The News-Times - april 1997
Five questions with Joaquin Phoenix: Out from the ashes


Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - If there's a minor league in Hollywood, Joaquin Phoenix has surely earned his ticket up to the Big Time.

Blessed with brooding good looks, River Phoenix's younger brother has toiled mostly in the minor roles of angst-ridden adolescents. The 22-year-old actor recalls one awful TV special - a sort of ``Leave It To Beaver'' in the future.

``I'm, like, Beaver's grandchild or something and I'm wearing this neon green spandex thing with my hair just all over,'' he shudders. ``It was so kooky.''

Phoenix finally made his movie debut in 1989 as - no surprise - Dianne Wiest's alienated teen-age son with a strong attraction to porno in ``Parenthood.''

Later, he added hair extensions, a tattoo and tons of attitude to his role as Jimmy, the bumbling, long-haired moron who is ensnared by the luscious Nicole Kidman in Gus Van Sant's 1995 ``To Die For,'' prompting some to call them the unlikeliest screen couple of the year.

But this month, Phoenix finally slugs one out of the park. He leads a multitalented cast of young actors in director Pat O'Connor's charming Eisenhower-era drama, ``Inventing the Abbotts.''

Phoenix and Billy Crudup are two working-class brothers lured into a complex relationship with three wealthy Midwest sisters, played by Jennifer Connelly, Joanna Going and Liv Tyler.

Since filming, Phoenix and Tyler have continued their intimate relationship: ``I was in awe,'' he gushes about his co-star. Phoenix is hoping the critics are equally pleased with his performance.

If not, he's back to those angry, teen-age roles.

1. Does this film represent your breakout?

Phoenix: Naw. To me, they all are. They're all important to me. I always want to be good and fit in a film. Is it going to further my career? I don't know. I hope that it's good so that I can get work. But this movie was really touching. ... And I know that if I get involved with something that I don't care about, I'm going to be awful. It has to touch me in some way.

2. What's it like seeing yourself up on screen?

Phoenix: It's really weird. And films often change a lot from the script to what you expected - scenes are cut out, even whole chunks. And then you go, `Whoa, wait a minute. What happened?' And usually for me it's my favorite scene that gets chopped. And so the first time that you go see it, your nerves are just shot. You know, an important scene is coming and then you go, `Christ, if I'd known that was going to be in there, I wouldn't have done that. Hey! Why in God's name am I smiling there?'

3. Are you worried about being the next hunk on the block?

Phoenix: I don't care. What can you do? If they want to say I'm the sexiest man alive, what can you do? Great. Fine. Whatever. I don't want to turn down a film I'd like to do for fear that they're going to say that. If you do good work and people just think you're a pretty face, that's their problem.

4. Sometimes you appear in print almost as a self-loather.

Phoenix: Don't we all go through periods where you just hate yourself? You know: `I have no talent!' `What the hell am I doing?' `This is just ridiculous!' That's what's so funny about interviews. Depending on the period in your life, depending on that day, they sum up your life - that's who you are in two hours of talking. And now you're stuck with all these comments. ... You know, they'll ask `What ticks you off?' Well, you could say, `Oh, the neglect of the world and how we're destroying the Earth!' Or you could say: `This toilet paper feels like sandpaper!' Sometimes you're goofy. And then that becomes you for that month or that year.

5. OK. What kind of roles attract you?

Phoenix: I'm definitely a sucker for family movies - I love those kind of films. I mean, I have no problem with explosions. I'm a huge fan of `Star Wars' movies. That's all fine and dandy. But, generally, I like to see real people. That doesn't mean I'd turn down any specific role. You know, movies can also be a good time and I'm still having a blast acting. Actually, I'd do anything.

Like, say, Chewbacca?

Phoenix: I'd be Chewbacca. Absolutely. I love that guy.