There are many astounding scenes in Joker, but what I remember most is an aerial shot of Arthur Fleck lying in bed, alone in his room, with nothing but a pistol and a notebook.
One lonely man’s thoughts – and subsequent violence – would disrupt Gotham’s power structure.
Joaquin Phoenix also used a journal to become the Joker:
“’Very early on in the rehearsal, I was given the journal that he had — his journal and joke diary. And that was really helpful, because I had been there for a couple of weeks and wasn’t sure how I was going to start, and Todd sent this empty journal,’ he recalled. ‘I didn’t know what to write, so I asked Todd for some suggestions, and after a few days, I ignored his suggestions and suddenly it was coming out. It became a really important part of the discovery of the character at that time.'”
– Joaquin Phoenix, interview with Daily Beast
It reminded me of how Heath Ledger, in preparation for the Joker in the Dark Knight, locked himself in a hotel room for one month. His tool? A diary full of images, clippings, and thoughts.
“He would immerse himself in any upcoming character.”
– Kim Ledger, Heath Ledger’s Father
Natalie Portman’s first advice to aspiring actors is to keep a journal and answer two questions: 1) how does the character relate to others and herself? 2) how does he enter the room and what type of energy does he bring? An actor should research and know the character so well that it just comes out of him.
When we are in transition, and evolving into something new, shouldn’t we use the same process?
You can fill this journal (of the future you) with as much detail as possible:
- How you move i.e. how do you enter a room? what’s your energy?
- How you speak i.e. how do you talk to yourself and to others? who do you look up to?
- How you dress i.e. what’s your appearance?
- Images, words, and people that inspire your character
- Key historical events and backstory that shaped you i.e. what motivates you?
- Acting out scenes and situations as if you were the character
Transitioning to any new role requires changing identities. But looking within for answers only reinforces old ways of seeing the world and ourselves. You’re more likely to develop a new identity by acting it out and experimenting with new ways of being.
We learn from great actors that to become someone new you need to start with imagination and experimentation. Rehearsing, in your mind or in an empty room, your character. Making the character’s psychology and physicality so vivid that others can’t recognize the old you.