Since his first on-screen role in 1982, Joaquin Phoenix has played a wide array of unique, endearing and, at times, disturbing characters. In honor of his most recent film, "Joker" — which hits theaters on Oct. 4, 2019 — Wonderwall.com is taking a look at some of Joaquin's biggest character transformations, including his dramatic physical change for the role of Gotham's most notorious supervillain. Keep reading for more…
Arthur Fleck in "Joker"
There's already Oscar buzz for Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Arthur Fleck, the madman destined to become Batman's most notorious foil, in 2019's "Joker." For the role, Joaquin shed an incredible 52 pounds, which gave him a wiry, malnourished appearance that helped exaggerate Arthur's disturbed persona. While speaking to reporters at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, Joaquin shared how his diet prepared him for the role, explaining, "As it turns out, that impacts your psychology and you really start to go mad when you lose that much weight in that amount of time."
Joe in "You Were Never Really Here"
For his role as hammer-swinging struggling war veteran Joe, who spends his days tracking down and saving missing girls, in the 2017 mystery crime drama "You Were Never Really Here," Joaquin Phoenix rocked a pudgy dad bod, long hair and a bushy beard. Rather than a man with a sculpted six pack and physique, Joaquin envisioned Joe as someone "who's midlife and has kind of fallen off in some ways" and therefore less inclined to be at the peak of physical perfection.
John Callahan in "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot"
We almost didn't recognize Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan in the biographical comedy "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot." For the role of the disabled Portland cartoonist, Joaquin's long hair was given an uneven chop and dyed an orange-tinted hue, similar to the actual John Callahan. Keeping with the aesthetic of the 1980s time period in which the film is set, Joaquin also donned clothing and oversized spectacles popular in the decade. Most notably, Joaquin filmed a majority of the movie in a motorized wheelchair, capturing John's transformation from a listless alcoholic to a quadriplegic and acclaimed cartoonist.
Joaquin Phoenix in "I'm Still Here"
It's hard to forget the bizarre transformation Joaquin Phoenix underwent to play himself in the 2010 dramatic comedy "I'm Still Here." Donning unkempt long hair, a full beard, dark shades and a suit, Joaquin spent 18 months both on and seemingly off camera pretending to be a celebrity in the midst of a public breakdown. Not only did his outer appearance change, but Joaquin announced that he was quitting acting to become a rap star and appeared on talk shows like "Late Show with David Letterman" where he gave a jaw-dropping, unhinged interview that left the world concerned for his mental health. Unbeknownst to the public, it turned out that Joaquin was actually filming for his movie the entire time. Not long after it wrapped, a clean-shaven and more recognizable Joaquin re-emerged and he fessed up to being in character throughout the last year and a half.
Jimmy Emmett in "To Die For"
Joaquin Phoenix's transformation into high school loverboy-turned-murderer Jimmy Emmett (left) in the 1995 crime comedy "To Die For" was made easier thanks to his age. At the time of the film, Joaquin was just 21 years old, allowing him to pull off the lanky and rebellious look of his teenaged character (the shaggy haircut didn't hurt either). The role marked Joaquin's return to Hollywood following the 1993 overdose death of his brother, actor River Phoenix.
Charlie Sisters in "The Sisters Brothers"
In the 2018 crime comedy "The Sisters Brothers," Joaquin Phoenix's look was full-on Wild West. To play the role of cowboy assassin Charlie Sisters, Joaquin kept his look 19th century appropriate, which meant wearing a vest, a blousy shirt, trousers and suspenders all coated in a thick layer of dirt and the occasional blood splatter. Typical of the era, Joaquin also sported longer, unwashed hair and a short beard.
Theodore in "Her"
There was something so wonderfully geeky about Joaquin Phoenix's look in the 2014 sci-fi romantic drama "Her." To capture the loneliness of his character, Theodore — who falls in love with an operating system named Samantha — Joaquin wore high-waisted trousers and a slim-fit button-up and grew a thick mustache that gave him a nerdy, outcast vibe.
Commodus in "Gladiator"
For his role as the evil and incestuous Commodus in 2000's "Gladiator," Joaquin Phoenix didn't just wear luxurious robes, embossed metal breastplates and a crown of gold leaves. He also learned to speak with a British accent. While his outward transformation was appropriate for the time period — the drama took place around 180 A.D. — his accent was far more questionable, especially given that he was playing a Roman prince. Despite the confusion over his character's speech, Joaquin earned his first Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for the performance.
Jesus in "Mary Magdalene"
For his powerful transformation into Jesus of Nazareth for the 2018 biblical drama "Mary Magdalene," Joaquin Phoenix kept his look unkempt and nomadic. As a traveling holy man, Joaquin's hair and beard were necessarily unwashed and unruly, while his robes and woven scarves were ragged and heavy with dust and sweat, denoting Jesus's chosen path of poverty and service to others.
Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line"
Whose heart didn't swoon watching Joaquin Phoenix's astounding transformation into rockabilly legend Johnny Cash in the 2005 biopic "Walk the Line"? For the role, Joaquin's hair was styled into a classic pompadour and his clothing was reminiscent of Johnny's, mainly all-black fitted suits accessorized with a guitar and cigarettes. Joaquin's portrayal earned him an Oscar nomination for best lead actor in 2006.
Merrill Hess in "Signs"
In the 2002 M. Night Shyamalan thriller "Signs," Joaquin Phoenix (left) took on the role of former minor league baseball player Merrill Hess, the younger brother of recently widowed Graham (played by Mel Gibson). For the role, Joaquin adopted a more Midwestern persona, wearing everyday shirts and sweaters paired with jeans. His hair was styled in a clean crew cut, giving him that all-American, golden boy appeal.
