Via | By Ruben V. Nepales 

Words to describe Joaquin Phoenix’s towering achievement as an actor in “Joker” are superfluous. He is terrific, astonishing, just plain brilliant in how Joker came to be.

Amid Joaquin’s genius of a performance, it is easy to overlook director Todd Phillips’ involving, unforgettable origin story for the Joker, which he cowrote with Scott Silver.

The year is 1981 and the screenplay chronicles the life of Arthur Fleck, a standup comedian flop who transforms into the Joker. Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz and Frances Conroy provide solid support.

Joaquin, usually reticent in interviews, was engaging. When he smiled or laughed, those dark eyes—his best features, which serve him well as an actor—light up.

How did you prepare to get in character to play Joker? Did you start with the laughter? Yeah, I started with the laughter. It was the very first thing that Todd brought to me in our first meeting, before I even read the script. He showed me videos of these people in these uncontrollable laughing fits. That certainly was the starting point.

I can’t remember exactly, but I started diving in four months before we started shooting. And that obviously has a profound effect on you.

How about the dancing? It’s integral to your Joker. I didn’t think about the dance and those movements until I got to New York, two months in advance. I started to work with the choreographer and watched videos. What is interesting and fun about making characters is you don’t know what part of them is going to affect another part.

And your tremendous weight loss for the role? The weight loss was a part of some of the fluidity that my character experienced in the movement, because literally you are lighter, and your body moves differently. When my weight got down to what my target was, I just moved differently. There’s something empowering and strengthening about losing that weight, because you take control over your body, impulses.

There’s also something weakening and detrimental about it physically—in my legs, you lose muscle mass, and you become susceptible to injuries in a different way. Those are things you start reacting to. My favorite is to have something tangible, an experience that I can have that affects that character. Part of it has to be experiential. But at least four months in advance of shooting, I started the process (or preparing).