Heard a fascinating interview with Joaquin Phoenix on AMC's Sunday Morning Shootout with Peter Guber and Peter Bart. Phoenix was there with director James Mangold promoting their movie Walk the Line. I heard somewhere that Phoenix had been odd and uncooperative in his interviews. However, in this one he was great, giving sensible, insightful answers.

Here are some highlights.

NOTE: Just heard that Phoenix has decided to quit his acting career...to pursue his music career?

Background

(Besides the Shootout interview, I also had a look at Rebecca Murray's excellent piece on About.com: Joaquin Phoenix Talks About "Walk the Line")

Director James Mangold said it took him nine and half years to get Walk the Line made. He first decided to do a film about Johnny Cash while he was directing Cop Land, a film that attempted to showcase the acting talent of Sylvester Stallone (thankfully, Harvey Keitel and other made it legitimate). After getting a script and cast lined up for the Johnny Cash biopic, he pitched the idea to one studio after another. Everyone turned him down. After years of pitching, Fox finally decided to go along.

Joaquin Phoenix Never Sees the Finished Film

Much of the interview focused on Phoenix, and that was fine. He had a lot to say. Peter Guber asked him how he worked, if he looked at the daily footage shot during production, etc. To Guber's surprise, Phoenix admitted he never viewed dailies, read reviews, or even saw the finished film. The reason was intriguing:

"I never want to be objective about my work...I want to stay inside the character...That's where I have to be."

That struck me as an amazing admission. He has to be subjective about his work. Who admits that? Objectivity is king, right? We rarely admit being subjective, let alone openly placing such a high value on it.

Subjectivity is normally a guilty admission.

But for Phoenix, it's the focus of how he works. Which explains why he doesn't like to rehearse; it would force him to be objective about his performance. Is it true of us all in some way?

Phoenix added that because of this approach, he has to heavily rely on the director to guide him and his performance. He has no way to judge "objectively" if his performance meets the overall needs of the film and story. Hence he works with his directors very closely.

"Don't Impersonate Johnny Cash"

Phoenix's voice was used for all the songs he performed in Walk the Line. I don't think Jamie Fox even did that with Ray. However, Phoenix stressed that neither the Mangold nor the music supervisor asked him to impersonate Cash's voice. In fact, Mangold said, "If people want to hear Johnny Cash sing, they can buy one of his records."

I think that was a brilliant bit of direction to give an actor like Phoenix.

Focus of the Walk the Line

What was the focus of the movie Walk the Line? It's all about the chemistry between June and Johnny on stage. Phoenix remarked that in reviewing the concert footage, and remembering when he met Cash (described below), it was clear that Johnny became a different man when June was on stage. He lit up and transformed.

Thus, a big focus of the film is the relationship Cash and June had ON stage.

On Meeting Johnny Cash

Phoenix had the opportunity to witness the magic of this relationship when he was invited to dinner at Cash's home--six months before he was cast in the movie. Cash invited him because of he was a fan of Gladiator. After the meal, instead of small talk, Cash picked up a guitar and started strumming. But he wouldn't sing until June joined him. He said "Iím waiting for June to get my nerve up." Sure enough, June joined him and they sang The Far Side Of the Banks Of Jordan.

"It was just absolutely magical. I referred to that moment many times throughout shooting."

Select Music and Books at Amazon.com

Walk the Line - Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon; Director: James Mangold

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