Joker Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, ASC On Working With Joaquin Phoenix

Film Courage: How much time did you have with Joaquin
Phoenix before principal photography [JOKER Movie] Lawrence Sher, ASC: As a cameraman you know, a
cinematographer, you don’t necessarily spend that much time it
depends on the movie of course but it depends also on the director and how
much rehearsing they do and you may have if you have a director that does a ton
of rehearsing you may spend more time prior to the movie starting working with
those actors and understanding a little bit of them and they’re certainly
filmmakers like Sydney the Med and other guys that like hurts the whole movie
with all the actors and Todd’s not one of those guys Joaquin I think is also
not necessarily one of those big rehearsal guys I think he’s a classic
gamer in sports metaphors he just wants when it happens he wants
to be captured and he sort of wants it to be when the movies happening for real
so my interactions with Joaquin were very very small and nominal leading up
to the first day of shooting I’d see him for makeup hair tests and certainly when
he was like in the office trying the makeup on for a couple times we would
I’d come in I’d take some still pictures of him I’m gonna have conversations of
Todd about but it wasn’t like we spent much time together at all my first real
interactions with Akeem in a real sense was basically day one of shooting
watching him perform like for the first time first shot you know and and then
over the course of making the movie we shot the movie in 58 days I then the
relationship really formed and you know became a relationship by the end where
there was a lot more interaction conversations and certainly I think we
both understand hood each other a little bit more he understood what I was trying
to do with the movie I certainly of course had seen what he was doing with
the movie and so there was a lot more interaction by the end and his ability
to make this character who in the end is is powerful in a destructive way but
seems so fragile so I mean there’s so my arms around well Arthur I felt so like
he just very well that’s the whole beauty of the way he sort of built the
arc of the character with him and Todd is its it is
like it’s me meek is one word but it’s not really that he’s just a he’s just a
gentle person like his place in the movie in the in the early stages is one
of you know accommodating to some extent right you know this there’s this just
like a there’s a there’s a sense of each sense real human sense to him I mean he
just really created a very human character that has all the frailties and
and all the things and and that makes it even the power of him wanting to be a
comedian which is such a high-profile I I mean to me comedians and obviously
with Todd having done so many comedies and I’ve certainly shot a lot of
comedies comedians are the most fascinating people and I feel like to
stand up and do comedy is the hardest thing in all of the creative arts I
really believe that I think you are the most vulnerable and naked because jokes
are jokes right like you go out to set out to do comedy it’s like what his mom
says is don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian it’s like it’s cut and dry
it’s black and white like you stand out in front in a spotlight and you try to
tell jokes if people aren’t laughing essentially you’re not a comedian and
it’s pretty straightforward and there’s not a lot of argument and you go out and
make something that’s supposed to move people generally speaking you don’t know
that and you’re not knowing it instantly you don’t sense it from the audience
there it’s a lot of internal stuff and I respect so much anybody who tries
stand-up comedian stand-up comedy said to me what a cool device to take this
person that’s so small and like you say you want to hug him because he’s he’s
obviously dresses up like a clown and he has to perform so he has that part of
him but that dichotomy of character the fact that he is this person that like
even when he’s stretching his shoes and you see the frailty of his body and how
skinny is and when even when when he gets the gun from Randall he’s even in
that moment he’s just like I’m not supposed to have a gun like it’s all
very small and all very and I think those elements of
Arthur’s character and what what Keane did with them and Todd of course is to
me is such a beautiful thing because you see this massive Toccata me even within
the same human being and I think that’s what the movies exploring right
exploring those two sides of all of us you know that are battling constantly
right there’s like a side that doesn’t want to be seen and there’s a side that
wants to be seen there’s a sign that wants peace and harmony and there’s a
side that wants chaos and madness right and and I think that’s really what the
movie deals with on a grand level and which direction do you decide to take to
take yourself you know and you know I think in all of us
we try to be good but sometimes we’re fighting or any clinicians to be rageful
and angry and all these things I don’t think there’s a person among us who’s
