Joaquin Phoenix And Robert De Niro’s Clash Before Joker’s Production Detailed

Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro bumped heads over a table read during rehearsal for WB's hit movie, Joker.
Joker Robert Deniro

Joker was a revolutionary film, receiving eleven Academy Award nominations, while winning the Oscar for Best Lead Actor and Best Original Score. On the commercial side of things, it became the first R-rated movie to break the one billion dollar mark and that was without a release in China. Todd Phillips’ masterpiece is a remarkable film, although considering it’s troubled production, it’s rather surprising that Joker performed as well as it did. 

Each and every cinematic iteration of the Joker character has been birthed from a bizarre production. Jared Leto stayed in character throughout the entire filming of Suicide Squad and famously mailed rats and used condoms to his costars. Heath Ledger locked himself in a room for over a month and had Christian Bale get genuinely physical with him while filming the classic interrogation scene. Joaquin Phoenix walked off set numerous times in an attempt to compose himself and regain some self control, an act which confused and upset other actors who felt that they had done something to upset Phoenix. 


The one actor who Phoenix never walked out on was his favorite American actor and childhood hero, Robert De Niro. Phoenix has immense respect and love for the longtime Scorsese associate and his work, but they fundamentally disagree on one aspect of film production. 

Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro’s Joker Rehearsal

In a new article from GQ, some light was shed on Joaquin Phoenix’s feelings towards script read-throughs.

“It’s why, for instance, he mostly refuses to rehearse, because to rehearse is to know and to feel secure, and Phoenix revels in the anxiety of not knowing. It’s why he also hates read-throughs, something that became a problem on the set of Joker, as his costar Robert De Niro demands them. De Niro even called director Todd Phillips to demand that Phoenix show up: “Tell him he’s an actor and he’s got to be there,” De Niro told Phillips. “I like to hear the whole movie and we’re going to all get in a room and just read it.” Phoenix, meanwhile, was adamant, telling Phillips, “There’s no fucking way I’m doing a read-through.”

This disagreement could have led to poor onscreen chemistry if these two actors had less respect for one another or were less professional. Thankfully, they were able to resolve their dispute and create some truly unforgettable and harrowing scenes together. In the article it went on to describe how it all was resolved.

Phoenix did eventually drag himself to De Niro’s company’s offices in New York for a read-through of sorts, though he hardly gave it his all. He mumbled his way through the script, before taking himself off to a corner to smoke. De Niro invited him to his office to talk, but, saying he felt sick, he didn’t want to. At Phillips’ urging, he reluctantly agreed. The two men eventually cleared the air, with De Niro taking Phoenix’s face into his hands and kissing him on the cheek. “It’s going to be OK, bubbeleh,” he said.

While Phoenix’s desire to keep himself on the edge and to infuse the character with the unhinged spontaneity that Joker is synonymous with, may have been challenging for the rest of the cast and crew, there’s no denying that it worked to the film’s benefit.

joker joaquin phoenix robert deniro

As Heath Ledger’s Joker told Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, “Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!” Like Ledger before him, Joaquin Phoenix understood that in order to embody the Joker, he had to personify chaos and unpredictability. While the two characters are extremely different portrayals of The Clown Prince Of Crime, they’re both born from the aforementioned chaos, both onscreen and behind the scenes. 

Whether or not we will see Joaquin Phoenix return to the role remains to be seen. Considering the film’s unprecedented success commercially and critically, a sequel seems like a high probability. Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have even stated that they would return if the story was right. Robert De Niro would not return as Murray Franklin, so at least he doesn’t have to worry about fighting for a table read with the lead actor. 


What did you think of Joker? Would you like to see a sequel continuing the Harlequin of Hate’s adventures? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media!


Corbin Shanklin

Corbin Shanklin

CJ Shanklin is a journalist. They have been writing & reporting in the entertainment industry for four years, but their best work is still ahead of them. Stay tuned for more stories for the fans, penned by a fan.