As the corrupt, young Emperor Commodus in this summer's epic blockbuster Gladiator, Joaquin Phoenix wowed audiences as the character they loved to hate.
  Phoenix made his big screen debut in 1986's SpaceCamp under the name Leaf Phoenix. In 1995, after taking a multiyear hiatus he returned with a critically-acclaimed performance as the seduced teen in Gus Van Sant's To Die For. He quickly followed that with well-received turns in Clay Pigeons, Return To Paradise and 8mm.
  This fall, Phoenix stars in The Yards as Willie Guttierrez, a young man whose pursuit of the American dream goes astray. The thriller, set in the grimy New York City subway system, costars Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and James Caan. Also out this fall will be Quills, starring Phoenix as a young Catholic priest opposite Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet.

You were supposed to play Mark Wahlberg's part (Leo) initially in The Yards.
JP: James Gray, the director, had first approached me about the role of Leo. I read the script, this was back years ago, this was soon after Inventing The Abbotts and Clay Pigeons. And I just wanted to play a character that was more active...I don't know. There was something about the Willie character that just really appealed to me, something that I felt I could do with that character and I felt he had a great trajectory. Always as an actor, for me, I look for characters that go through an evolution throughout the course of the story. Because, I guess simply, it's just more fun.

You worked with a big name cast of young and veteran actors. What was that like and did you you learn anything from the experience?
JP: Every film I work on I learn something new but I'm afraid I don't have any stories about, you know, Faye Dunaway, taking me aside...It's always nice to work with veteran actors, people who have just been around.  It was kind of the perfect combination, I think, cause in a sense they did kind of hold us together.

You had to strip down for this role. Were you comfortable with that?
JP: The great thing about it was we were on Roosevelt Island (New York City) and we had tour boats driving by me the whole time. I've done quite a few nude scenes but they were more like sexual scenes and it was in a closed off room in a studio or something.

There's been buzz about an Oscar possibility for you. Are you even thinking about the Oscars at this point?
JP: I think it's a wonderful thing. I think it's great to have people that you work
with respond to something that you do in a positive way. But it doesn't validate what I do and I don't need it and it's not important to me. I love making movies... But I'm really flattered that there's even any talk.
- Robin Stevenson

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