The actor picked up the best actor in a drama trophy for his harrowing performance in “Joker” at the 77th annual ceremony on Sunday in perhaps the most competitive category of the evening.
Phoenix, who famously lost over 50 pounds to play the troubled Arthur Fleck/Joker, beat out Christian Bale, another actor known for his on-screen transformations; Antonio Banderas; Jonathan Pryce; and Adam Driver of “Marriage Story” in an awards season dominated by male-centered movies.
Phoenix delivered an at times rambling, expletive-laden speech from the Golden Globes stage, first thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for making the evening’s meal entirely plant-based before paying tribute to his fellow nominees.
“We all know there’s no fucking competition between us ... I’m inspired by you. I’m your fucking student. I can’t believe the beautiful, mesmerizing and unique work you’ve all done this year,” he said. “I really do feel honored to be mentioned with you.”
He then went onto apologize to “Joker” director Todd Phillips for being “such a pain in the ass.”
“Contrary to popular belief I don’t want to rock the boat, but the boat is fucking rocked,” he continued, pivoting his speech to address everyone in the room.
“I’ve not always been a virtuous man. I’m learning so much and so many of you in this room have given me opportunities to try to get it right and I’m deeply 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,” Phoenix continued, pointedly adding that his fellow actors don’t need to be taking private jets to Palm Springs.
The film about the titular Batman supervillain went on to gross over $1 billion worldwide, becoming the first R-rated film in history to do so.
But the road to box office glory was paved with much controversy, as some vocal critics have labeled the film dangerous and irresponsible over its empathy toward an angry white man who essentially becomes a self-radicalized domestic terrorist.
Phoenix, who took a method acting approach to his performance, has also raised some eyebrows with his behavior during production after a video of the actor cursing out a crew member for whispering in a scene made the rounds on the internet. He also reportedly clashed with co-star Robert De Niro during filming.
The famously press-averse actor hasn’t been too keen on weighing in on the backlash, preferring to let the film speak for itself.
“I didn’t imagine that it would be smooth sailing,” Phoenix told Vanity Fair about the polarizing response to the film. “It’s a difficult film. In some ways, it’s good that people are having a strong reaction to it.”
“There’s so many different ways of looking at it,” he continued. “You can either say here’s somebody who, like everybody, needed to be heard and understood and to have a voice. Or you can say this is somebody that disproportionately needs a large quantity of people to be fixated on him. His satisfaction comes as he stands in amongst the madness.”
The late actor Heath Ledger posthumously won a Golden Globe for portraying the same character in 2008’s “The Dark Knight” in the supporting actor category.
Phoenix has previously been nominated for Globes five times over his career for films like “Her” and “Gladiator,” but has only taken home the award once before for his role in “Walk the Line,” which also scored him an Oscar nod.