The 44-year-old actor has garnered much Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Batman’s longtime arch-nemesis, Arthur Fleck/The Joker. He even earned himself an eight-minute standing ovation at the annual Italian film festival.
Now, in the midst of promotion for the film, the She actor is in Toronto for the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. On Monday night, Phoenix was celebrated with the TIFF Tribute Actor Award, an accolade presented to a leading performer in their field for outstanding contributions to cinema.
While Phoenix joked that he was unsure about what the award was or who was awarding him, the actor used most of his time on stage to speak about his late brother, River, and the influence he had in helping Phoenix become the successful actor he is today.
Phoenix shared a story about his older brother, saying that one day, when they were both teens, River brought home a VHS copy of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) and made him watch it.
“He didn’t ask me, he told me. And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life.”
WATCH: Final trailer for ‘Joker’ released
The two brothers, along with their younger sister, Summer, starting acting together as young children, making appearances on a variety of different television series, including Murder, She Wrote.
River died on Oct. 31, 1993, as a result of a drug overdose. He was 23.
Phoenix’s speech began: “Honestly, I thought I was going to come out and just make a lot of tasteless jokes at my expense… and yours, but after watching those clips, I’m so embarrassed to admit this but I feel so overwhelmed with emotion.
“I’m just thinking about all the people that had such a profound influence on me throughout my career.”
“Mostly, when I was watching those clips, I thought about my family,” Phoenix said. “My sisters Rain, Liberty and Summer, who are still my best friends.
Phoenix also spoke of his parents making a lasting mark on both his life and career. About his father (John Lee), he said: “he’s the baddest motherf—er I’ve ever met,” adding: “He instilled in me a great work ethic.”
Phoenix also credited his mother, Arlyn Phoenix, as a “constant source of inspiration” and the reason why he keeps going.
“I love you madly,” he said.
Phoenix closed his speech with a subtle reference to his current partner, Rooney Mara, the star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).
“One last thing,” he said. “Somewhere here, I don’t know where, is a filthy dragon, and I want to rip its wings off and fasten a blanket and sleep with it forever. I love you. Thank you.”
Joker arrives in cinemas across Canada on Oct. 4.
Watch the final trailer in the video above.