not suffering from from that that that part of ourselves right that’s what
being human being is and I think here you’re seeing it explored over the
course of a two-hour movie in a way that I think is pretty pretty effective you
could even take and this is off going off on a tangent a little bit but Andy
Kaufman who had that same thing and when he needed to be larger than life he
could be but then he could be ladka you know that’s right and that was a good
example of somebody who almost seemed mad like when he decided to be the other
Andy Kaufman the one that was like angry and it was off in that exact thing right
somebody gentle matched but against anger right it’s like the aggressive
Andy Kaufman that would fight the wrestler and getting punched by David
you know like the David Letterman Show all those things it that’s a complete
opposite spectrum of his personality but when he was in that personality was in
it so deeply that he seemed almost mad right and insane and so yeah I think
it’s a good analogy as well since you had very few meetings with Joaquin
Phoenix correct before shooting principal photography
how are you building trust with an actor that’s a really good question I think
you build it as you make the movie honestly I think it’s it’s you’re not
necessarily you know there’s a certain level of trust perhaps
based on your previous work and either they like the work and they not you know
and not frankly I don’t even know I don’t know what Joaquin had seen of mine
outside of what he’d probably seen of todd’s he certainly trusted Todd by
proxy maybe the things that Todd had done successfully certainly over the
last five films that I’ve done with him perhaps that gave Gabe walking in the
trust but I think it’s no different than Todd gaining trust with Joaquin I think
it happens every day in small ways right and I think you’re
just constantly looking to each other and and and and he’s looking for signs
and I’m looking for signs of trust and we’re just trying to find and build that
trust over time and you know that’s every movie and every everybody and
that’s sometimes the hardest part is when you have an actor that comes in for
just a day or two and they’ve obviously have a lot of experience and quite you
know good at what they do and in all those situations or an actor that’s just
there for one day you’re trying to find a place to build trust it’s one of the
fun things about working on movies is everything is kind of in hyperspeed you
know you work in an office perhaps you get to know an office worker over the
course of six months a year and in many many years but even in an office
situation day one for that person they’re all looking for sign and so yeah
I’ve worked in some offices that’s just like they said this is part of human
nature right we’re just like and I’ve always found like that that part of
filmmaking to be a subset that’s very interesting to me is the fact that you
take these disparate people you put them together they all have special skills
they come together on a project that the stakes are quite high sometimes they’re
made for hundreds of millions of dollars and and you all have to come together
and work together quite quickly like you don’t have months to get to know each
other you know you often have just days to get in a situation in which everyone
kind of knows their role the boundaries who’s in charge it’s it’s a very
eternally find it fascinating just the way movies work as a as a piece of art
and as a piece of Commerce and and I’m always interested in that and so you
learned some of those things but I think for Joaquin
you know it’s also he you know he started watching some stuff played back
on on the monitor and he could watch some stuff on dailies and I think in
watching that I think he started to understand what the movie was beyond his
work because you know as an actor he’s doing his thing but he also has to trust
that the editing is gonna work and the cinematography is gonna work and and
everybody is coming together to like he might think he’s doing this amazing
thing but all that matters is also are we capturing it you know and if he did
it and we didn’t quite capture it well then nuts then we’re not in sync so I
think it’s like it’s an important you know aspect of a filmmaking is that
trust thing and I think sometimes you don’t get it and this I think one of the
things I remember texting Todd very early on I mean I want to say it was
like day three and it was just like a text of saying oh man I think that our
first three days are going really well and it wasn’t even a kiss I’ve email I
know Todd for the ages and we were far from ever kissing each other up but I
was actually genuinely saying how impressed I was how how well he works
with actors because I’ve obviously I’ve also done it myself in that he’s able to
gain trust very quickly and make them feel like he they’re in a really safe
place and that there’s a really good give and take and I just remember
thinking oh this is the movie is working well so far earlier than I thought
because a lot of movies takes weeks simply because I could see how much
Joaquin already trusted Todd and I thought that was that was a good sign
for sure yeah what’s the most emotion you felt filming Joaquin’s performance
