An interview with Joaquin Phoenix
by Joanne Nathan
We gave handbaggers the chance to post questions to gorgeous young
thing and star of new film 'Signs', Joaquin Phoenix, in our
discussion boards. Here's what he said...
What is your opinion on crop circles and where they come from?
I honestly don't know if they're all hoaxes or not.
Do you believe in UFOs and aliens?
It seems incredibly arrogant to think that we are the only
intelligent life in this vast universe, but then again, who knows?
'Signs' was your first film with Mel Gibson. Did he live up to your expectations?
I just assumed he'd be great and he was. I guess the biggest surprise
for me was just how open and available he is. We talked a lot about
movies in general, and about careers. He's just very, very smart and
a lot of fun to be around.
Did you know he's a big practical joker on sets?
I'd heard that, and I'm not sure if he was behind this one big joke
they played on me during the shoot. There's this scene where I'm
watching TV in a closet. It suddenly got very quiet and I slowly
realised everyone had left the set and I was still sitting there,
locked in this closet. I was saying, 'Hey! Guys! What's going on?'
This went on for about 20 minutes. It could have been Mel, it could
have been Night, or maybe just the crew. I never found out. But I
refused to leave in the end. I didn't want to give them the
Do you prefer having smaller parts in big budget films with big stars
like this one and 'Gladiator' or do you prefer being the only star in
a small budget film and having the main role?
It really depends on the film and the character you're playing.
Sometimes you can have a smaller role, like the one in 'Gladiator,'
and it can really connect with people. I still get people yelling at
me on the street, 'I'm vexed. Terribly vexed!' So you just never know
what's going to work. I just try and choose roles I want to play,
regardless of how big or small the film is. Some people churn out
tons of movies all the time, and you forget what they were. But each
film I do means a lot to me, so I try and choose very carefully.
Do you still get nervous before starting a new film?
All the time. I always feel like I'm just about to do my first film
ever. I get all these butterflies in my stomach and sometimes I feel
like I'm going to throw up. Then the whole question is whether
feeling that way is debilitating or whether I can use it and channel
that nervous energy. I think ultimately it's usable. It does make me
very anxious, but in a positive way, and I'd far rather go through
that become jaded and, 'Oh, another day, another movie.' (Laughs)
One of the themes of 'Signs' is dealing with one's fears and demons.
What are yours?
I'm still very afraid of flying.
Isn't that a big problem as you're in a business where you have to travel constantly?
It is, and I try to avoid flying as much as I can. We're probably
going to Europe and Japan to promote this film, and in the past I've
always avoided doing those trips, but this time I'm going to try and
Have you ever freaked out on a plane?
(Laughs) Oh yeah! I was on this one flight and I got so nervous that
I started shaking and banging my head against the wall and going, 'Oh
God! Oh my God!' and making all the other passenger extremely
nervous. In the end, the captain had to come out and hold me down and
he told me to shut the f**k up and to calm down. It was pretty bad,
but it did calm me down.
The famous Phoenix family
Your siblings all seem to be highly creative individuals. You're like a modern day Barrymore family.
I know, and I think I'll just go off and make ashtrays.
Is it annoying having all siblings in the same profession?
No, I think it's great, and we all have our own individual talents.
Rain's a really talented singer/songwriter and an actress, and
Summer's a really talented actress, and Liberty has two kids, and
it's really useful to hear stuff from their perspective. I think it
helps us with inspiration, and we provoke each other which is good
Do you think this is a result of what some may view as an unconventional upbringing?
I think everyone has the potential to be creative, and maybe the
difference is that we were always encouraged that way. I can never
remember a time when we were told 'no' about something that was
creative. So I've learned to trust in myself and my own judgement,
and that's helped me with my career a lot.
How should your name be pronounced properly?
You are sometimes called 'Leaf'. Which name is on your birth
certificate and where does the 'Leaf' nickname come from?
My birth certificate says Joaquin. 'Leaf' was just part of the whole
family back to nature thing, you know - Summer, Rain, Leaf...
Would you recommend giving children unusual names?
We got teased about it, but all kids get teased. It was kind of cool
more than a hassle.
Are you still a strict vegan?
So are you ever tempted by pizza and chocolate?
When I was younger it was a lot harder... if I was chewing on a
carrot and someone else was eating a big steak... but not now. There
are so many tasty alternatives available to meat, so I just feel I
don't need to kill something in order to survive.
You live in the same apartment block in New York as Casey Affleck - are you still good friends?
*I actually live in the South now*, but I still spend quite a lot of
time in New York as I have family here and yeah, Casey and I are
still great friends.
