Cinematographer Lawrence Sher tells /Film about some of Phoenix’s most impressive improvisations while filming “Joker.”
One of the more baffling moments in “Joker” finds Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck coping with his violent descent into the eponymous villain by clearing out the contents of his refrigerator so that he can fit inside it. Arthur fits himself into the fridge and shuts the door behind him, as director Todd Phillips holds the shot for a couple extra seconds to show Arthur will remain inside the tight space for awhile. Phoenix’s refrigerator move was an improvisation that no one on the crew knew until the moment happened during filming, “Joker” cinematographer Lawrence Sher reveals in a new interview with /Film.
“While some scenes were very planned out, like when he’s in the phonebooth or walking up the stairs, others had no plan at all,” Sher said. “When he climbed in the refrigerator, we had no idea he was going to do that. We set up two camera positions, and Joaquin just thought about what he would do if he was a massive insomniac. Again, we lit it so he could go anywhere, and the first and only time he did it, we were mesmerized. I remember thinking, ‘What is he doing? Did he just crawl in the fridge?’ It was as fun and weird for us to watch it, too.”
The refrigerator moment was hardly the only time Phoenix used improve to make a “Joker” scene work. Phillips has already revealed that the infamous bathroom scene, in which Arthur begins to dance while coping with his first acts of murder, was improvised on the day of filming. The original scene was supposed to find Arthur talking to himself in the bathroom mirror in disbelief over his actions, but Phillips and Phoenix scrapped it in favor of having Arthur process his violent act through dance. Sher told /Film the dance itself was improvised on the spot. The moment Arthur accidentally fires a gun in his mother’s apartment was also improvised.
“Joaquin created that whole dance and, after the success of that scene, we started creating more moments like that,” Sher said. “Like when he’s playing with the gun and fires it into the wall. All we knew was that he’d fire the gun into the wall at some point, but we never planned when or knew that he’d stand and have that conversation with himself and begin dancing. We just had two cameras in there and let it happen, which became a major part of how we did a lot of things.”
Phoenix’s unhinged performance has made him a top contender to land an Oscar nomination for Best Actor at the 2020 Oscars. “Joker,” which has earned over $740 million and counting at the worldwide box office, continues to play in theaters nationwide. Head over to the /Film website to read Sher’s interview in its entirety.