that’s a really good question I mean I felt that so many different times I felt
it I think we need performs at the comedy
club is a pretty powerful one just watching him be so exposed on stage sort
of failing and but just carrying on and just they’ve something in his eyes and
that scene that has always gets me the scene when he like is trying to get the
papers from the clerk Brian Tyree Henry and and that little 101 scene with the
that sort of in between the clerk’s the great that’s in front of separating them
this this is just I love that performance of that scene I find it to
be mesmerizing I’m always sort of leaning forward when I watch that scene
with him I mean there’s probably many many I’m just trying to think of the
ones that popped in my head at first I think that’s seen on the bus
certainly shooting that scene on the bus we shot that scene it was day two or day
three maybe okay two actually so it was the second day of our shooting was that
scene on the bus with the with the kid and the little boy and the like just
seen shooting his side of the action right it’s all cut up obviously like a
scene now but just shooting him perform that scene that early in the shoot I
went oh my god this guy is something else this guy is the best I’ve ever seen
and what he’s doing already with this performance and what he’s doing to
create Arthur Fleck as a human being who’s suffering you know I thought it
was beautiful because in that one scene he’s doing everything right he’s he
starts having just had gotten beaten up by a bunch of kids in an alley so he’s
coming into the scene still living in that space looking out the window and
then he’s not trying to connect and do his thing which he’s sort of conditioned
to do as a human being but also who he really is which is to try to make some
little boy smile and then he sort of reprimanded for it and then goes into
this coughing is this laughing fit which I think
always embarrasses him because it’s on something he can’t control and then has
to hand out this card that describes it so in that one scene it kind of like
shows all the facets of him as a human being and I’ve always found that seem to
be really really powerful and also to the scene in the bathroom where he
confronts his yes yeah yeah yeah yeah where he’s really truly you know
just reaching in it’s like he’s just trying to find a connection you know and
just trying to sort of find that part of him that’s missing you know whether it’s
his father or just another person to help you know be there with him so he’s
not so lonely in this world you know and the scenes with his mother when they
would watch the game show or the talk shows yeah that’s a lovely scene in the
beginning yeah or even when he’s washing her hair it’s like it’s lovely it’s like
this is at least two people have each other in the world and I think that’s
what makes the revelation of her and what she did to him as a youngster and
you know and and allowing his abuse and some of those things what makes it
obviously so powerful when it’s revealed sure will you ever laugh or cry while
you’re filming no for sure I definitely laughed
I mean I’ve laughed out loud obviously Todd and I’ve made a bunch of movies in
which not many times but I’ve certainly like laughed enough that it’s like
gotten on the soundtrack and oh my god you know we obviously can’t affect this
the take but but I’ve cried in certainly operating the camera and watching a
scene before for sure for sure I’ve done that in movies that I’ve done I’ve been
a part of yeah yeah sometimes you just incredibly moved when you’re watching
something happen for real sometimes you could separate yourself and go into sort
of work mode in which you’re you’re thinking about the next shot and Nick
you’re not as present as you’d like to be but when you are watching somebody
work in a really high level and they really are just performing it you know
in that way it drags you right back into the present in the bed
way possible and you’re compelled to just have nothing else in your head
except to watch that person perform and then it can become amazingly powerful
and even if like I’m not sure I I cried and I certainly laughed watching Joaquin
because there was a lot of physical humor in the movie that some some of its
not in the movie still but just the way that he could do you know whatever it
was doing like you know falling down or just his physicality and you know the
scene when he gets fired and so it was a little bit of a longer scene than is in
the final cut of the movie and when we shot that scene there was like there
were sections of that that I just was I was heartbroken by because he really
wanted that job yeah you recognized that losing that job was really just it was
very powerful to him and and I remember when we shot that scene feeling really
moved for sure yeah I think that one was one of maybe three were yeah I
definitely the tissue out yeah he’s definitely you know again he’s a human
being in spite of all that who he becomes and this sort of like villain
that the Joker is supposed to be at you know at his heart he still just a man you

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