All Signs Point To PHOENIX

USA Today August 01, 2002
Joaquin Phoenix


By Donna Freydkin

NEW YORK He may confront extraterrestrial activity in the
supernatural thriller Signs, but on this hot summer afternoon, actor
Joaquin Phoenix is battling demons of a different sort.

"Sorry that I'm so out of breath," he says. "I've been mopping the
floor and cleaning my place, because my mom's coming into town
tomorrow. I have to make it mom-ready."

Family has always been the cornerstone of Phoenix's life. And it's an
issue he deals with in M. Night Shyamalan's paranormal psycho-drama
Signs, opening nationwide Friday. Phoenix, 27, plays Mel Gibson's
bummed-out brother, a role he landed 10 days before shooting started.
And like his character, Phoenix has a few hang-ups of his own.

"I'm afraid of flying and try to avoid it," he says. "I tap planes
before I get into them. But luckily, I don't have to fly that much.
But when I do, I just suffer through it and keep the flights short
and direct."

Perhaps his desire to stay grounded is a response to Phoenix's
unconventional childhood. The actor, raised by free-spirited
Christian missionary parents (now separated), grew up in Puerto Rico,
Venezuela and Mexico. Today, he's a resident of downtown Manhattan,
where he's neighbors with his younger sister and fellow thespian
Summer.

And while Phoenix may be drawn to playing doomed dimwits on the big
screen, in person the actor is down to earth, with a droll sense of
humor.

"If you just made a movie about a guy that walked around a lot,
talked to his friends and played on the computer, that would be me,"
he says. He declines to discuss his personal life, but he's dating a
South African woman named Topaz.

Phoenix, whose parents encouraged all their children to go into
acting, got his start in 1986's Space Camp but broke through as the
confused, hostile teenage son with a penchant for pornography in Ron
Howard's 1989 comedy Parenthood. He was off to a promising start. But
faced with a dearth of quality scripts, Phoenix gave Hollywood the
boot.

It was during his hiatus that Phoenix was thrust back into the
limelight with the hysterical 911 call he made outside Los Angeles'
Viper Room on Halloween night 1993, as his older brother River lay
dying next to him of a drug overdose. The frantic call was broadcast
worldwide. In 1995, Phoenix returned to movies to play a hapless high
school killer opposite Nicole Kidman in To Die For.

Even as he lands meatier roles in ever bigger movies, Phoenix says he
lives in the here and now, and has no grand aspirations to direct the
great American movie or star in one. He'd like to work on a film with
his three siblings, all of whom are rooted in showbiz, and his best
friend Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother.

BACK