Acting is a strange trade.

By nature of the profession, an actor is supposed to don various masks, completely immerse themselves in a role to the point that they can convince audiences that they're someone else entirely, then discard it all as soon as the show or movie is done—only to start up again as a different character.

Many actors do this effortlessly, but others have dived too deep into their roles, losing touch with their real selves in the process. These actors have taken character acting a bit too far.

1. Joaquin Phoenix — Joker

Joaquin Phoenix confessed that preparing himself for Joker was no easy task. He lost 52 pounds in six months, which is incredibly dangerous, and he found himself fatigued and socially ostracized and on the verge of going "mad." Of course, the Joker is a famously destructive and all-consuming part. For his role as the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for a month; and for the same role in Suicide Squad, Jared Leto adopted the Joker's twisted personality, sending bizarre gifts and playing strange pranks on the film's cast and crew.


Robert De Niro Is the Real Incel Symbol in "Joker"

The character of Murray Franklin pays homage to cinema's most iconic, violent, disaffected white men.

A failed comedian is a dangerous thing.

Todd Phillips' Joker may put the infamous villain (and incel symbol) in a new sympathetic light (barely), but its controversial portrayal of a violent male misanthrope is nothing new. With Joker, Phillips pays homage to cinema's most famous disaffected white men who turn to violence when the world refuses to appreciate them. Oddly, that tradition heavily features Robert De Niro.

The dark narcissism of a deadbeat stand-up comic was famously explored in Martin Scorsese's 1983 The King of Comedy. After De Niro made Travis Bickle disturbingly sympathetic in 1976's Taxi Driver, he brought that cultivated energy to his portrayal of Rupert Pupkin, a disaffected young man who lives with his mother and whose fantasies of comedy superstardom detach him from reality. He plots to kidnap the world's most famous talk show host, Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis), and hold him hostage until he invites Rupert on as a guest, launching what Rubert's sure will be an illustrious career.

THE KING OF COMEDY - Trailer ( 1982 )


In Joker, De Niro plays Gotham's beloved late night host Murray Franklin, who publicly mocks Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) for his pitiful standup routine on live TV. But then Murray invites him onto his show, where Arthur confesses to the murder spree that's inspired an anti-rich movement of riots in the streets of Gotham City. Then he shoots the host in the head—live on air.

Rober De Niro in "Taxi Driver'

The character of Murray Franklin is a direct homage to Frank Miller's 1986 four-part comic book miniseries, The Dark Knight Rises, wherein The Joker awakens from a catatonic state and reintroduces himself to the world by appearing on a popular late night show. Televised murder ensues. While it's a lovely Easter Egg for Batman afficonados and a nice tie-in to past iterations of the Batman universe, it's a disconcerting choice considering Warner Bros.' own description of The Joker being "a man disregarded by society" in a film that's "not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale."

Cautionary tale about what, exactly? That's the question that's spurred the FBI to issue warnings about possible shootings in theater screenings of the film (obviously in light of the Aurora theater shooting during The Dark Knight's premiere) and generally caused a ruckus about Todd Phillips' film radicalizing everyone who's fed up with society's institutional failures. But the violence and madness and alienated madman aren't fulminations of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker; they lie in Robert De Niro's Murray Franklin.

"Bob [De Niro] really loved the script," director Todd Phillips told Empire Magazine. "I met with him and said, 'I'd be lying to you if I said we weren't influenced by a lot of your movies.' I talked with him about Taxi Driver and about The King Of Comedy, which is one of my favorite movies of all time." De Niro was drawn to Joker's familiar themes and clearly saw his past characters and Franklin were part of the same conversation: "There's a connection, obviously, with the whole thing," De Niro told IndieWire. "But it's not as a direct connection as the character I'm playing being Rupert many years later as a host." Rather, as ScreenRant notes, "De Niro's Joker character symbolizes all the glory and public admiration that both Arthur Fleck and Rupert Pupkin once dreamed of."

