Unconventionally attractive and intriguingly intense, Joaquin Phoenix took Hollywood by storm two summers ago, scoring an Academy Award nomination for his performance as the tortured Roman emperor, Commodus, in Gladiator. Next up for Joaquin is M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, where he plays a minor-league pitcher and brother of grieving widower Mel Gibson. Read on and find out why all signs point to HOT for Joaquin Phoenix' career!

1. A former child actor, he successfully transitioned to adult roles.
Although Joaquin scored praise for his roles in youth-oriented movies like Spacecamp, Russkies, and Parenthood, he took a break from acting as a teenager. Joaquin returned to film with To Die For, where he played the role of troubled teen, Jimmy, who is seduced by Nicole Kidman's manipulative weather girl. The movie re-ignited his career. He went on to star in films like Inventing the Abbots, Clay Pigeons, The Yards, Quills, and Gladiator, among others.

2. He comes from a super supportive, artistically inclined family.
Because Joaquin and his siblings are all not more than a year and a half apart in age, the clan has a close emotional connection. Aww.

3. He's unconventionally handsome.
Joaquin's offbeat, brooding looks stand apart from Hollywood's pretty boys... Even the famous fashion house Prada recognized the actor's unusual beauty and featured him in an ad campaign. With that scar above his lip (he was born with the mark), and violet eyes, Joaquin causes "women to fall at his feet just about everywhere he goes. He pays so little attention, I don't know if he recognizes it or not. He just kind of blazes a trail and leaves all these blushing women in his wake," pal Casey Affleck recently told GQ.

4. He's an International Man of Mystery.
Joaquin (pronounced "Wah-keen") changed his name to "Leaf" (and is credited in many early movies as such) when he was four because he wanted a more earthy name, like his siblings. He got the idea while raking leaves with his father, but changed it back when he was 18 and traveling through Mexico and South America. His name would've been translated as "Garlic" there, and Joaquin wanted to avoid confusion! He also goes by the nicknames Kitten, Teeth, and Joaq. Kitten?

5. He's got friends in high places.
Not that he needs their help, but having buddies like Casey and Ben Affleck, Vince Vaughn, and Matt Damon certainly doesn't hurt. Meanwhile, Academy Award winner and Gladiator co-star Russell Crowe has taken the young actor under his wing. At the 2001 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Russ thanked Joaq and gushed: "My beautiful sweet chocolate prince Joaquin Phoenix... I wish (he) was here because he's just gotta learn that he can't hide anymore, everybody knows." Um, okay!

6. He's got a plan. Sort of.
Joaquin has enjoyed working on both large (Gladiator) and smaller (Quills) productions, and is becoming more comfortable with his transition from character actor to leading man. He believes that different films and different environments require something unique and special from an actor. With his breakthrough parts in Gladiator and Signs, Joaquin seems to be heading in the direction of "starring role." But don't ask him if that kind of fame is his goal. "I don't have a plan," he recently told E! Online. "(But) you often find in this business that it means nothing, because you're contending with other people's plans as well. But I have had... a vague strategy. So I guess it's going okay." One aspect of fame that he's had more difficulty with is the press' tendency to pry into his personal life. He doesn't want the public to know too much about him because he feels that the less people know about him, the more believable he is in a variety of roles.

7. He wants more action.
Coming of age movies, dark comedies, historical epics, gangster flicks, indie films, and now a supernatural thriller are all part of Joaquin's current repertoire, but what he once told Sugar magazine that he'd really like to do an action film. Joaq claims that screaming at a blue screen or being swallowed by an imaginary dragon would be a welcome change and a real challenge. Looks like he missed his calling in Reign of Fire this summer! In the meantime, you can catch Joaquin in the upcoming romance Aurora Island, and Robert Altman's next comedy, Voltage, in 2003.