Sugar - June 2000
“In reality I am really shy”

Joaquin’s new movie “Gladiator” is a cool Roman epic taking place in ancient Rome. Sugar wanted to know everything about past, present and future of the 23-year-old actor.


The past…

When did you start your acting?

My first role was in 1982 in the TV series “Seven brides for seven brothers”. My brother River and Richard Dean Anderson also had roles in there and I had a guest role once. That was when I was 8 years old. 4 years later I got the first leading role in Spacecamp.

But you paused when you were seventeen. Why?

I was looking, but there are simply no good roles for actors at that age!

You changed your name…

Yes, my brothers and sisters had the names River, Rain, Liberty and Summer-only I had a boring name. When I was 4 I asked my dad if I could also get an extraordinary name. At this moment he was working in the garden raking leafs and so the name he gave to me was Leaf.

When did you change your name back to Joaquin?

After my trips to Mexico and Cuba. I realized that “hoja” is the Spanish for Leaf and I got easily mixed up with “ojo” (eye) and “ajo” (garlic). I was afraid somebody would call me Garlic Phoenix one day.

Your breakthrough performance was “To die for”

Yes, but I had already played roles in “Inventing the Abbotts” and “U-Turn”. But only after “To die for” the media-world noticed. I play the role of a cold and arrogant guy, who does not talk to everybody.


The present…

What has been in your opinion the worst false assessment of your persona?

Erm…no idea, there are so many. I walk out of the door and can instantly think of 20! Now you are asking me, I cannot think of even one!

Why not?

When I gave my first interviews for “To die for” I was not prepared at all and I also must admit, that I was quite shocked in the beginning, because of the rush to my persona. I believe that the journalists interpreted that in the wrong way and thought that I was being cold and evade their questions. They thought I was like (Jimmy) in the movie and I had the feeling that nobody understood my role. In reality I am very shy.

Now your new movie Gladiator is on the screens…

Yes and that is not everything! I also have “The Yards” with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron coming up.

Are movies about Gladiators “In” again? What is the fascination?

I think it is exactly the right time for that. The technology we have now offers us the possibility to bring this time back to life.


The future…

What is your next film project?

I have just finished the movie “Quills” about the Marquis de Sade. I play the role of the Abbe de Coulmier. He is a kind of Administrator at the psychiatric hospital Charenton.

Is it correct that you have a relationship with Kate Winslet in this movie?

Yes, the story about the Marquis de Sade is of course about sexuality. It is also about our animal instincts and how society tries to suppress all that - often under the cover of political interest. The story is as well about how all of us suppress our own desire.

Have you been kissing Connie Nielsen in Gladiator?

No. Our Director Ridley Scott and Connie Nielsen thought about changing the scene when I lay her down on the bed. This scene generates a huge tension and one knows for sure that we are going to sleep together. I bent towards her to kiss her, but exactly at that moment I realized that it was wrong.

What was wrong?

It was something I could not really explain to the Director. I only use sex in my role because I don’t know how to show her what I really want! I believe that we use sex nowadays as a mean to an end. I lay on top of her and did not kiss her. We though that was much more expressive for Connie’s role.

Be true: the man in yourself wanted to kiss her, the actor pulled you back…

I think we are much too deep into our roles to think of something else. It was one of those situations you just cannot explain.

“Gladiator” is a huge difference to “U-Turn”. What did attract you?

Everything. There was no reason not to make this movie. The actors were extraordinary and the possibility to work with Ridley Scott was a challenge – and of course the script fascinated me.

What did you find so fascinating about the Script?

The first time I read a script, I especially concentrate on my role and try to find out what I can make out of it. I immediately felt that I could create something unique. I was able to avoid the “old” cliché of a villain and I found it fascinating what can drive a person to act as cruel as Commodus. During the shooting I constantly studied every single scene to find moments in which things could be said without words, moments in which I could portray his insecurity and paranoia.

Richard Harris, who has the role of your father in the movie, says, that you are a brilliant maniac…

You must be joking! He is just brilliant. After the second day of shooting we sat down together and spoke about the movie. Richard told me funny stories about his past. We sat together for hours and it seemed to me that time stood still. It was fantastic to be together with him. You don’t get many possibilities like that.

What is for you important about a movie?

It is very important to get to know each other very well right at the start and then work as a real team all through the shooting.

What is your most important wish for the future?

I would like to take part in an expensive Action movie. I would like to find out how that feels like. I guess it is easy for me to play a role at a closed Set having a conversation with somebody. I would find it much more difficult to scream against a Blue Screen and imagine to be swallowed by a dragon! That would be a real challenge.