Willie Gutierrez in "The Yards"
Joaquin Phoenix's transformation into wheeling and dealing Willie Gutierrez in the 2000 romantic crime drama "The Yards" involved a lot of pomade and slick suits. In the film, Willie is a low-level criminal who helps his friend Leo by sabotaging a contractor who's seeking to land a lucrative job in New York's crime-ridden commuter rail industry.
Lucius Hunt in "The Village"
For Joaquin Phoenix's role as Lucius Hunt in the 2004 mystery thriller "The Village," the actor wore clothing reminiscent of a 19th century blacksmith including hand-sewn shirts, vests and trousers along with a mustard-colored woven cape for his expeditions into the forbidden woods.
Abe Lucas in "An Irrational Man"
Joaquin Phoenix's transformation into philosophy professor Abe Lucas in 2015's "Irrational Man" was flawless. Sporting seriously salt-and-pepper hair, a dad bod appropriate for an alcoholic middle-aged man disillusioned with life and a nearly all-plaid shirt-and-jeans uniform, Joaquin looked every bit the part of an academic on the verge of a breakdown.
Jack Morrison in "Ladder 49"
Did someone turn up the heat? Joaquin Phoenix's transformation into brave firefighter Jack Morrison in the 2004 dramatic thriller "Ladder 49" was enough to melt our hearts. Aside from wearing a firefighter's uniform, Joaquin beefed up his bod to give him the physique of someone who not only ascends ladders but saves lives.
Jack Daglish in "Hotel Rwanda"
In the Oscar-nominated 2004 biographical drama "Hotel Rwanda," Joaquin Phoenix played international journalist Jack Daglish. For the role, Joaquin grew a beard and wore the standard loose T-shirt and cargo pants attire of reporters on the frontlines. His character often donned a multi-pocketed vest and a large camera to capture the violence unfolding in Rwanda.
Doug Holt in "Inventing the Abbotts"
For the 1997 romantic drama "Inventing The Abbotts," Joaquin Phoenix (right) had to transform himself into a working-class young man of the 1950s. His attire included collared shirts worn over basic white tees and blue jeans or slacks belted high on the waist. Keeping with the time period, Joaquin's hair was styled in several popular looks including a messy bowl cut, a pompadour and a stylish elephant trunk.
Bruno Weiss in "The Immigrant"
Joaquin Phoenix's transformation into manipulative pimp Bruno Weiss in the 2013 romantic drama "The Immigrant" was spot-on. Wearing thick wool suits and matching hats, Joaquin's character was a well-dressed predator preying on innocent immigrant women while masquerading as a man of means.
Ray Elwood in "Buffalo Soldiers."
Joaquin Phoenix's work as Ray Elwood in the 2001 dramatic comedy "Buffalo Soldiers" meant camouflage fatigues and a military-style haircut. In the film, Ray — a soldier assigned to a duty station in Germany in 1989 — turns to smuggling military equipment in his free time to assuage his boredom. When Ray wasn't on duty, he wore clothes typical of the late '80s including leather jackets, skinny jeans and colorful T-shirts.
Danny in "Russkies"
There wasn't as much of a transformation for Joaquin Phoenix's role as Danny (center) in the 1987 drama "Russkies" as there was a complete youthful adorableness. Joaquin, who at the time went by the professional moniker Leaf Phoenix, was only 13 in this film about a group of boys in Key West who discover a Russian sailor shipwrecked on a nearby beach. For the role, Joaquin sported kid-sized military attire including his beloved camouflage hat and a set of dog tags.
Abbe de Coulmier in "Quills"
For Joaquin Phoenix's character, the Abbe de Coulmier, in the 2000 biographical drama "Quills," he donned robes typical of a French Catholic priest of the time. His black frock, known as a cassock, was worn over a white surplice and matching clerical collar to convey his position and dedication to the church. Not typical of the era was Joaquin's shorter hairstyle, which helped bring a more modern feel to his troubled character.
Larry "Doc" Sportello in "Inherent Vice"
In the 2004 crime comedy "Inherent Vice," Joaquin Phoenix took a page out of Wolverine's style book for his character, a hippie and private investigator named Doc. In addition to his just-rolled-out-of-bed fashion, his long, unkempt hair and Marvel-esque mutton chops gave Doc a sort of "disaster waiting to happen" vibe that added to the hilarity in this film.
Freddie Quell in "The Master"
Joaquin Phoenix's transformation in the 2012 drama "The Master" took extreme discipline. For his role as U.S. Navy war veteran Freddie Quell, Joaquin dropped an extreme amount of weight, giving Freddie a near-emaciated appearance that spoke to his inner turmoil and struggle adjusting to the world. According to the film's director, Paul Thomas Anderson, Joaquin only ate tiny quantities of nuts to achieve his skin-and-bones look, something he believed was even more difficult given that Joaquin "loves to eat." The actor also walked with a noticeable limp, which he felt was important to emphasize his character's overall brokenness. Joaquin earned an Oscar nomination for best lead actor for his incredible performance.
Ethan Learner in "Reservation Road"
For Joaquin Phoenix's role as professor and grieving father Ethan Learner in the 2007 crime thriller "Reservation Road," he adopted a more modest style. From his collared, tucked-in plaid shirts and pressed slacks to his cuffed-at-the-sleeve button-downs and fitted blazers, Ethan's look (which included a well-groomed beard) emulated an academic comfortably positioned in the middle class.