Joaquin Phoenix: Everything they teach kids about acting is completely wrong

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks after being declared the winner in the South Carolina Democratic Primary

Joaquin Phoenix covers the latest issue of British GQ, and I don’t really understand any of it, actually? It could be seen as sort of a victory lap for Joaquin’s enormously successful Oscar campaign for Joker, and it’s not like he’s really promoting anything, and yet… it barely feels like he actually gave GQ an interview. Much of the piece is just a summary of Phoenix’s best roles and various speeches and interviews he’s made previously. Any new information isn’t presented in quote form, almost like Joaquin is too elusive to even be nailed down by WORDS. So here is my attempt to try to find something noteworthy about this interview:

He barely watches his own films or anyone else’s films: Phoenix doesn’t much like to watch movies of himself; he finds them excruciating. Partly, it’s because he’s striving for something that he feels he never quite finds. But also, he doesn’t much like to watch movies generally, preferring documentaries for the most part. His favourite film, he will often say, is the Will Ferrell comedy Step Brothers. It helps that Step Brothers is a comedy, as it means Phoenix is less aware of the joins. For almost all other films, he equates it to a magician watching someone else perform tricks. He knows them all. Sometimes he’ll see a great one, one with actor and director working seamlessly, where he can’t figure out the moving parts, but it’s only then that he finds himself finally caught up in the moment. “With so many movies, it’s not really enjoyable.”

Acting techniques are bulls–t: Joaquin Phoenix has a theory about acting and that theory is this: everything they teach you as a kid is wrong. Or, as he will put it, “completely f–king wrong”. They teach you to remember your lines. Wrong! They teach you to follow your light. Wrong! They teach you to hit your mark. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Those are the things, Phoenix will argue, that you shouldn’t do. Despite more than 30 years as a professional actor, he’s purposefully not learnt the technical names or industry terms. One interviewer from the New York Times had to explain to him what a “tent-pole” movie was (“Tent-pole movie, is that what it’s called?”). He came to this conclusion around the time of Walk The Line, which was entertaining but by the numbers. He realised he didn’t want to do that kind of acting any more. “You just act and it’s so ugly.”

He checked himself into rehab after Walk the Line: Just after he shot Walk The Line. He’d been drinking heavily and going to clubs. He thought of himself, he says now, as a hedonist. He was an actor in LA. He wanted to have a good time. “But I wasn’t engaging with the world or myself in the way I wanted to. I was being an idiot, running around, drinking, trying to screw people, going to stupid clubs.” It was also around this time he flipped his car on a winding LA side road. Bloodied, bruised and disorientated, he was about to light a cigarette when he got a knock on the window and a German voice said, “Just relax.” Phoenix said he was relaxed and rolled down the window, but the German voice replied, “No, you’re not,” pointing out that he was about to light a cigarette in a car that was leaking petrol. The Good Samaritan, Phoenix realised after climbing out, was the director Werner Herzog. Phoenix didn’t need the push to go to rehab: he just checked himself in. And while he hasn’t exactly quit drinking altogether – he still drinks when he flies, because he still hates flying – he has stopped smoking weed.

[From British GQ]

I’ve never heard that story about Werner Herzog and rehab. I honestly forgot that Joaquin went to rehab at one point? But I vaguely remember the car crash story, and the concerns that Joaquin might have been on the same path as River. It was such a long time ago. For as much as Joaquin (and other people) want to make it sound like his life is so weird and avant-garde, it really does seem like he just lives quietly with Rooney Mara and they go for walks with their dogs and make vegan food together and watch documentaries, right? As for all of the stuff about magicians’ tricks and acting theories… I mean, is it really that big of a f–king deal? No. It isn’t.

Joaquin Phoenix in the press room during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on...

Photos courtesy of WENN, cover courtesy of British GQ.

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8 Responses to “Joaquin Phoenix: Everything they teach kids about acting is completely wrong”

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  1. Erinn says:

    “Despite more than 30 years as a professional actor, he’s purposefully not learnt the technical names or industry terms. One interviewer from the New York Times had to explain to him what a “tent-pole” movie was (“Tent-pole movie, is that what it’s called?”).”

    I don’t know about everyone else, but if I willfully decided to not learn any technical terms related to my job, I’d be in major trouble. Just imagine a Dr being like “I need to take the little hammer thingy and see if your leg does the kicky thing”

    I just never really know with Joaquin. I think he can be so smart at times, and then such a tool other times.

    • Eleonor says:

      I think he is one of those gifted people who, because of their talent, can get away with anything.
      If somone else said something like this I would say “tryhard”, but he can get a pass because, well because he can really act.

    • Elizabeth says:

      He’s definitely a tool at times, but those terms aren’t universal, if they don’t work for him, he should absolutely do his own thing. Find your light is kind of dumb, let’s be honest. Those aren’t technical terms in the way medicine has technical terms.

  2. Ashley says:

    I don’t know why but I can’t get on the Joaquin bandwagon. I guess because he always played characters I didn’t like (Parenthood, Gladiator, he always looks sinister).

    And this would make me angry as an actor. There are people that really do study their craft and try to be the best at it and Joaquin is just like “that’s stupid“. And not liking to watch movies? How do you be an actor if you can’t watch movies? I love movies so this was kind of a terrible statement for me.

    I didn’t understand how Mara got involved with him. I like her one or two of her movies, but she’s no prize either. she’s one note as an actress, which makes it funny that Joaquin is so into his portrayals, but I guess they kind of fit. Maybe Joaquin is a toally différent person than how he is perceived? He just always comes off as being so above it all that it’s insufferable.

    But the vegan cooking and the animals are kind of conflicting. Maybe he just needs a better publicist.

  3. Jules says:

    I just can’t take actors seriously when they take themselves too seriously. Reminds me of the movie Team America World Police, which just tooled on actors.

  4. Pandora says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure he didn’t give any interview for this. Everything in here is made up of previously known details and quotes from other interviews. Even the photographs are from his win at the BAFTAs. I get the feeling they couldn’t land an actual interview with him so they decided to do a profile without his involvement. This is nothing new in the current era of celeb journalism.

  5. Laurie says:

    He does have a Mike Mills movie coming out later this year. However, I’m not sure if it’s getting postponed because of the pandemic?