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Joaquin Phoenix Could Have Been Darren Aronofsky’s Batman
With his 2020 win for Joker, Joaquin Phoenix became the first performer in Academy Awards history to take home a Best Actor trophy for starring in a comic book movie. (Heath Ledger’s also history-making win for playing the same role in 2008’s The Dark Knight was in the Best Supporting Actor category.) So while Phoenix has already locked down a place in comic movie history, director Darren Aronofsky said in a new interview that years ago, he wanted to give the actor a different role from the Batman universe—that of the caped crusader himself.
The mother! and Black Swan director, riding high after the success of his 2000 breakout film Requiem For a Dream, was once slated to team up with Warner Bros to make a Batman film. (Christopher Nolan, of course, eventually landed the gig, and cast Christian Bale as the lead in his celebrated Dark Knight trilogy.) But Aronofsky had a different vision for the Batman movie he wanted to make.
First of all, the director wanted Phoenix as his Bruce Wayne, which apparently didn’t sit too well with the studio bigwigs. “The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr. and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix,” Aronofsky told Empire. “I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.”
He also tapped famed comic writer Frank Miller for his script, and said that he envisioned a film that would stand in dark, gritty contrast to the Batman movies of the ’90s. “The Batman that was out before me was Batman & Robin, the famous one with the nipples on the Batsuit, so I was really trying to undermine that, and reinvent it,” he said. “That’s where my head went.”
Batman is currently being rebooted yet again, with Robert Pattinson serving as the latest actor to don the pointy-eared mask. And while the world did get its darker Batman reboot under Nolan, Aronofsky’s vision also sounds pretty cool. And casting Phoenix as a passionate crusader trying to create a better world? That definitely sounds like something that could’ve worked.
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Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.