Joaquin Phoenix thanks his 'favourite actor' Heath Ledger as he grabs Joker gong at the SAG Awards

Joaquin Phoenix paid tribute to the late Heath Ledger last night, as he came one step closer to winning his first Oscar.

Phoenix won Best Actor at the Screen Actors Guild awards in Burbank, California, last night, for his celebrated role as failed comedian Arthur Fleck in Joker.

Receiving the gong from screen legend Glenn Close, he thanked each of his fellow nominees – Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver and Taron Egerton – in sequence.

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He joked about his former rivalry with Leonardo DiCaprio, telling then audience: “Going to auditions, I’d get the final callback, and there would always be two other guys I was against, and we’d always lose to this one kid. No actor would ever say his name cause it was too much but every casting director would whisper: ‘It’s Leonardo.’

“Leo, you’ve been an inspiration to me and so many other people for 25 years. Thank you very, very much.”

Then before leaving the stage, he paid the biggest tribute of all to the actor who played the Joker before him.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight (Credit: Warner Bros)
Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight (Credit: Warner Bros)

“Really I'm standing here on the shoulders of my favourite actor, Heath Ledger. So thank you, and good night,” he said.

Ledger was the benchmark depiction of Batman's nemesis in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight in 2008.

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Tragically, Ledger never got to see his performance – he died in January, 2008, after an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

Phoenix is now a shoo-in for the Best Actor award at the Oscars next month, having also won the Golden Globe for his performance earlier this month.

He's also nominated for the BAFTA, which take place at the Royal Albert Hall on February 2.

The Oscars happen on February 10.