When they brought him out, they didn’t introduce him as Joker, but oh well — Joaquin Phoenix still took home one of the top prizes at the 2020 Golden Globes.
Joker was nominated for four Golden Globes awards, including Best Actor, Best Director (Todd Phillips), Best Score (Hildur Gudnadóttir), and Best Picture. On top of Phoenix’s win, Gudnadóttir became the first solo, female composer to win the award for her guttural soundscape.
In Joker, which has grossed a staggering $1.06 billion worldwide, Phoenix plays wannabe comedian Arthur Fleck, whose gnarled psychology eventually unravels into a criminal icon resembling Batman’s archnemesis. Inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, Phillips’ origin story gifted Phoenix an empty canvas on which to paint a portrait disturbed, potentially misunderstood man caught in the tides of economic strife. With most of the Dark Knight lore left out of the picture (although Arthur crosses paths with a young Bruce Wayne and there are already murmurs of a Joker 2, suggesting there’s a little more comic book movie DNA in the drama than first pitched) the actor took a big swing. He reportedly lost 52 pounds to inhabit Fleck’s gaunt physique and turned Joker’s laugh into an extension of the character.
“Before I even read the script, Todd came over and talked me through what he wanted out of this character and this movie, and he showed me some videos, and he described the laughter as something that was almost painful,” Phoenix told audiences at the Venice Film Festival last August. “And so ultimately, I think Joker is a part of him that’s trying to emerge, and I think that was a really interesting way of looking at this laugh [...] It felt like a new, fresh way of looking at it. But honestly, I didn’t think that I could do it. I would practice alone and then asked Todd to come over to audition my laugh, because I felt like I had to do it on the spot and in front of somebody else. It took me a long time.”
Phoenix is now the second actor to pick up a Golden Globe for playing the iconic DC Comics villain. In 2009, Heath Ledger posthumously won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role award for his work in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He’d go on to pick up the Supporting Actor Oscar at the Academy Awards that same year. Jack Nicholson also earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work as the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989, but lost to a Dark Knight alum: Morgan Freeman, who starred in Driving Miss Daisy. (Nicholson’s Joker competed in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical category, to give you an idea of what most people thought of comic book movies in 1990.)
Phoenix topped Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari, Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory, Adam Driver in Marriage Story, and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes. After picking up nominations from the Screen Actors’ Guild, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and a handful of national critics awards, Phoenix is fully expected to ride his Golden Globes win to an Oscar nomination later this month.