|VOGUE hommes - spring summer 99|
|Joaquin Phoenix - the
He held his own opposite Nicole Kidman in "To Die For," and has copped some of 1999`s most sought-after leading roles.
This year, Joaquin Phoenix is changing gears and setting out on a course of his own. Younger Brother of, partner of, boyfriend of ... all that`s in the past now. At twenty four, Phoenix is as handsome and charismatic as any rock star and has never been afraid to play the anti-hero, quietly working at establishing himself as one of the top actors in Hollywood`s new guard all the while, landing major roles without making a spectacle of himself in the process. He`ll be in four films over the coming months, the first of which, 8 Millimeter, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Nicolas Cage as the hero, is scheduled to open in France on March 10. In Return to Paradise and Clay Pigeons, due out some time later in Europe, he`s paired with one of his best buddies, Vince Vaughn. And in James Gray`s much-awaited second film, The Yards, he shares the limelight with James Caan and Faye Dunaway. Nowadays though, these roles seem like ancient history to him, and his head`s is an altogether different place. He`s wholly focused on Gladiators, the movie he`s shooting in London with Djimon Hounsou and Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Universal Pictures and Dreamworks. He stars in the film as the Emperor of Rome - a symbolic part perhaps, but one with top billing, just the kind of springboard role he needs to put him over the rop. Author and scriptwriter Edward Bunker, who`s also been an actor in his time, caught up with Phoenix and shared an early morning cup of coffee with him. Their conversation ran the gamut from Phoenix`s career to his private life, and provides some fascinating, highly personal insights into what drives this intriguing, seductive loner.
Joaquin Phoenix has the bohemian charm of his older brother River Phoenix, who died too young on the sidewalk outside of the Viper Room, a Sunset Boulevard nightclub frequented by Hollywood`s fast young crowd. His cause of death was most probably a reaction to a bad mix of drugs. Never, ever mix heroin with alcohol, Valium or any "downer." That`s advice from yours truly. Joaquin was at the scene that night in 1993. He made the desperate call for help that resounded over the paramedics` airwaves while his brother lay convulsing on the pavement. he says he doesn`t use drugs and, in fact, doesn`t look like someone who does. He has been a vegan since before he was five. He is also a spokesman for PETA, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, in deference to which I don`t wear my leather jacket.
Before preparing for this interview, I was under the false impression that he was another product of Hollywood`s rampant nepotism. The easiest way to become a movie star is to have a parent who was one, or who had a big name in the business off-screen. If you doubt me, look at the names you seen on marquees, and only a small percentage use the family name. His parents, now divorced, would have been called "hippies" in the sixties, but historically they would be vagabonds or nomads, traveling throughout Latin America and the United States.
Born in Puerto Rico, young Joaquin, whose real first name is Leaf, arrived in California with his family in a battered station wagon with masking tape on cracked windows. Two of his three sisters, Summer and Rain, are also actors and musicians. They began as street performers on the streets of Westwood and Venice. It seems that it was good preparation. For a young actor, he is not afraid of taking chances with a role. Although his formal education is limited, his speech shows someone with brains. He talks a little fast when excited: "Yes, Joel Schumacher, directed 8 Millimeter. Nick Cage is in it. Dark thriller. taboo subject. Real good story. Nick Cage is a private investigator looking for an eight-millimeter film that might be a real snuff film. Pathos and pace. It`s down and dirty. It works."
What about The Yards?
I`m not sure, but I`d love to know
what you think of it.
You didn`t make any movies for six
years, from 1989 until To Die For.
Is there an actor you pattern yourself
In my opinion, when an actor gets to a
certain point, it`s the choices of what you do that decide your career.
Bad choices will kill you. In my opinion Dustin Hoffman has made the
smartest choices over a whole career.
Have you been to France?
I read that you were trying to quit.
How about your private life?
Would you like to direct?
The tape ends and Joaquin, who is in a
hurry to get to a photo shoot, bids me goodbye. As I watch him catch the
elevator, I think that he is more stable and focused than I anticipated.
In fact he seems like the quintessential nice kid, and if he continues
to practice what he preaches, there`s no doubt in my mind that he`s sure
to be a major star and should burn in the firmament for the first
decades of the 21st century.
by Edward Bunker
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