Joaquin Phoenix calls for action on climate in Golden Globe speech for ‘Joker’ win

Joaquin Phoenix as the 'Joker'
Joaquin Phoenix won the Golden Globe for lead actor in a drama for his startling performance as the “Joker.”
(Nikos Tavernise / Warner Bros.)

To the surprise of few, Joaquin Phoenix became the first lead actor from a comic-book movie to collect a major award when he won the Golden Globe for his work in “Joker.”

In his acceptance speech, a halting Phoenix echoed the concerns voiced by many during the evening about the catastrophic fires ravaging Australia, but said well wishes weren’t enough.

“Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to rock the boat,” said the actor with a reputation for mischief, “but the boat has been ... rocked.

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“First I’d like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press for recognizing and acknowledging the [link] between animal agriculture and climate change. It’s a bold move, making tonight plant based and it just really sends a powerful message,” the vegan actor said at the top of his speech about the evening’s plant-based menu.

Phoenix then professed his humility at being mentioned side-by-side with his fellow nominees (Christian Bale, Antonio Banderas, Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce) and his love for actress Rooney Mara. He also thanked “Joker” director and co-writer Todd Phillips: “Todd, you were such an amazing friend and collaborator. You’ve encouraged me to give everything and to be sincere. I’m such a pain in the ass, I can’t believe you put up with me. I’m so indebted to you.”

After much of his presumably colorful language was muted on the television broadcast, he returned to what was clearly really on his mind: climate change.

“It’s really nice that so many people have come up and sent their well wishes to Australia, but we have to do more than that. It’s such a beautiful gesture, and I have not always been a virtuous man ... I’m learning so much and so many of you in this room have given me multiple opportunities to try to get it right and I’m grateful, but I think together, hopefully, we can be unified and actually make some changes. It’s great to vote, but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives. I hope that we can do that. We don’t have to take private jets to Palm Springs or… and I’ll try to do better. I hope you do too. Thank you so much for putting up with me. I’m so grateful for this night.”

Backstage, however, Phoenix struck a slightly different tone with the press when asked (yet again) about his preparation for the role: “Isn’t this old news? I feel like I’ve talked about this for six months ... You want to hear a different version of it? It was a long process,” he said. “I think I was most curious about the medications that he was taking and the effects and side effects of those medications ... I read several books about political assassins that share a similar personality type to what I ultimately defined Arthur with.”

The complete list of 2020 Golden Globes winners and nominees

He then reiterated his onstage theme of the ties between animal products and climate change, urging the SAG and Critics’ Choice awards to follow the HFPA’s lead.

“I think we’re coming to a point now where the evidence is irrefutable and undeniable,” he told reporters. “I think now, consuming animal products is no longer just a personal choice. It is having a drastic and vast consequence on the rest of the world and all of us. I think it was incredibly brave and compassionate of the HFPA to make that decision. I’ve never been so proud to attend an award ceremony as I was tonight.”

The role of the Joker may be becoming something of the comic-book-movie version of Hamlet, to be taken on by heavy hitters. Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto played the Clown Prince of Crime in previous Batman movies, and Heath Ledger became the first and so far only actor to win an Oscar in the role for his turn in “The Dark Knight,” for supporting actor. Phoenix has to be considered a favorite to follow in the lead actor Oscar category.

“Joker” has earned more than a billion dollars at the box office but has been rockily received by critics (only a 69%-positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, for instance). Phoenix’s performance, however, has not. Even dubious reviews have cited it as one of the movie’s strengths (along with its score, which also won a Golden Globe — the first solo win for a female composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir).

In his Los Angeles Times review, for instance, Justin Chang said of Phoenix’s leave-it-all-on-the-field performance, for which he shed more than 50 pounds: “There’s real force and feeling in this Joker and, at crucial moments, a raw vulnerability that’s genuinely upsetting to behold.”

Times staffers Kailyn Brown and Christi Carras contributed to this report.

Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Taron Egerton at the Golden Globes 2020
Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Taron Egerton won the night’s leading film actor awards, for “Joker” and “Rocketman,” respectively.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)