Robbed at the ‘Joker’ Steps in the Bronx,” began with both hosts sharing their outrage over their local stairs becoming a media sensation. As Mero said, “This shit is terrible man.”
“There is a new tourist attraction in the Bronx and it sucks. I’m outraged,” added Desus. “Who here is from the Bronx? Who here hates these steps? Who here has almost died in the winter going down these steps when they don’t shovel them? Who here stays on the Bx13 [bus] so you don’t have to get on those steps?”
Desus and Mero were baffled while they played real clips from the local news in which tourists gushed over the stairs. One man said he had goosebumps from seeing the stairs in real life. The takedown ended with the hosts showing real social media posts of “Joker” fans making fools of themselves by dancing and posing for photos on the stairs.
The popularity of the stairs among New York City tourists speaks to just how zeitgeist-breaking “Joker” has become since opening in theaters October 4. The movie has earned over $740 million worldwide and counting and could get near or even surpass the coveted $1 billion mark, a huge feat for a comic book film that is more a character study than action film. “Joker” continues to play in theaters nationwide.
David Ayer says reports of him cutting Jared Leto out of 2016's Suicide Squad are "inaccurate." Leto's Joker was the focal point of the promotional material for the team-up movie. However, when the project hit theaters, Leto was on screen for a mere 10 minutes, which left audiences confused. The actor took the Clown Prince of Crime in a new direction, which did not sit well with some DC fans, though they wish there would have been more of the character on the big screen to get a better feel of what Leto was trying to pull off.
A new report claims that Suicide Squad director David Ayer cut Jared Leto's Joker out of the movie due to unhappiness with the actor's performance by himself and the studio. A comic book fan reached out to Ayer on social media to get the truth since these quotes were coming from anonymous sources claiming to be close to the director and the studio. Ayer says, "That is inaccurate information. Not my words or actions."
Jared Leto has been in the news quite a bit lately, thanks to Todd Phillips' Joker. Joaquin Phoenix took on the iconic villain this time around and he and Phillips are laughing all the way to the bank due to the movie's success. Reports have come out stating that Leto tried to get the movie shutdown because of how disappointed he was that the studio was making it without him. With that being said, if these are the same sources claiming he got cut from Suicide Squad, they might not even be true, though it's easy to understand why he might be upset over the matter.
Related: Killer Croc Won't Return in The Suicide Squad or Anywhere Else in the DCEU
Jared Leto hasn't really addressed the topic in public, though it sounds like he should probably set the record soon before these rumors get out of hand. David Ayer claims these reports are inaccurate and he would know, since he's the one who made Suicide Squad. The movie was not a favorite amongst critics and fans, but it was a solid box office success, which is why a sequel was quickly green lit. Since then, the sequel has gone through some development woes, with Ayer leaving the project.
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn is currently in the process of making The Suicide Squad, which will be a different take on what David Ayer did. Gunn is very much trying to stick to the source material in terms of characters, which is why Joker will not be in the movie. The villain was not a big part of the comics, so Gunn won't need him. Plus, the director has packed the movie to the rafters with a huge cast, so there's not a whole lot of room for him in there anyway. You can check out David Ayer's Twitter response to the false Jared Leto reports below.
That is inaccurate information. Not my words or actions. https://t.co/1jBRB4Sqvp
Moviegoers are about to give Joker even more reasons to dance like a goofball on those stairs in the Bronx. The Todd Phillips-directed movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as the beclowned bad guy is on the fast track to becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever not adjusted for inflation. This means it’ll likely surpass the current record-holder: Deadpool.
Who could’ve guessed that Joker would be such a box office juggernaut? There was always a good chance that the dark and violent movie would do well: it had a considerably lower budget than most superhero adjacent movies, and it also involved a popular character from the world of Batman. But I don’t think anyone saw this coming: if all goes according to plan, Joker will end up being the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever.
Globally, the Joker box office haul currently stands at $737.5 million, and that number will only increase. In fact, according to THR, Joker is likely headed towards $900 million globally – and it might even end up at $1 billion. The current R-rated record-holder is Deadpool, which took in a worldwide total of $783 million.
This is good news for Warner Bros., who have had more than a few flops this year, most notably The Goldfinch, a would-be prestige pic that might end up as one of the biggest bombs of the year. It’s also a good sign for WB’s DC-related movies. Warner’s DCEU was in a rough spot as the studio attempted to chase the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But now that WB and DC are trying a different approach, it’s paying off. For proof of this, look no further than the comparison between Joker and other recent DC movies. In three weeks, Joker has already made more than the entire worldwide run of Justice League.
All of this is also good news for audiences hungry for more R-rated superhero content. There was a brief period where the idea of R-rated superhero flicks seemed unthinkable. Then Deadpool ended up being a hit, and Logan earned rave reviews. Now Joker is about to smash records and probably earn its star an Oscar nom. It’s safe to assume studios will now be rushing to greenlight even more R-rated comic book adaptations.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the R-rated superhero movies to come will be as successful as Joker. The movie has benefited greatly from festival hype, and hype in general. Even before the movie opened there was already a significant amount of controversy about Joker’s message, and the type of audiences the ultra-violent nihilistic film might appeal to. That’s the type of publicity money can’t buy, and it always draws a crowd. More often than not, though, the crowd evaporates after opening weekend. That’s not happening here. Joker continues to have a stronghold at the box office. It held fast at number 1 for three weeks in a row, and only just fell to number 2 over this most recent weekend.