Oscar-nominated Hollywood filmmaker Todd Phillips has worked on a range of movie genres, but his latest hit "Joker" broke a box office record and set a high bar for awards season.
Phillips, who directed, co-wrote and produced the Batman villain origin story, told "Good Morning America" that despite early criticisms, fans flocked to the film that now leads the Academy Awards with 11 nominations, including best picture.
"This movie has been a wild ride for sure. Ultimately, when I look back at it I'm not surprised that a movie called Joker made so many people crazy," he said. "It got painted very early with a brush that the violence in it was irresponsible and we felt differently. We thought we could show real-world implications on violence and that seems responsible to me, as opposed to celebrating violence in movies."
"Joker" set the record as the highest grossing R-rated film of all time with over $1 billion at the box office.
Phillips added that "ultimately it was the audience [who] turned up and it became their movie."
Phillips, who worked on comedy movies including "Old School" and "The Hangover," said he and his longtime friend and co-producer Bradley Cooper "couldn't have predicted" their successes nearly a decade sooner while working on the Las Vegas comedy.
"We became really close after 'The Hangover' movies and we decided to start this little company joint effort at Warner Brothers," he explained of their work on "A Star is Born" and "Joker." "But no, we couldn't have predicted this kind of run we've had."
Joquin Phoenix, who stars as the disturbed comedian Arthur Fleck in the film, has already racked up a SAG Award, Critic's Choice Award and a Golden Globe for his intense, haunting performance -- but Phillips said his lighter side came through behind the scenes between takes.
"To inhabit the character of Arthur slash Joker in the movie, he had to go to some dark places," the filmmaker said. "And really on this film -- we would say 'Cut!' and we'd be off to the side joking around or laughing about something and then we'd get back into it. He's really intense as an actor, but as a guy on set he's actually kind of light."
The scene captured on the movie poster of Phoenix dancing on a set of stairs in the Bronx, New York, has become a star in its own right.
"We thought it would be a pretty iconic moment for the movie, I didn't know the stairs would turn into sort of New York's version of the Rocky stairs," Phillips said with a laugh.
Phillips and the entire "Joker" cast and crew will hit the red carpet Sunday Feb. 9 to await the Academy's decision for the film's 11 nominations.
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