MORE magazine (U.K.) -  98
The Love of Phoenix

After the tragic death of his brother, River, Joaquin Phoenix has found solace in the arms of new love Liv Tyler and in the films that are making him Hollywood's hottest star.

Twenty-two-year-old Joaquin Phoenix used to be famous for two things. Firstly for being the little brother of River Phoenix, who died tragically from a drugs overdose outside Johnny Depp's Hollywood nightclub, The Viper Room, in October 1993 - secondly, because he used to be called Leaf. But after making a name as the seriously cute psycho in To Die For with Nicole Kidman, he's now a star in his own right. His new movie Inventing The Abbotts, is out this fortnight and he's another two major projects in the pipeline, including U-Turn, in which he stars alongside Sean Penn.

But that's not the only thing Joaquin (pronounced 'Waa-keen') has got to be smug about - while starring in Inventing The Abbotts , he fell in love with his on-screen love interest, Hollywood babe Liv Tyler. Although Joaquin has a reputation for playing moody nutters, in person he is shy and courteous. He often looks down to avoid eye contact and hide his deep set dark eyes. He looks good in a sexy black shirt under an unusual Fifties-style brown suede jacket....very good. Even if he can't belive that a sexy young woman like Liv Tyler chose him as her boyfriend, we sure can -

so how does it feel to have bagged Liv Tyler, one of the sexiest stars of the big screen?

i'm always surprised when there's a female person who think's i'm attractive. With Liv, it was a totally natural thing. You see someone that you have great feelings for, and it's mutual - and that's that. I didn't sit there and think, oh wow, this is Liv Tyler, because i've never thought of her in that way. Other people think of her as that girl on the magazine covers, but I don't see that. She's just a girl that I know - it's very simple.

Was it love at first sight?

We did hit it off immediately. I think from those early day's of rehersals, the first time you meet someone, you see how it's gonna go. Ther was immediate chemistry between us but I didn't know that we'd become lover's. Initially, I was blown away by what a genuine peson she is - a real honest, caring person. I'm a very lucky guy to have met her at that moment in time.

What's your character like in Inventing The Abbotts?

It's a kind of fifties' nostalgia movie. I play Doug, the youngest brother. He's 16, kind of pudgy and just eat's all the time so I put on weight for the role.

you tend to be cast as intense loners - are you like that in really?

Not really, It's just because those are the best scripts i've read. I'd like to do all sort's of characters but those are the types of character's i end up doing. The only similarities with my personality are that i'm protective of people i love and care for. I think that's a standard. If someone did something terrible to someone i love, i'd probably strike back.

Do you base your character's on real people you know or does it all come from inside yourself?

I don't have one set approch - it changes every time depending on the character and the script. Usually i read the script, start thinking about the character then go in and meet the director. What eventually evolves is very different to what was on the page. You can feel that you have a character pretty much sorted in your mind and you know what to do, and when you get to the set you realise that there's slight changes you might want to make.

Did you get into acting because your brother River was an actor?

Yeah, I guess so. He was doing a TV series, seven brides for seven brothers, and they needed a young boy and girl in it. Me and my sister Liberty, were on location anyway and I suppose it was cheap and easy for the producers to use us. It just went from there really.

you had a pretty unconventional childhood - what was it like?

People always think it was strange and unstable but I just remember it being wonderful and exciting. When i was quite young, my family travelled across the states and I got to meet all sorts of people and experience different things. Even when i was a kid i always felt comfortable travelling around in the van. That was just right for me. When i was about 13 we settled down in a fairly small town, so i actually grew up in a small town. I never felt like we were different. I still don't.

Your brother and sisters are called River, Rain, Liberty and Summer Joy. Did you change your name to Leaf to fit in?

No. I changed it because no-one in the states could pronounce 'Joaquin' and i used to get really embarressed about it as a kid. All the other kid's in my family had gorgeous names and I got 'Joaquin', you know what i mean? So I said 'this is not good. Even i can't say it'.

So why did you change it back to Joaquin?

When i was 14 or 15, i went to mexico with my dad and travelled around. It was so much easier to go back to my original name because in Spanish, the word for 'Leaf' sound's just like the word for 'garlic' so i'd been going around saying 'my name is Garlic'. River was actually the one who insisted that I change it back. He just thought it was such a great name and so i said 'OK'.

How did River's tragic death affect you?

I don't know. It's very difficult to talk about because when you lose someone, you try to hold on to any memories that you have. With all the press interest, I fell like those memories were robbed from me. I wasn't allowed to experience them in my own time and I think I was scarred for a long time. Other people took advantage and suddenly my memories are distorted and changed by the present. It's more difficult if it's a public death, because it's going to tke me that much longer to try to understand what's happened.

What other project do you have on the go at the moment?

I've just been in this Oliver Stone film, U-Turn, with Sean Penn which was fantastic. It had an amazing cast and I really wanted to play this crazy, whacked- out character who spend's the whole film winding up Sean's character.

What was it like working with Sean Penn?

I'm nut's about him. I came onto the set about a month after they'd started shooting and I was teriffied because they shot everything so quickly. Sean was an absolute veteran actor sweetheart - he took me under his wing, calmed me down and said nice thing's to me. He very much put me at ease. He's a wonderful, intelligent fellow who shared some of his poetry with me, about memory.

The character you play in U-Turn has an Elvis style quiff and cares passionately about the way he dresses. Is that jacket you're wearing one of the costumes for the film?

That's funny because this is from the same costume designer who worked on U-Turn - this is her jacket that she found but i've had it for years. She worked on My Own Private Idaho, which River was in, and i believe that this jacket was in that film. I found it in my closet a couple years ago and put it on. It must have belonged to River.

Any plans to do any more modelling?

Not at the moment. I did an advertising campaign for Prada but I haven't done alot of modelling. I honestly didn't care that much about it. I went to Milan, some person put some stuff in my hair, I did this pose, we took some pictures and then they put it in the magazine with the Prada logo in, and that's it. I got some nice free clothes and i had a blast.

What's your own sense of style - do you like fifties gear?

No. If you saw me yesterday, I don't know what you'd think. I mean, my style is always changing. I don't have one set style. I don't think.

Are you going to be a big bucks movie star in the future?

Sometimes you do the big movie so that you can get the small movie that you want made. I don't think i'd ever do anyhting just for the money, but it depends on what the money is for. I might do a big movie to get paid, so that I can turn around and get my own film going but I don't think I'd ever just take the cheque and then go and sit around again.