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It’s no laughing matter: Like many people his age, Joaquin Phoenix has come to the conclusion that his comic book collection is no gold mine.

“I’m disappointed that my comics aren’t more valuable,” says Phoenix, 44, who still has some pretty choice issues, including Wolverine’s first appearance. “When you’re a kid, a hundred bucks is like a lot, right? I remember reading comics, being so excited: ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be worth 150 bucks!’ And then you’re an adult with a mortgage and you realize that all of your comics, it doesn’t amount to much.”

The superheroes of his childhood have become big business in Hollywood, though Phoenix is going in a very different direction with a fabled comic icon. Director Todd Phillips’ keenly anticipated psychological thriller “Joker” (in theaters Friday) imagines that a real-world scenario gives riseto the legendary Batman villain. That antagonist comes in the form of Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a troubled Gotham City clown and stand-up comedian mocked and bullied for his unusual behavior and otherworldly cackle.

Phoenix is the latest in a long line of movie Jokers, joining the ranks of Jack Nicholson (1989’s “Batman”), Heath Ledger (2008’s “The Dark Knight”) and Jared Leto (2016’s “Suicide Squad”). But he does find the appeal of the anarchic antagonist – for actors and pop culture fans alike – “curious” overall.

“I wonder if it’s that they project their own feelings on the character because in some ways he’s a blank slate,” says Phoenix, breaking into a gigantic bottle of water while relaxing in an outdoor hotel bar area. “Most of these villains and heroes, their motivations are so clearly defined. Maybe there’s something enjoyable about a character in which we don’t really know what motivates him.”

Ledger posthumously won an Academy Award for his Joker, and Phoenix could make it two-for-two for the bad guy at the Oscars. A three-time nominee, he’s already considered overdue for golden glory, critical acclaim for his performance is boosting awareness, and he “most definitely will be in the mix,” says managing editor Erik Davis.

“(Oscar) voters love a juicy, no-holds-barred performance, he says. “And while Phoenix’s take is tough to watch and makes you uncomfortable at times, those are often the most powerful and lasting performances because they are the ones that stick with you long after leaving the theater.”

The road to becoming Joker, while admittedly “energizing,” wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, Phoenix says. Because there’s “limitless” potential for the character, he collaborated with Phillips constantly about everything from Arthur’s clownish look to his internal persona. As Joker evolved, so did Phoenix’s portrayal.

“When we were prepping for it, I felt very frustrated because I couldn’t lock on anything that felt like a foundation for the character,” Phoenix says. “And at some point, I realized that was the (expletive) point. He was unstable.

“It’s shaky ground as an actor. I enjoy not knowing precisely what a character may do, but you want to have like a couple moments that you feel solid about. And that never really happened,” he adds. “We just became very comfortable with not knowing.”

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