“One of the things that worked for me was watch­ing videos of an­i­mals in cap­tiv­ity. I saw a lot of re­ac­tions and ex­pres­sions that I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

life. It’s about that hope.”

The Mas­ter marks a re­turn to the fray for Phoenix who hasn’t ap­peared in a fea­ture film since 2008. In early 2009, as part of his prankster du­ties for the 2010 mock­u­men­tary I’m Still Here, a di­shev­elled Phoenix ap­peared on The David Let­ter­man Show to re­nounce act­ing in favour of hip-hop. Phoenix’s sub­se­quent faux-break­down sent the gos­sip sheets into over­drive. He’s never re­cov­ered from see­ing his brother River die in 1993, pos­tu­lated some; he’s al­ways played weirdos and odd­balls, sug­gested oth­ers un­help­fully.

In re­al­ity, Phoenix and his co-con­spir­a­tor and brother-in-law Casey Af­fleck were work­ing to an ex­act time­line: their agents had a copy of the sched­ule.

“I did some re­ally stupid shit that was com­pletely over the top,” re­calls Phoenix. “In some ways, I didn’t want to com­mit. I wanted to wink at the au­di­ence and turn ev­ery­thing

irish­time­sirish­times. com/ cul­ture

into a bad SNL skit. Casey was there to say ‘That’s bull­shit, ei­ther you fuck­ing do it or you don’t’. I would come back from one of the pub­lic ap­pear­ances and he’d be like, ‘You’re a fuck­ing idiot. You’ve ru­ined ev­ery­thing’. Ex­cept then the press would be­lieve it. And at some point, we re­alised we could do any­thing. No mat­ter how crazy it seemed. I’m not sure that’s be­cause peo­ple re­ally bought it or be­cause it was just more fun to write about.”

Phoenix would be the first to ad­mit he’s never been press-savvy and that of­ten, his rep­re­sen­ta­tives can be heard ask­ing: “What have you said now?” The ac­tor, cur­rently the book­ies’ favourite to take home an Academy Award next spring, has re­cently found him­self apol­o­gis­ing for ques­tion­ing the value of the Os­cars. This is typ­i­cal, he notes, of how he mouths off with­out think­ing.

“I’m crap at it. Re­ally crap. I don’t know. The press and celebrity – none of that stuff was ever on my radar. We didn’t re­ally live in Hol­ly­wood grow­ing up. We never had Pre­miere Mag­a­zine at home. We never watched En­ter­tain­ment Tonight. I started act­ing when I was eight, but it wasn’t un­til years later – in my 20s – that I re­alised there was any­thing else at­tached.”

The mid­dle child from a fam­ily of per­form­ers, Joaquín Rafael Bot­tom was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, just as his par­ents, for­mer mis­sion­ar­ies with the Chil­dren of God spir­i­tual move­ment, were be­com­ing dis­il­lu­sioned with their post-hip­pie church. The clan, com­pris­ing sib­lings River, Rain, Joaquin, Lib­erty and Sum­mer and par­ents John and Ar­lyn, re­turned to the US in 1978. They adopted the sur­name Phoenix to mark a new be­gin­ning in Los Angeles, where the kids were soon spot­ted busk­ing on a street cor­ner and snapped up by Iris Bur­ton, the same child agent who dis­cov­ered Kirsten Dunst and the Olsen twins.

Joaquin says he re­mem­bers his early work on com­mer­cials in in the movies SpaceCamp and Par­ent­hood “re­ally vividly” and has never pic­tured him­self in any other pro­fes­sion.

“When I was young, there was a stretch when I didn’t act for a cou­ple of years, and I re­mem­ber my par­ents try­ing to have that con­ver­sa­tion with me. I only just thought about this re­cently and it’s re­ally weird to think about now be­cause I don’t know why I felt that way. But I just al­ways thought, ‘Naw, I don’t need to think about a job. I’m go­ing to be­come an ac­tor’. I sup­pose if I’d stum­bled on some­thing that gave me a com­pa­ra­ble feel­ing . . .” What feel­ing ex­actly? “It’s re­ally hard to ex­plain or maybe I just don’t have the vo­cab­u­lary to ex­plain. I’ve heard peo­ple talk about med­i­ta­tion and – don’t know be­cause I’ve never prac­tised it – but the way they de­scribe it, it sounds pretty close. It’s an aware­ness of ev­ery­thing in your body. Some­times, it’s just pure adren­a­line.”

He breaks off and apol­o­gises: “Oh man. I sound like such a piece of shit.”

It’s hard not to warm to Joaquin Phoenix’s un­af­fected in­ter­view style. He’s just not a movie per­son. He found a stint di­rect­ing videos for Al­bert Ham­mond Jr and oth­ers to be “re­ally stress­ful” and ad­mits he hardly ever watches movies un­less they’re “crap, goofy come­dies”. His favourite film is Step­broth­ers.

“It’s the film I’ve def­i­nitely watched most,” says Phoenix. “And it’s wrong of me to say goofy com­edy, be­cause I think there’s so much weight to that film, and I think what John [C Reilly] and Will [Fer­rell] do is ge­nius. I ap­ply that movie to ev­ery part of my life now. It’s a man­i­festo. This movie is what keeps me and my girl­friend to­gether. Ev­ery time we try to have an ar­gu­ment some­body says a line and that’s the end of the ar­gu­ment.” ❙❙❙ The Mas­ter opens to­day and is re­viewed on page 11

Nikki Wil­liams: press re­peat im­me­di­ately

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