Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar earlier this year for playing an iconic Batman villain in Joker

By Benjamin VanHoose
April 17, 2020 02:21 PM
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Jim Spellman/WireImage; Terence Patrick/Getty

Joaquin Phoenix‘s comic book trajectory nearly played out much differently.

In a new interview with Empire, director Darren Aronofsky opened up about the scrapped big-screen Batman adaptation he was developing in the early 2000s, telling the British film magazine that he once pushed to have Phoenix play the comic book hero.

Warner Bros., the studio behind the DC franchise, apparently had a different tone in mind for the movie.

“The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr. and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix,” said Aronofsky, 51. “I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.”

Little did Phoenix or Aronofsky know at the time that the actor would go on to win an Oscar for playing Batman’s nemesis, the Joker. In 2019’s decidedly dark take on the villain in Joker, Phoenix, 45, wowed fans and critics with his performance, earning him Best Actor at the Academy Awards and a place in record books for its enormous box office haul.

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019)
Niko Tavernise

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Aronofsky said he was working on the project after 1997’s George Clooney-led Batman & Robin, but the next Caped Crusader film to hit theaters was 2005’s Batman Begins, with Christian Bale in the lead role and Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair.

“The Batman that was out before me was Batman & Robin, the famous one with the nipples on the Batsuit, so I was really trying to undermine that and reinvent it,” the Black Swan director told Empire. “That’s where my head went.”

Batman has since been portrayed by Ben Affleck, and the role will next be inhabited by Robert Pattinson.

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In July 2018, when he confirmed that he’d be taking on the role of the Joker in the Todd Phillips-directed movie, Phoenix told Collider about his nervousness for taking on the character.

“I take a lot of time and consideration when making decisions and what I’m gonna work on,” he said at the time. “I think [Phillips is] very impressive and he seems to have a very interesting understanding of this world and what he’s trying to say. And so there is something very appealing about that and working with him on this particular project.”

Added Phoenix: “It feels unique; it is its own world in some ways, and maybe, mostly, it scares the f— s— out of me, or something.”