|Joaquin Phoenix - On
Loving Liv and Life After River
He talks about making it on his own, what really happened with Liv
Tyler, and hanging out in the same Hollywood that brought his brother`s
world to an end. by Jeanne Fay
It`s lunchtime at Hollywood`s hard-core
vegetarian restaurant Real Food Daily, and Joaquin (pronounced Wah-keen)
Phoenix is getting service so attentive it borders on harassment. Water
glasses are refilled after his smallest sip and his satisfaction with
the miso soup is queried at regular intervals. An ardent vegan (a
vegetarian who eats no meat, fish, or dairy), the 24-year-old Phoenix
has patronized Real Food every day this week. The way he sees it, the
wait staff`s just keeping an eye on a regular.
Maybe. But Phoenix, little brother of the late River Phoenix, has become
quite a familiar face these days - and not just to the Real Food
waiters. He`s jsut finished four back-to-back films that began last fall
with Clay Pigeons (with Vince Vaughn) and Return to Paradise (also with
Vaughn, and Anne Heche). He flew directly from filming Paradise in
Thailand to the States where he bopped between the New York, Los Angeles
and Miami sets of this month`s thriller 8MM, in which he`s starring with
Nic Cage. When that shoot ended, it was a few more months in New York
City for the upcoming dramatic thriller The Yards, starring Mark
If this semi-normadic way of life sounds exhausting, it is. But if
anyone can handle it, Joaquin Phoenix can.
Being a kid in the Phoenix family wasn`t a conventional experience.
Joaquin`s parents were missionaries, traveling with their children
through Central and South America (Joaquin was born in puerto Rico)
before finally settling in Los Angeles when he was 4 years old. His
family`s introduction to show business "was
an innocent evolution - we didn`t set out saying `We`re going to be
actors,`" he says. "But
it was pretty apparent that there was talent in the family." As
kids they would sometimes sing in the streets to entertain passersby,
and when their mother began working for a casting director, all five
young phoenixes (River, Rain, Joaquin, Liberty, and Summer) were signed
with an agent. Joaquin, who temporarily renamed himself Leaf when he was
six, began acting soon after, appearing on TV shows such as Murder, Shw
Wrote and in kids`movies like SpaceCamp.
For a long time, of course, his career was overshadowed by that of his
brilliant older brother, River, who died of a druv overdose after a
night of partying at L.A.`s Viper Room in 1993. Joaquin is notoriously
defensive when it`s suggested that his brother had an ongoing drug
problem, saying that there was just one unfortunate night that went too
far. The storm of media attention after River`s death overwhelmed
Joaquin; both as a bereaved brother and as an aspiring actor, he was
followed by camera crews and questioning journalists.
But Joaquin didn`t let the constant glare of the spotlight keep him down
either. He doesn`t worry about the same fate and won`t shy away from the
party scene altogether, he`ll occasionally pop up in gossip columns for
raising hell with the likes of Ben Affleck. But he`s also no offended by
the media labeling him his brother`s heir apparent in acting. "I`m
proud of my brother," he says. "I
would never ot want to be associated with him."
What finally made Joaquina a star in his own right, however, was his
role in 1995`s To Die For as the slack-jawed teen who falls for Nicole
Kidman`s murderously ambitious weathergirl. It soon led to roles in
Inventing the Abbotts and Oliver Stone`s U Turn. Phoenix had entered the
ranks of Young Hollywood, however reluctantly: "I`m
not in this business for the lifestyle, to get into places and have free
He doesn`t appear to be in it for the ego trip either - rarely satisfied
with his performances, Phoenix doesn`t often make it through screenings
of his own films. Perhaps that explains his apparent unfamiliarity with
his own face: "I
look great there," he says,
pointing at a picture in a magazine. He is gently told that the
photograph is, in fact, of actor-director Ed Burns. "Oh,
that`s no me?" he says. "I
was gonna say ... I`m good-looking."
The things is, though, that he is good-looking - in what is usually
called an unconventional way, thanks to those wicked eyebrows and
slightly skewed mouth. Speaking of eyebrows, he has acquired a bit of an
accessory for his. In 8MM, he plays a tattoo-ridden, vinyl-pants-clad
sex-shop employee. "I
hate acting acting - I try to be," Phoenix
says, explaining the physical transformation he udnergoes for a part.
Conysequently, Phoenix dyed his hair and pierced his brow for the film.
Liv and Learn
Being the new It guy has made Phoenix fodder for the gossip columns
again, especially with his longtime, recently ended romance with Abbotts
costar Liv Tyler. His analysis of the breakup paints it as the most
civil in Hollywood. "I`m
a great believer in people coming into your life, and you into theirs,
for a reason," he says. "And i know that when Liv and I met,
it was for a reason - I really needed her and she really needed me. And
at a certain point, I think we stopped evolving with each other, stopped
progressing, and made a very mature decision to move on, even though
there was still a great love there. There`s no one gossipy thing that I
can share. I`m thankful that we had the time we had."
Gentle responses like this help apint a picture of Phoenix as the sweet,
sensitive type. But Phoenix isn`t content resting with that reputation
or with the work he`s done so far. "When
you become satisfied, you stop fighting, and I like fighting,"
he says. "It
means that I`m constantly progressing and evolving. I`m never satisfied,
and hopefully, I never will be."