Joaquin Phoenix reveals the weird and unlikely inspiration for his 'Joker' performance

Ben Arnold
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (Credit: Warner Bros)

Joaquin Phoenix didn't study psychopaths for his portrayal of the Joker, rather something considerably more genteel. On the surface, at least.

The actor says the principal inspiration for his Clown Prince of Chaos was none other than Wizard of Oz actor Ray Bolger.

Bolger played the Scarecrow in the iconic cinema classic, and was also an accomplished dancer, performing on Broadway and in vaudeville, during his early career.

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Speaking to AP, Phoenix said that one performance in particular informed his Joker more than anything else.

“I think what influenced me the most was Ray Bolger,” he said.

“There was a particular song called The Old Soft Shoe that he performed and I saw a video of it and there’s this odd arrogance almost to his movements and, really, I completely just stole it from him.

Ray Bolger plays the Scarecrow in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

“He does this thing of turning his chin up. This choreographer Michael Arnold showed me that and tons of videos and I zeroed in on that one. That was Joker, right? There’s an arrogance to him, really. That was probably the greatest influence.”

You can check out Bolger’s performance below:

Bolger, who died in 1987, appeared in a host of movies and TV shows, from Disney's Babes In Toyland to The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Little House on the Prairie.

Phoenix has received rave reviews for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, the failing stand-up comedian and entertainer who unravels to become Batman's arch nemesis, with director Todd Phillips' movie winning the highest award at the Venice Film Festival.

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In a separate interview with Italian newspaper Le Repubblica, he said that he also studied footage of people with a very specific neurological disorder.

“I started [with the laugh],” he said. “I watched videos of people suffering from pathological laughter, a neurological disorder that makes individuals laugh uncontrollably.”

Also starring Zazie Beatz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen and Marc Maron, Joker lands in the UK on 4 October.