"I mean, yeah, he's a villain," Joaquin Phoenix says of Joker, the Batman villain the actor portrays in the upcoming solo movie named after the character. "There's a lot I don't like about him, but I can't do a movie like that."
Despite being played by numerous well-regarded actors before, Joker has never been portrayed quite like this. Phoenix's version is damaged, but not on a skin-deep level. He's maniacal, child-like and, by the time the movie concludes, absolutely terrifying – a monster formed by the streets of Gotham. Phoenix, though, still manages to make us feel empathy for the character, the key to which was understanding the trauma Arthur Fleck – the Joker's name – has been through.
"When I read through the script, I noticed the traits of PTSD," Phoenix tells GamesRadar+ and Total Film. "The one part of the story I believed was that he experiences childhood trauma. He's in this highly reactive state in which he sees and looks for threat everywhere. That was really kind of like a foundational piece for me."
One example of Arthur seeing the world through a childlike lens comes early in Joker, when three men begin harassing a woman while riding a subway. "Arthur doesn't intervene because he doesn't understand the dynamic at play," Phoenix says. "He's looking at the guys wondering, 'Is that how you talk to women?' He's so isolated and never had that experience. When I read that, he was clearly like a child."
Phoenix went on to discuss how he changed his approach to playing Arthur six weeks into the shoot, after becoming the Joker for the first time. The actor added that he "would still be shooting" the movie if he could. "It's kind of endless, the possibilities," he adds. Watch the full interview above.
Joker debuts in cinemas around the world on October 4.
Want more Joker goodness? Check out our best comic-book villains of all time ranking