This is Joaquin Phoenix’s first time at the Sundance Film Festival. “I don’t know, maybe I refused [in the past],” he said at our interview inside Wahso restaurant overlooking Park City’s Main Street. “That wouldn’t be uncommon.”
This time, he agreed to promote two well-received Amazon Studios movies. One is his second film with Gus Van Sant, a portrait of wheelchair-bound artist John Callahan, “Don’t Worry, You Won’t Get Far On Foot;” the second is Lynne Ramsay’s hardboiled noir, “You Were Never Really Here,” which earned him a surprise win for Best Actor at Cannes for his role as a tough hitman who tries to save an underage girl from prostitution.
Phoenix relished collaborating with Ramsay. “Things feel desperate with movies, pretty boring,” he said. “We’ve been making remakes for 15 years. We’ve run out of original stories about a man. There’s a whole population of stories we haven’t been told, right? Imagine how exciting films can be as soon as that door is open!”
While he wouldn’t comment on how the #metoo and #timesup movements are affecting his buddies Ben and Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, his feelings aren’t complicated about the surging women’s movement.
“It’s pretty fucking obvious that it’s necessary,” he said. “I’m a cynical motherfucker. We elected this fucking dude who acknowledged that he committed sexual assault and we saw Rodney King being beaten on video. I might have underestimated the power of women being unified. There’s something amazing that is happening. The open letter #timesup wrote in response to the United Farm Workers association was so beautiful. It made you see the potential of this movement, how it could affect so many people. Clearly, the world has been imbalanced and now there’s this opportunity where people can become more curious: ‘How have I been blind to this, what aren’t I seeing, and how do I become more aware of it?’ That makes you think about every aspect of your life. The #timesup letter recognized that we have a platform with access to lawyers and we are going to help you.”
Phoenix is optimistic that change is possible. “Of course it sucks that people have to endure such a level of pain before we become conscious or aware of it. I’m talking about this watershed moment. But I know there was a lot of hurt that led to this. I don’t know why we aren’t more empathetic and sensitive. We get caught up in our lives. The opportunity is now for people to be educated and aware.”