The cautionary tale driving Joker is about disillusionment with a broken society that's carelessly failed individuals, sure; but the heart of its caution lies in the subjectivity framing films like Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and Joker. Namely, our protagonists are unhinged. Unreliable narrators live out their fantasies of heinous acts of violence, realizing their delusions of grandeur. The endings are too perfectly aligned with the characters' self-grandiosity to believe that they haven't completely broken from reality, which is part of their appeal and enduring mystery: How much was real? Does it matter?

The point of films like Joker isn't to prove that the system is broken and violence is the answer. Rather, individuals are broken by forces and circumstances out of their control, and their only means of regaining control and self-empowerment is to escape their loneliness—whether that's through the beauty of destruction, the creativity of self-delusion, or, apparently, an elaborate sexual fantasy about their very attractive neighbor.

At the end of The King of Comedy, Rupert stands before a live studio audience that isn't sure if they're laughing with or at the unhinged young man. Rupert responds, "Tomorrow you'll know I wasn't kidding and you'll all think I'm crazy. But I figure it this way: better to be king for a night, than a schmuck for a lifetime."

JOKER - Final Trailer - Now Playing In Theaters

Music Features

Jemima Kirke and Alex Cameron's "Marlon Brando" is Brilliant

Jemima Kirke and Alex Cameron teamed up and created a whole new type of music video.

Chris Rhodes

Alex Cameron's new music video (short film?) is something of an anomaly. Directed by his girlfriend, Jemima Kirke ( Girls, Maniac), the video for "Marlon Brando" shirks the contents of the song and instead creates a meta-narrative around the production of its music video, focusing instead on the kind of person the song might be about. Cue fictional director John Brearly (John Early), a recent winner of Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard competition. From the offset, Early's character is a flailing example of an unexceptional creative who's let moderate success swell his ego. The film opens with Early waxing poetic on his theories about the karmic repercussions of wearing a seatbelt and is quickly followed by one of the most uncool/uncomfortable attempts at climbing into a loading dock ever captured on film.

The short intersperses bits of Cameron's song throughout, using it more as transitional material than subject matter. Kirke zooms on Early, as he throws around out-of-context references to Terrence Malick and talks demeaningly to the dancers and his starry-eyed PA. Eventually, the bottom falls out, and Early's thin veneer of kindness disintegrates when his helpful PA screws up his ice cream sandwich order.

Alex Cameron - Marlon Brando

"It's just a cookie? If you wanted to be more honest with me, you could have told me it was a third of an ice cream sandwich. I think that would have been a little more accurate given my expectations," Early murmurs seconds before his breakdown–one that culminates in him shouting through tears, "I miss my friends from college!"

This scene, not the synth-laden chorus nor Alex Cameron's goofy-sincere dancing, is the climax of the video. It's here where the roiling mixture of narcissism and rage that hides just beneath the surface of the New York film scene is exposed. While the song's lyrical narrative highlights an easily recognizable type of toxic masculinity, Kirke's short film narrows its gaze, instead focusing on a particular type of douchebag: the Brooklyn film snob. From the outset, Early is pretentious. He's pseudo-intellectual, the kind of guy who uses "which" instead of "that" as a determiner, someone who holds a book of poetry on the subway but never seems to read it. His pedantry is a cover, not for stupidity, but for what the stupidity would be if he didn't have an NYU education. Namely, chauvinism. This is the genus of fuck-wit that Kirke so elegantly dissects in her short film. Her painting of Early is a sort of stretched realism, but he's not a cartoon. He's a slightly exaggerated version of the type of person every 20-something New Yorker knows in his or her personal life.

Alex Cameron in MonroweJACK O'CONNOR (Style by LexyRowe)

For Cameron's part, the video wouldn't be possible without his song, and his uncharacteristic performance as the straight man is what makes Early's antics pop. This isn't to say the film was without Cameron's distinct charm. The final shots of the video show Early crying as Cameron shuffles and scoots over a strangely lit white backdrop. His hair is still slicked back. He's still cool in the most uncool way. Maybe it's a testament to the absurdity of the video that the man dancing in leather sweatpants seems to be the only sane person in the room. Either way, Kirke and Cameron have once again created something special together.

Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. He currently serves as Lead Editor for Gramercy Media. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Find Matt on Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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