Is it true you got tattoos together?
Yes, and he actually has video footage of me crying like a little
girl when I got it done. It was on the inside of my arm, which is
incredibly sensitive and painful for a tattoo. And I think the guy
was drunk at the time, because I wanted a circle and it doesn't even
look like one. I mean, how can you screw up a circle?
Love, Liv, and the lady in his life
What do you get up to when you're not working?
It's pretty boring. I just like to spend time with my girfriend and
hang out with my family and my sisters, and do normal stuff like have
dinner and watch movies and go and see bands. And I've been playing a
lot of ping pong with my nephew. I built this really elaborate race
car track for this remote-controlled truck he got. I worked on it for
a few hours and I was really proud of myself because I thought it was
an amazing course. But then he came out and said, 'That's too hard!'
So I had to start all over again. (laughs)
You mentioned your girlfriend. Is she an actress?
No, she's not in the business, which is nice. But I don't like to talk about her.
Do you want to get married and have kids?
Yeah, sure, at some point. I don't think I'm quite ready for all that
You went out with Liv Tyler for a while. Is it easier or harder being with another famous person?
It's both. They understand the nature of what you do and the weird
gypsy life you lead, but then they're also equally busy. It's hard to
be together if you're both constantly travelling and working.
Since your Oscar nomination your profile has become much higher. How
has fame changed you?
Well, everywhere I go people love me and they just send cars for me
and give me free clothes, and every time I walk in a room people
start applauding. (Laughs) I'm joking, of course! I don't know that
my life has changed at all. Maybe just better scripts.
What do you spend all your money on?
Obviously not a private jet. (Laughs hard). *I'll do things like the
surprise I gave my girlfriend recently when I flew her family in for
her birthday.* I also spend a lot of money on serious tools.
What do you do with them?
Oh, nothing. They're all just sitting in my closet, but they look
cool when people come over and look in my closet.
Are you superstitious?
I am, about all sorts of things, especially on movies. It really
freaks me out if someone says, 'Great, we really got it!' at the end
of a shoot. For me that's tempting the movie gods. I really don't
like it. There's a lot of other things, but I'm too superstitious to
talk about them.
Which film did you most enjoy making, and why?
That's a tough one. What happens is that every time I make a film,
that's the one I enjoy the most. It's always the last one, which
could be the truth, or it could just be that I'm lying to myself.
(laughs) I honestly don't know. So I guess the answer is 'Signs'.
Which role in any film of all time would you have loved to have
played and why?
Rocco in 'Rocco and His Brothers.' It's one of my all time favorite
films. I really like ambiguity in characters, and when I did 'The
Yards' the director told me that my face reminded him of Rocco, so I
guess that stuck with me.
What's it like working with big Hollywood stars, like Russell Crowe
and Mel Gibson?
Maybe I've been lucky but I've always had a great time.
On 'Gladiator' I'll always remember Richard Harris and his stories.
He's great. I think it was after the second night of filming, and
Russell [Crowe] invited us in after work the next day. We sat around
and just talked about the film, and Richard just entertained us with
brilliant stories from his past and about working in the theatre with
O'Toole. It was unbelievable, time just flew. We were in there for
hours, until the middle of the night. I had no idea, it seemed like
no time had passed. It was brilliant to be with both of them. It's
rare that you get that opportunity, especially with the amount of
work that Russell had. I think he worked like virtually every day for
five months, but when he wasn't working he was so gracious and giving
with his time, always. Throwing dinner parties for the cast and crew,
and he'd just rent sailboats to take us out. I think it's really
important early on to develop strong relationships that can hold you
together during the trying times, which there will be.
Didn't you give up acting for a while? Why did you come back?
I gave up because at the time, I think I was 14 years old, I did a
movie called 'Parenthood'. I enjoyed it a great deal, but the scripts
that followed, I thought they were dull, all 14 year old, white
middle class kids complaining about their problems. They just didn't
really interest me; they weren't detailed or fascinating enough.
About a year went by and suddenly no scripts came anymore, which was
kind of fine by me. I just stopped, and then I started getting
interested when I was about 18, around 18, I started getting the bug
again, and went out auditioning more and more. Then 'To Die For' came
along and the opportunity to work with Gus [Van Sant], so I jumped
back in it. Once I did that, I couldn't stop. I thought, 'God, this
is what I've been missing.'
What did you do in the interim period?
I worked on a farm for quite some time, actually, in Latin America. I
had a wonderful time, and it was good to do something completely
different for a while. It recharged me. We all need that once in a