Joaquin Phoenix has enjoyed a strained relationship with his public. He’s one of our great actors, from “Gladiator,” which earned him one of three Oscar nominations (along with “Walk the Line” and “The Master”) to Spike Jonze’s “Her.” But Phoenix revealed his disturbed and crazy side in Casey Affleck’s mockumentary “I’m Still Here,” leaving many of us wondering how much of the “performance” was truth or fiction. It had a negative impact on Phoenix’s career, from which he seems to be finally recovering. He was clearly uncomfortable at the New York Film Festival press conference for “The Immigrants,” so letting him talk to Fresh Air’s ace interlocutor Terry Gross was a favor to all of us.
What did he reveal?
On “I’m Still Here”:
The only thing that bothered me was that it might be difficult for me to work again because obviously I wasn’t retiring and obviously I wanted to make films — and a certain kind of film — so the only thing that really gave me pause was at some point [thinking] “How will this affect my career?”
So much of the way we made the movie didn’t allow us the time to really consider things, and by the time we did, it was too late and we had painted ourselves into this corner. It’s funny because when I was going on Letterman, initially the idea was we were going to make some noise and do something much more extroverted and big and out there. …
On working with n Morton on set and Scarlett Johannson in the sound studio:
I actually worked with Samantha Morton, she was with us on set oftentimes … and then I went into the studio and I worked with Scarlett later. …[With Samantha,] we really developed our characters together in a way, and with Scarlett, I worked with her just in the studio, so it’s just completely different experiences. You know, I had such an amazing time working with Samantha Morton and I feel so beholden to her for helping me develop this character. And then I worked with Scarlett and she was incredible too, and I found something new about the relationship and we had new discoveries. It was an extraordinary process.
On “The Master”:
My dad sometimes would talk out of the side; he’d clench down one side of his mouth. And I just thought it represented tension in this way, somebody that’s just blocked and tight. So I actually went to my dentist and I had them fasten these metal brackets to my teeth on the top and the bottom and then I wrapped rubber bands around it to force my jaw shut on one side. … After a couple weeks, the bands, they weren’t really strong enough to kind of hold it so I ended up getting rid of the rubber bands and I still had these metal brackets in and so it made me constantly aware of my cheek. You know, they had these pointy tips so they’d tear up the cheek a little bit, so I just then was constantly aware of it.
This is so f – – – – – – stupid. Why am I talking about this? … It’s not interesting, it’s so stupid. If I was driving and I heard this, I’d change the channel. … I’d be like, “Joaquin, shut up.”
I think everyone always has their own process and every process is valuable. Sometimes you come in and you’re telling jokes in the morning and you’re talking with the crew and you go do a scene and everything is useful. It’s just about finding what works for you for that particular job.
So I think, I imagine it’s tough for a director, working with a few different actors that all have different processes, even when it’s not that extreme. Sometimes people have different needs. As an actor, maybe as a selfish actor, I’ve never really considered too much of other people’s processes. I think you just try to do what works best for you, the film and your character.