Joaquin Phoenix
The notoriously publicity-shy Signs star lets rip on phobias, tattoos and how fame's left him unvexed, terribly unvexed…

Lets get this over with, then: how exactly do you pronounce your name ?
It's Waa-keen.

Since your Oscar nomination for
Gladiator your profile has become much higher. Has fame changed you?

Well, everywhere I go people love me. Send me cars. Give me free clothes. And ever time I walk in a room people start applauding. Ha Ha!  Don't know that my life has changed at all. Maybe just better scripts.

But do you still get nervous before starting a new film?

Oh, all the time. I get these butterflies in my stomach and sometimes I feel like I'm going to throw up. Then the whole question is whether feeling that way is debilitating or whether I can use it and channel that nervous energy. I think ultimately it's usable. It does make me anxious, but in a positive way, and I'd far rather go through that than become jaded: " Oh, another day, another movie."

You've had success in blockbusters and indies. Any preference between the two?

Depends on the film and character. Sometimes you can have a smaller role, like the one in
Gladiator, and it can really connect with people. I still get people yelling at me on the street : "I'm vexed, Terribly Vexed " I just try and choose roles I want to play, regardless of how big or small the film is. Some people churn out tons of movies all the time but each film I do means a lot to me, so I try and choose very carefully.

One of the themes of
Signs is dealing with your fears and demons. What are yours?

I'm still very afraid of flying.

That's a bit of a problem for such a travel-intensive industry. Have you ever freaked out on a plane?
Ha,Ha! Oh yes! I was on this one flight and I got so nervous that I started shaking and banging my head off the wall and going "Oh my God! Oh my God!" and making all the other passengers extremely nervous. In the end, the captain had to come out , hold me down and tell me to shut the fuck up. It was pretty bad, but it did calm me down

Are you still living in the same apartment block in New York as Casey Affleck?

I actually live in the south now, but I still spend quite a lot of time in New York. Casey and I are still great friends. We got tattoos together. He actually has this video of me crying like a girl when I got it done. It was on the inside of my arm, which is incredibly sensitive and painful for a tattoo. And I think the guy was drunk at the time, because I wanted a circle and it doesn't even look like one. I mean, how can you screw up a circle?

Joanna Nathan