Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix Didn’t Get Along in ‘Joker’ — Here’s Why
Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix were at odds over a read-through during the production of ‘Joker’ putting the director ‘between a rock and a hard place.’
Filming Joker may not be an experience Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix look back on fondly … at least when it comes to the dynamic between them. The actors clashed on the set of the 2019 film. But it wasn’t about the storyline or a simple case of differing personalities. Rather, their conflicting approaches to filming caused friction between Robert De Niro and Joaquin Phoenix.
Did Joaquin Phoenix get along with Robert De Niro?
As Joker director Todd Phillips told Vanity Fair, a problem came up almost immediately as a result of Phoenix and De Niro’s acting methods. De Niro, he explained, liked doing read-throughs of the script from cover to cover prior to shooting. Whereas Phoenix adopted a looser, “let it happen” method.
It all started when Phillips got a call from De Niro asking him to relay a message to Phoenix. “Bob called me, and he goes, ‘Tell him he’s an actor and he’s got to be there. I like to hear the whole movie, and we’re going to all get in a room and just read it.’”
“And I’m in between a rock and a hard place,” Phillips said. “Because Joaquin’s like, ‘There’s no f***ing way I’m doing a read-through.’ And Bob’s like, ‘I do read-throughs before we shoot, that’s what we do.’”
Phoenix begrudgingly completed a read-through at De Niro’s Manhattan, New York, office. Then he turned down his co-star’s invitation to go somewhere and talk.
“He’s in front of Bob, and he goes, ‘I can’t, I gotta go home,’” Phillips said. “Because he felt sick after that read-through, he didn’t like it.”
After some encouragement from the director, however, Phoenix talked with De Niro. Ultimately, it ended with the About My Father star taking Phoenix’s face in his hands before kissing his cheek and saying, “‘It’s going to be OK, bubbeleh,’” Phillips recalled. “It was so beautiful.”
De Niro and Phoenix were OK not talking to each other much on the ‘Joker’ set
Despite naming De Niro as his “favorite American actor,” Phoenix confessed he and the Joker star weren’t particularly chatty. “The first day we said good morning,” he told the outlet. “And beyond that, I don’t know that we talked much.”
It wasn’t necessarily because of their different takes on how filming should go. Rather, both thought it was best for them and their characters.
“His character and my character, we didn’t need to talk about anything,” De Niro said, “We just say, ‘Do the work. Relate as the characters to each other.’ It makes it simpler, and we don’t [talk]. There’s no reason to.”
Additionally, Phoenix confessed fear might’ve played a role. “I was probably afraid that I would turn into a fan … So I couldn’t allow myself to think of him as De Niro.”
Who does Robert De Niro play in ‘Joker’?Bradley Cooper convinced him to join the cast
Although he didn’t star in Joker, Bradley Cooper did play a role in getting De Niro to sign on. The star served as a producer on Joker.
By the time the film headed for production, Cooper had developed a strong working relationship with De Niro. To date, the two have appeared in multiple movies together, such as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
Recalling how Cooper advised him to join Joker, De Niro noted in a 2020 interview how he admired Cooper’s work on A Star Is Born.
“I met [Joker director] Todd Phillips, and I liked him. I thought, ‘This will be an interesting project,’” De Niro said. “Bradley was one of the producers and he told me to do it. He’s really terrific.”
What he did with A Star Is Born, the way he worked on it quietly by himself, put it together, found the right actors, the right people,” he continued. “When you know what you want to do, that’s a great thing, and you know it’ll be special.”
So, that’s how De Niro wound up playing Joker’s Murray Franklin. The talk show host serves as something of an inspiration to Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck. However, Fleck’s transformation into the Joker was cemented when he kills Murray Franklin on live television. Safe to say Robert De Niro will not be in Joker 2 coming in 2024.