Scary 'Signs' proved fun for Joaquin Phoenix
Jenny Peters
Fashion Wire Daily
Published Aug 30, 2002

When Joaquin Phoenix jumped into M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" at the last minute, replacing actor Mark Ruffalo in the pivotal role of Merrill Hess, he didn't realize what he was in for. Julia Roberts could have warned him, but he neglected to consult with her beforehand about what it is like to work with Mel Gibson, prankster.

For while Gibson got Roberts by leaving a shrink-wrapped dead rat in her trailer on the set of "The Conspiracy Theory," that was nothing compared with the joke he pulled on Phoenix while shooting a key scene in "Signs," a scary science-fiction thriller.

"There's a scene where I'm watching TV under the stairs and Mel comes and knocks on the door," Phoenix said. "So we do this and it's Take 14, and Mel comes crunching down the stairs really loud and I think he's overdoing it. Then he never knocks on the door. Now I think he's being really subtle. Then the lights go out, and I'm locked in the closet. It is pitch black, and I have no idea what's going on."

Fortunately, Phoenix isn't a claustrophobic, but it was still a bit disconcerting for the actor to be put in such an undignified position.

"I realize they are up to some funny business," he said. "I started screaming, but I wouldn't lose. I waited in there for 15 minutes before Mel finally came in opened the door, and when he opened the door and leaned in, I did my line just to show him how professional I am!"

Happily, the 27-year-old made it through the rest of the production unscathed, and he insists that he harbors no grudges against Gibson for trapping him in the dark.

"He's just very hard-working and passionate, which I like and immediately makes me feel comfortable with someone," Phoenix said. "It kind of makes me feel like, 'All right, we're all on the same boat and have the same intentions,' and he has a wicked sense of humor, of course, which I like. He just has a good energy about him, that makes you feel safe when you are acting and makes you think you'll get it right."

Phoenix seems to be getting it right a lot lately. His Oscar-nominated turn in "Gladiator" has led to a slew of other roles. He'll be seen next in the military crime drama "Buffalo Soldiers," in the romantic futuristic flick "It's All About Love" and in Robert Altman's upcoming comedy "Voltage."

He has come a long way since starting his career at 8 (following in the footsteps of his brother, actor River Phoenix, who died in 1993), but he's still not willing to pin down his actual career goals.

"I do have a plan, but often in this business it means nothing, because you're contending with other people's plans as well," he said. "But I have had, within that, a vague strategy. So, I guess it's going OK."