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Joaquin Phoenix: Joker script ‘like nothing I’ve ever read’

Joaquin Phoenix describes what drew him to film and dramatic way he lost weight for role

Joker is the latest film to be drawing both Oscar buzz and controversy in equal measure.

The Los Angeles Police Department plans to step up its visibility around US movie theatres for the upcoming opening of the dark psychological drama.

Some US theatre chains are banning masks and painted faces at screenings, following heightened fears over how its content may incite copycat violence and concerns expressed by families involved in a 2012 mass shooting during a screening of Batman film The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado.

Opening here tomorrow andhelmed by Todd Phillips of The Hangover film trilogy fame, Joker is a gritty origin story set in fictional Gotham City circa 1981, depicting the mental breakdown of vulnerable, downtrodden outcast Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and his transformation into Batman's diabolical nemesis who turns to a life of murder and mayhem.

It won the Golden Lion top prize at the Venice Film Festival last month, where Phoenix received rave reviews for his visceral performance.

Although Joker marks the first time that Phillips - who directed, co-wrote and produced the film - has worked with Phoenix, Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver penned it with the award-winning 44-year-old US actor in mind.

Phoenix was quoted by AFP as telling a press conference at the Venice Film Festival that the "attraction" to make this film was that "we were going to approach it in our own way".

"It seemed limitless, in how you could interpret the character and what you could do with it - it did not feel like there were any rules. It started becoming something more than I could have anticipated and it was one of the greatest experiences of my career."

He did not refer to "past iterations" of the character but researched political assassins instead in his effort to pin down the elusive Joker, but he "did not want a psychiatrist to be able to identify" his personality type.

Phoenix described the cackle he had created for the character as "something that is almost painful".

"It is a part of him that is trying to emerge. I did not think I could do it. I asked Todd to come over to audition my laugh," he said, adding the process was "really uncomfortable".

But dramatically losing 23kg for the role - by eating not much more than an apple a day - was his biggest challenge.

"You really go mad when you lose that much weight in that amount of time," he said.

When you first got the script for Joker, what made you want to take on the role of Arthur Fleck?

Well, I thought it was bold, like nothing I have read before. It was certainly different than any movie that would fall into the superhero genre, but it was even different than dramas that I had read.

It seemed to have so many different flavours and tones.

Phillips has described your work together on this film as a true partnership. Did it feel that way to you?

Yes and it was not only when we were on set.

After we finished shooting, or on weekends, we would call or text or meet up and talk about the next scenes.

I felt like we were so unified throughout this process that if one of us ever got to the point where we were not feeling inspired, hopefully the other one would inspire him.

There were many times it was quite surprising, how much we thought of the same thing, the same solution to a problem.

There is a scene in a bathroom that is a pivotal moment for Arthur. How did you and Phillips work together to create what was going to happen in there?

The preparation was the study of dance and movement, but we did not find the real intention of that scene until we went to set that day.

When we arrived, we felt we still needed something that would illustrate the emergence of a different part of Arthur's personality.

We landed on the idea because I had been studying all of this dance, and he started playing this cello music; it was a really effective piece of score that he had just got the previous night.

And I said, "So maybe there is a movement."

And he said, "Well, I would start on your foot. Start on your foot, and that is your move." And that was all he said.

Then we left and just thought about it, and that was all we had. And something else emerged, and it was both a turning point for the character and it was a turning point for me and Todd working together.

There is a set of stairs in the film that also factored into how you and Phillips built Arthur's character together. How did that come about?

When I was writing in Arthur's journal as part of my preparation, Todd sent me something about steps, to inspire me in this writing. Then he told me about the steps that we would use in a few scenes, where Arthur ascends these long stairs over and over.

And I think there were a few pages in the journal where I just wrote "step after step after step after step after step" over and over, across the pages, line by line.

That became a thing that we would text each other back and forth, "step after step".