WHOA Joaquin (Marie Claire)
Don't get to excited, Mr Phoenix will you? Blimey, we really have stumbled on Hollywood's shy boy. When Bridget Freer Finally pins him down for an interview in manhattan, she discovers that Hollywood's smouldering sex symbol really, really wants to be left alone.
Joaquin Phoenix is sitting in the luxurious Regency hotel in New York. he's wearing a black shirt and black trousers. he looks good, very good. his dark hair is rumpled and he has a very cool, aloof air. Although, he holds his compact body upright in the armchair, his right leg constantly taps over his left. His dark eyes are guarded. he seems a little nervous. he's here to promote his autumn blockbuster Signs, a brilliant horror movie about alien landings directed by M Night Shyamalan, of The Sixt Sense fame, in which he co-stars with Mel Gibson. It was one of America's most successful movie openings this year. but today he'll spend the day talking to journalists. And that has to rank among his least favourite activities.
you can understand Phoenix's caution when it comes to journalists. When his elder brother, River diednine years ago of a drugs overdose outside Johnny Depp's club, The Viper Eoom, in Los Angeles, the media had a field day. Joaquin was with River that night and his desperate, sobbing call to the emergency services was broadcast to the world. Joaquin, who wa nineteen at the time, later said: 'For my mom, I thought, just how completely and utterly disrespectful is that?' It's the most painful thing in the world. It's awful to feel that your whole world is kind of being raided and raided. I just thought, "My God, how fucking callous are we?"'
Unsurprisingly, the experience has left him with a deep mistrust of revealing himself to outsiders. One of the most common sentiments you hear as an interviewer of celebrities is: 'I'm just a regular person, there's nothing interesting about me.' Mostly, this is false modesty and, when pressed, they'll happily tell you things about themselves that turn out to be incredible interesting. When Joaquin Phoenix says this, it's a smoke screen: he doesn't want you to know anything about his life outside the movies. And that's incredible sad, because he is a brilliant actor and one of the most genuinely intersting people ever to have denied there was anything interesting about him.
Joaquin was born in puerto Rico in 1974, the third of five children - after River and Rain, before Liberty and Summer,. in their early married life, his parents lived in hippie communes and the became missionaries for a church called Children Of God, which took them across South and Central America. they later left the cult, because it was beginning to use sex as a way of recruiting people, and moved to LA, where they started busking. Joaquin's mother got a job for the casting department of a television compagny and found an agent to take on all five children.
Joaquin started work at the adge of eight, with River, in a TV version of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. His breakthrough film was To Die For, in which he played a dimwitted teenager seduced by Nicole Kidman into murdering her husband. The role he's best known for, though, is his Oscarnominated turn as the Emporer Commodus in Gladiator. But Signs, in which he plays Mel Gibson's straight-arrow, athlete brother, has all the criteria to be the film that turns him into a household name. I want to ask him now his views that prospect, but he's just lit his third cigarette in twenty minutes. I've read that he frequently tries to quit, so I begin by asking:
Are you still trying to give up smoking?
It's a year since the last time I tried. I went to a hypnotist, we sat down and started talking. A couple of hours later, I woke up, the hypnotist wasn't in the room, but his wife was. I was like, 'Oh my goodness, I fell asleep and I didn't get to talk to the doctor.' And she sayd, 'Don't worry, you talked....' I freaked out, left their place, immediately boughta pack of cigarettes and smoked, terrified of what I said.
Did you look forward to working with Mel Gibson on Signs?
Yeah, one of the first movies I ever saw was Mad Max. i was quite young and remember hearing it was violent, and then sneaking [in to see] it with some friends. So Mel had quite an impact on me. Poeple may not want to admit it, but most young actors would say he's an icon.
He's notorious practical joker: did he play any tricks on you?
