Joaquin Phoenix Pays Tribute to Heath Ledger After Winning 2020 SAG Award for 'Joker'

Joaquin Phoenix
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Phoenix won Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in 'Joker.'

Another awards season win, another chance for an acceptance speech only Joaquin Phoenix could deliver.

During Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards, Phoenix won Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for his turn as the would-be Clown Prince of Crime, Arthur Fleck, in Joker. As he accepted the Actor statuette, he began by opening up about what the win means to him.

"I was here many years ago and I couldn’t fully appreciate it at the time," he said. "I now realize how fortunate I am to be part of this community that has such reverence for actors and what we do."

Phoenix then went on to applaud his fellow nominees by revealing how tough it was to beat Leonardo DiCaprio at auditions. "We’d always lose to this one kid. It’s Leonardo," he said to applause and laughter before moving on to Christian Bale. "Christian, you commit to your roles in ways I could only dream of... You never turn in a bad performance. It’s infuriating."

When it came to Adam Driver, he said he is "devastating" Marriage Story, and "should be here," before turning to Taron Egerton. "You’re so beautiful in this movie and I’m so happy for you," he said to the Rocketman star. 

Phoenix also ended his speech on a poignant note, paying tribute to the late Heath Ledger, who portrayed the Joker in The Dark Knight. "Really, I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor: Heath Ledger," he said. 

Notably, Phoenix did not speak out about climate change or sustainability, which he has done at previous award shows.

When he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama earlier this month, his first thanks was to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- not for the award itself, but "for recognizing and acknowledging the link between animal agriculture and climate change."

"Contrary to popular belief, I don't want to rock the boat," he concluded, with a few words to his fellow actors in attendance: "It's great to vote, but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make some changes and sacrifices in our own lives. And I hope that we can do that. We don't have to take private jets to Palm Springs for the awards."

At the Critics' Choice Awards the week after, he went a bit more conventional, thanking his mother -- "Even when self-pity led me astray, you didn't give up on me" -- although he made sure to thank the hosting body "for going plant-based and trying to offset our carbon footprint."

As expected, Phoenix wore the same tux he's vowed to wear throughout awards season in an effort to cut down on waste. (Ahead of the SAG Awards, he donned the Stella McCartney tuxedo for both the Globes and Critics' Choice Awards.)