AOL interview 3/01

JOAQUIN PHOENIX is nominated in this year's Best Supporting Actor category at the Oscars for his deliciously malevolent performance as Commodus in Gladiator.

We spoke to Joaquin about the film and his new found fame.

How was your experience of filming The Yards?

I feel really close to this film because I was involved with the project for two years. In post-production, I talked to James Gray virtually every day. The final cut turned out exactly how I'd hoped. Often when you see a film, your favourite scenes are missing and you understand why, but here the scenes that I love were in the film and it all worked.

What would you say The Yards is about?

It's kind of about the falsity of the American Dream. It's an odd thing that my generation faces; we're encouraged to pursue the American Dream, but we don't really have the right moral support to make those decisions. So you have this character Willie. We know nothing of his parents and you really get a sense that there's this child who has had to grow up really quick and hard in the world. It's about betrayal and friendship and love, and how those outside forces can pollute our relationships.

Were you surprised about the success of Gladiator?

Completely, because I am the most naive man in the entire world. I guess I thought the kids who loved The Matrix would love black leather and 9mms. So I figured I didn't know how the studio were going to sell Gladiator. During the shoot, you never think about that kind of thing: that's the biggest mistake you can make, because then you're trying to make it appealing to an audience. By the time I'd recovered from Gladiator - I pretty much spent two months laying in bed - we were gearing up for press, and I saw that all the executives were all smiling and walking around on air. Then I thought it might really [be a] hit.

Do you think you have a chance of winning an Oscar this year?

I don't know. I think the Oscars can be a great thing but there's also the Oscar curse, where people never work again. But the ugliest thing is when people go out to get Oscars. It makes me sick. It's the wrong idea. Nothing really validates your work. It's always the process that excites me. Good reviews are just the icing on the cake. It's not that I'm against the Oscars, I just don't think we should let it dominate the last few months of our year, every time we make a movie. What also bothers me is that there are so many wonderful performances in films that aren't recognised. I look at most performances that are nominated and I'm pretty surprised.

Was it very competitive growing up with your other siblings who act?

No, it was very supportive. I remember this TV pilot that my sister and I were both up for to play brother and sister. She got the part and this other kid got the part that I was up for. I remember that my agent and my parents really didn't know how to tell me this. Its really funny, especially now, because no-one's even heard of it. They were really cautious, but I thought as long as one of us got it, that was OK. We were always really supportive. My parents always treated us as individuals, which considering that we had a big family, you may assume that it'd be like "kids, lets go here!" But so many times, my parents would say, "you're beautiful" because of this and that. And they would say something different to Summer or whoever. I always grew up with this real closeness to my siblings, but also knowing my own strengths as an individual.

Has fame changed your life in any way? Do you still get star struck?

I'm always surprised when people get star struck by actors because I think they can be really lame and boring. There's no one now. I'd be really excited to meet DJ Premier, who's the producer for Gang Starr. I've also spent some time with Robbie Robertson recently, and I absolutely love him. I think he's amazing, and I could sit for hours and ask him about Woodstock, and hanging out with Dylan and George Harrison. I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall when The Beatles were recording. I'm more likely to obsess over Dear Prudence, and listen to it 20 times in a row, than any movie.

By Mark Adams, AOL Entertainment.