About halfway through the shoot, we were doing a scene where Mel's character comes running down the stairs. I'm in the closet, and Mel opens the door, says his line andI respond. It's take fourteen, kind of the middle of the day: I hear Mel running down the stairs, then there's just silence. I thought Mel was trying to shake up the atmosphere to get a different performance out of me. Five minutes went by and it is still total silence, then the power cuts out and I'm engulfed in black. By the time ten minutes go by - this is the genius I am - it dawns on me that it's a joke at my expense. I refuse to come out, because I won't lose. But I still can't figure out who was behind it. Mel and Night [the director] were involved, the only question is whether it was the entire crew conspiring againstme. I never asked. I guess I just assumed it was everybody.
Did you and Mel become mates?
In rehearsel, we spent a lot of time with each other, but once filming started, he became like a colleague. I don't really socialise that much.
Do you stay in touch with people you've worked with?
Sometimes, but it's pretty rare. you end up seeing each other fairly often anyway. I see Mark [Wahlberg, his co-star in The Yards] all the time at different functions. I think Casey [Affleck, whom he met on To Die For and who is going out with his sister Summer] is the only person I've really stayed in touch with.
You moved around a lot as a child: do you enjoy travelling?
I am either home or away. Isn't it like that for everybody?
I have read interviews in which you say that you consider yourself nomadic....
No, I think someone once said that about me and now all journalists ask me if I am nomadic. I am not.
Do you take music with you when you travel?
Yeah, I have an IPod MP3 player. It's really great, I have my entire music collection in one little thing. The sound isn't as good, but it's really changed my life, because carrying my box of CDs around was a real pain in the ass. I found myself buying the same ones all the time. i have duplicates of every Beatles album.
Which are your favorites?
I seriously have about five copies of every Beatles album and John Lennon's solo albums.
Do you also carry books around with you?
No, it's mostly scripts.I pack really light, I don't like carrying lots of stuff. If I need something I can usually find it where I am.
Do you spend much time with your family?
yeah. If we have the time, we always get together.
You used to refer to your family as 'Team Phoenix' and call them over to hang out with you when you're working on long shoots abroad. Do you still do that?
It depends. Sometimes you go, 'Hey, do you want to come out?, and sometimes you don't want anyone around.
You don't seem to be enjoying being interviewed very much?
It's just I feel like we are always being forced into being one thing. It is easy to just kind of go [puts on a fake hearty voice], 'Yeah, my family just comes to visit every time!' But really it is like sometimes they come to visit, sometimes they don't. I don't know what else to say.
Is doing the David Letterman Show on American TV even more tortuous than doing press interviews?
No. That's alright. I like Dave a lot. I like his show. He makes me laugh, so doing that is OK.
There was some controversy in the press when you went on the show three years ago and appaered to be rather dazed and confused. Don't they make you rehearse what you're going to say before the show?
We do a thing called the pre-interview, where you speak to the producer about what you've been doing. then, you go in and Letterman will talk about one of those things. I never stuck to that when I went on [before], because I didn't know that's how it worked. Once I found out that out, it really ruined it for me, so I just decided to wing it when I went out there last time, it was lot of fun.
Both your sister Summer and your mother have said in interviews that, as a family, the Phoenixes though they were going to change the world and get their points out there by gaining a voice and recognition. Do you feel that way?
[Long silence] I don't know.
So you don't like talking about your take on the world?
No, I don't like to talk about anything. isn't that apparent?
What are you doing after this interview?
Don't know....This is the most boring interview in the world.
Sorry about that.
No, not you, me. I am certain I give the most boring interviews in the world.
Not the most boring, but possible the least comfortable.... You don't really think you're a boring person do you?
No, I don't think I am boring. I think I am a boring interview.
I don't think there's anything interesting worth printing about me. Whatever you want....
On that note, I leave him to his day of interviews feeling slightly sorry for him. he just wants to be left alone tolead his life off-camera in private. But because of what he does, and how good at it he is, the world will always want to know him ,to get close to him. the only way he can be understood and, to a certain extent, satisfy public curiosity about him and therefore be left alone, is to talk about himself. It's doubtfull he'll ever do that. It's dilemma perhaps he'll never be understood.