|JUICE magazine (Australia) - may 2000|
|The Reluctant Star
Joaquin Phoenix straps up for Gladiator Storming into the room, Joaquin Phoenix is determined to make the best of a day of press for his new film, the big budget Gladiator starring alongside Russell Crowe. Rather than the oft-repeated image of Phoenix as a difficult, shy interviewee, this 25-year-old is happy to talk and happier still to muck around.
What's good in your life right now?
A good movie, which has actually been... sorry, I'm talking with my mouth full (he's munching on rockmelon). Last year has been great, so I'm really excited about that.
Do you live in LA?
Saskatchewan. No, actually... where do you live?
Really? Do you really? For how long?
Oh no, let's talk about you.
Let's talk about you.
I've got nothing to say about me.
Reaorr! [Makes cat gestures)
Was it uncomfortable in your gladiator costume?
It was a five-month shoot, so we experienced the extremes of both weather conditions. But the physical appearance is, for me, the key for a character who hated so much. Commodus wears the armour when he goes to the arena as a means of symbolising his fragility with the crowds. And when he's in his safe place, the palace, it's considerably scaled down. That helps you develop a character. It alters your posture, how you carry yourself. I'm obsessed with their shoes, it makes all the difference. [Looks down at my toe nail polish] By the way, this is lovely.
It's nice, isnt it?
Yeah. [Coughs] Oh God, you're a tough one. Jesus, where are you from?
No kidding! [Laughs]
What do you mean?
Nothing. [Laughsl You know, Russell...
Anyway, getting back to the shoes...
So I'm obsessed with character's shoes, altering how you walk. In the beginning I had these two perms which I had never experienced [laughs], I don't know if you have. Perms. It was my first. An interesting procedure. I wanted to establish the young prince in waiting. Commodus was 19 years old when he succeeded his father and became Emperor. We shot in sequence, and there's a period in which my character is out of the picture and a few months pass. It gave me the opportunity to alter his appearance. So when he became Emperor I cut my hair and started putting on weight. It helped age me a little bit.
How much did you put on?
I don't know, because I never really weighed myself, but I just ate tons. I was on a pretty specific diet in the beginning of the film. I was training and working out. Initially, that's how I intended to be, but I suddenly realised I wanted to alter his appearance once he becomes Emperor, when he says [adopts an upper class British accent], "Oh fuck all that. I'll just do what I want." He becomes bloated.
Do you have to be in character all the time?
Well, you try but it's rare that you get that opportunity. I've never gotten the chance to be able to make such alterations to a character.
How does it affect the people around you?
Fuck them. [Laughs) To me, the most important thing when I'm making a film is that film and that character. That takes precedence. When you're working with all of the actors, they understand. We're all in the same boat.
Why are you so tough on yourself. You appear to be dissatisfied with your work.
Yeah, but shouldn't all actors be? I think the moment an actor becomes satisfied with themselves their work suffers.
Do you know when you've gone too far?
If you do, you hope that you have a director that's there to guide you. He's your barometer and Ridley Scott certainly was. I'd like to be able to... [Laughs at me while I'm writing notes]
Don't worry. You're funnier than I expected, but you don't seem to play many comical roles...
I don't know what you're talking about. [Falls off of chair] Sorry, go ahead.
We don`t hear about you being funny. Don't you want anyone to find out?
Yes, stuff surfaces in the press and I have my people on it to squash it. You should know as much as anybody that you choose what you want. A lot of journalists come in with an idea of who I am and they shape the interview accordingly.
What about playing the good, loving guy...
I think I have. I only have so many options. All I can really do as an actor is to say no. I don't create the films. I don't write them. And so there's only so much that I can really do. Certainly as an actor you look for characters in films that will challenge you and you'll be able to explore and create different characters. It's not the easiest thing in the world, you know.
Do you get stopped a lot by...
The police? Sorry.
...by people on the street? There are all those websites dedicated to you. Have you seen those?
I actually created all of them.
Seriously, is that frightning?
[Waves his hand] Whatever. Occasionally I get stopped. I'll tell you what happened to me recently: I was going to meet my friend at this restaurant, and this guy keeps looking at me. I walk in and he shouts, "Hey! Hey!" and I'm like [quietly], "Hey." He's very loud, "Love the fuckin' work!" And I was trying to leave and he slaps his hand out in front of me and shouts, "My name is Jerry." I said, "Joaquin." And he goes, "Who? Naw, Vince.' He thought I was Vince Gallo. I tell you, I'm mistaken for other people all the time. I did this Vanity Fair cover with all these other actors, or whatever, and this guy chased me down the block. I kept saying, "No, you're mistaking me for somebody else. I don't want to sign." He said, "You're the only one who hasn't signed," and so I said, "Oh God, I feel terrible. OK, where do I sign?" I go to sign over to where I am and he goes, "No, no, Mr. Maguire, you're on the next page."
Is that a conscious hairstyle?
Yeah, you can see I've been working on this for hours. I don't know what's going on, I haven't seen it. [Turns and looks in the mirror] OH MY GOD!! It's preposterous. I'm so embarrassed. This is retaliation... after spending nine months of being worked on, you tend to go for comfort and you just don't even look in the mirror anymore. I did Gladiator for five months. Then there was the perm and the cut and they were constantly tonging my hair everyday. Then I went to Quills for three months. So, when you're done with nine months of sitting in the chair everyday, you just say, "Oh, fuck it." But I'm feeling fabulous on the inside and that's where it counts. [Rubs one side of his head so hair is sticking straight up and the other all over the place]
What was it about Gladiator that made you decide to take the part?
The opportunity to have a perm. No, there was a good indication that I could do something different with this film... [stops talking suddenly] You're laughing at my hair! I'm just going to have to ask you to leave or sit in the corner. I thought that when discussing the character with Ridley before I got the job that there was the opportunity to create a multi-layered character. My character has some very emotional and intimate scenes, so it seems to offer everything an actor could want in one film. [The tape ends and I have to turn it over] Please, pull it together for chrissakes! Never mind what I have to say.
Your character has different challenges, emotionally and physically. What was the easiest part for you?
Certainly the easiest was the physical. You know exactly where you have to go and what you have to achieve, and you get a lot of help from the editing and from the score and all the elements, which create a film as a whole. To me, the more enjoyable [aspect] is the emotional work and the development of the character.
Who will you bring with you to the premiere?
I'll be honest and I know this sounds weird, but my significant other right now is myself, which is what happens when you suffer from multiple personality disorder and self-obsession.
Are you going to get your hair cut for Cannes?
I'm just going in a gold leaflet Speedo.