A FEW DAYS LATER, phoenix suggest we meet at the restaurant in his TriBeCA neighborhood, a no-fuss Italian-argentine joint just a couple of blocks from his apartment. It’s a cozy life. His sister summer lives next door. Summer dates his best friend, actor Casey Affleck, who always around too. “ I borrow everything from paper towels to tofu.” Phoenix says, sneaking a cigarette between his salad and tea.
If phoenix seems to lack a shell of his own, his family provides one for him
During the filming of quills, his environmentalist mother, Arlyn-who also calls herself Heart- and his sisters were constantly on the scene (sister summer and rain are also actors, liberty has two children and runs a pie business) transition from gladiator’s overfed tyrant to the ascetic priest in quills has taken a toll on him mentally and physically. “ I had to lost all that bloat in a couple weeks, which fucked me up,” Phoenix says,
“He’s rarely alone,” says winslet of the family visits. “He lost loads of weight, and everyone was worried about him.”
The phoenix family is not your usual American family. In the mid-seventies john and Arlyn were members of a flower-power sect called the children of god-who have been investigated for allegedly encouraging sex with minors (a charge that the group denies and that has never been substantiated) they traipsed all over the hemisphere with their five small children. In 1974, John Phoenix was named the sect’s archbishop of Venezuela. You know you’re living in strange climes when the name Joaquin feels too conventional. For a while, you Joaquin decided to call himself leaf.
By the time he was five years old, his parents had left the children of god and moved to los Angeles, where his mother made the unlikely transition to NBC secretary and then to casting director, providing her children-the older siblings had earlier begun playing guitar and singing at state fairs-with a chute to the entertainment world. “It was apparent from early that riv and rain had a gift,” Joaquin says, “but we werent very wealthy. Um, or rather, we were poor.”
A few years later, Joaquin broke into television as a child actor. One of his first roles: a 1984 episode of murder, she wrote. The n came such forgettable films as SpaceCamp and Russkies. At 15, he took a break from acting and worked on a farm in Mexico. “ I was forced to pick up Spanish,” he says. “There were these wonderful chiquas, and I was trying to tell them that I had deep, heartfelt emotions for them” in 1995, he returned to the screen in Gus van Sant to dir for, playing a teenager so desperately hungry for love and attention, it was excruciating to watch. “There’s a lot of pain going on here,” James Gray says,” which is what makes him so interesting”
THE PLATES ARE CLEARED, AND PHOENIX IS DONE addressing his demons for the time being. He’s go to skip uptown for a meeting. A parting comment about the theme of censorship in quills raises a question of repression. It’s clear he’s starting to feel comfortable because he begins to talk. And talk. And talk. “Its about our own fear of ourselves”, he says, that’s what were fearful of.” Repression leads naturally into politics. “ I get pissed off about everything,” he continues, “I get angry about how the justice system works I get pissed off about the way our society is set up.” Pretty soon, he’s on a passionate 40-minute tear, “I’m really getting rolling,” he says. “ Oh my God, it’s going to get so intense” the more phoenix gets worked up, the more his eyes start to blaze. Suddenly, he looks likes the combustible movie star we’ve grown to expect “ we should always shake up the system,” he says “even if it’s a system that we think is working. I’ve always loved the rebel element.”
The rebel element reminds him of a recent meeting in Los Angeles with one of his idols, Johnny cash. Phoenix got to know cash through Gray, who has been hired to film the man in black’s recording cession. It turned out that Cash was just as big a fan of Phoenix’s. “Johnny told me he saw gladiator three times,” he says “ I couldn’t believe it. He says, ‘ I really loved the part where you said ‘Your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross.’” Phoenix says in his best Johnny Cash drawl. “‘And your wife moaned like a whore when they ravaged her.’ I couldn’t believe Johnny cash was quoting my dialogue. “
Slowing down to take a deep breath, Phoenix segues into a story about the time he and Casey Affleck got tattoos together. “ We videotaped it and I’m like, pathetic. I’m crying. I’ve got a bottle of wine and I’m going, ‘ I cant do this. Just stop the pain.’” Pain brings Phoenix to another major subject: fear. Particularly fear of flying “flying is something I just can’t bear,” he says. “ I hate powerlessness.”
If only they didn’t make movies in faraway places. This month, Phoenix will bit down on his passport and fly to Denmark to start his next film; it’s all about love, by Thomas Vinterberg, the director of the Danish art film the celebration. Hopefully he wont get as freaked out as he did on a recent flight. “ I was freaking everyone nervous,” he recalls. “ I was shacking my head back and forth, speaking in strange tongues, and hitting my head against the wall going, ‘oh my god,” phoenix says. “Then the captain came out and held me down. He told me ‘to fucking shut up and chill out.’”
But did it calm phoenix down?
“Actually, it did,” he admits.
Phoenix asks if I have a watch. He’s rally late. This time, he really, really has to go, he signals got a bill.
The waitress asks if there’s anything else he’d like.
“Just a side order of love,” he says, “that would be great.”