Joaquin Phoenix explains he felt “uncomfortable” about ‘Joker’ mass shootings debate

Actor speaks out about the controversial impact of his role

After months of silence and one notorious interview walkout, Joaquin Phoenix has clarified his position on the potential violent implications of Joker.

In an interview with the LA Times, Phoenix said, “It was an awkward position to be in because I thought, ‘Well, I can’t address this because this is the thing that is potentially part of the problem — that’s precisely what you shouldn’t do.”

The actor has often kept his cards close to his chest when promoting the film, but discourse around Todd Phillips’ dark comic book origin story has pushed Phoenix to address the issues directly.


“It suddenly seemed like I was being evasive and trying to avoid this topic because it made me uncomfortable,” he explained. “But really I was thinking, ‘This is the very thing that would excite this kind of personality.’”

Joker, Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Joker’.

Since its premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Golden Lion award, the film has prompted fervent debate (which Phoenix described as “noise and meshugas”) among viewers and critics alike, concerned about the possibility of copycat killers taking inspiration from the film’s depiction of violence.

Among those voicing concerns were victims of the 2012 shooting at the Aurora Cinemark theatre in Colorado, during which James Holmes murdered 12 people and injured 70 more in a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. The loved ones of those affected by the shooting signed an open letter to Warner Bros. warning of Joker‘s potential impact, and the film did not play at the reopened theatre.

Director Todd Philips has since give his opinion on the matter. At a special Q&A after a screening in New York, he said, “To me, I thought, isn’t it a good thing to put real-world implications on violence? Isn’t it a good thing to take away the cartoon element of violence that we’ve become so immune to?”


Controversial debates aside, Joker has become both the highest grossing R-rated movie ever and the most profitable comic book movie of all time.