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An unconventional actor with a propensity for intense performances, Joaquin Phoenix broke out on his own following the tragic death of brother River Phoenix with the indie gem "To Die For" (1995). Previously credited as Leaf Phoenix, the actor had his start in films like "SpaceCamp" (1986) and "Parenthood" (1989) before nearly leaving acting for good after his brother's drug overdose in 1993. Phoenix picked himself up from the loss to star in films like "U Turn" (1997) and "Inventing the Abbotts" (1997) before earning acclaim and an Oscar nomination for playing the Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott's Roman epic "Gladiator" (2000). That same year, he received further acclaim as the profoundly religious Abbé in "Quills" (2000), while elevating his profile with "Signs" (2003), "Ladder 49" (2004), "The Village" (2004) and "Hotel Rwanda" (2004). Phoenix found himself in Academy Award contention once more for playing bad boy country singer Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" (2005). After starring in "Reservation Road" (2007), he appeared to go off the deep end by abruptly announcing his retirement from Hollywood in 2008 in order to pursue a rap music career. Phoenix made public appearances in frazzled, unkempt...
An unconventional actor with a propensity for intense performances, Joaquin Phoenix broke out on his own following the tragic death of brother River Phoenix with the indie gem "To Die For" (1995). Previously credited as Leaf Phoenix, the actor had his start in films like "SpaceCamp" (1986) and "Parenthood" (1989) before nearly leaving acting for good after his brother's drug overdose in 1993. Phoenix picked himself up from the loss to star in films like "U Turn" (1997) and "Inventing the Abbotts" (1997) before earning acclaim and an Oscar nomination for playing the Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott's Roman epic "Gladiator" (2000). That same year, he received further acclaim as the profoundly religious Abbé in "Quills" (2000), while elevating his profile with "Signs" (2003), "Ladder 49" (2004), "The Village" (2004) and "Hotel Rwanda" (2004). Phoenix found himself in Academy Award contention once more for playing bad boy country singer Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" (2005). After starring in "Reservation Road" (2007), he appeared to go off the deep end by abruptly announcing his retirement from Hollywood in 2008 in order to pursue a rap music career. Phoenix made public appearances in frazzled, unkempt states - most notably on David Letterman - which aroused suspicions that he may have been pulling an Andy Kaufman, which proved to be the case after the release of the mockumentary "I'm Still Here" (2010). With a return to critical favor following "The Master" (2012), Phoenix resumed his career as a gifted performer with eclectic taste.
Joaquin Phoenix was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 28 1974. His parents John and Arlyn Bottom were missionaries with the Children of God, who raised their family on the road throughout Central and South America, with their two eldest, River and Rain, playing music and handing out religious pamphlets on the streets for money. In 1977, after several years in Venezuela, the Bottoms decided to quit the cult and River, Rain, Joaquin, and Liberty hopped a freighter to Florida, changing the family name to Phoenix as a symbol of their new beginning. The bohemian home-schooled, vegan clan initially struggled to make ends meet, especially after the addition of sister Summer and health issues that forced dad John to quit his gardening job. Musical duo River and Rain had gotten good responses at local talent contests and the family assumed that their talent would be welcome and probably lucrative in Hollywood. They packed up the station wagon and moved to Los Angeles - the family's 20th move in 10 years - where they rented an empty school and set up camp. Arlyn got a job as a secretary at NBC and found an agent who agreed that she had a team of unusually creative kids.
Eldest sibling River landed a regular role on "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (CBS, 1982-83), and Joaquin, who had changed his name to Leaf, scored a guest spot by association. He joined his big brother again in "Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia" (1984), with the pair being honored with Young Actor Awards. In 1986, Phoenix struck out on his own and became a regular on "Morningstar/Eveningstar" (CBS, 1986), a short-lived dramatic series in which the residents of a retirement home take in the residents of an orphanage that has burned down. Phoenix entered features inauspiciously as an adorable moppet who befriends an even cuter robot in "Space Camp" (1986). He offered a wooden rendition of a gung-ho kid who comes upon a beached Soviet sailor in the well-meaning "Russkies" (1987), but with Ron Howard's "Parenthood" (1989), something clicked. Phoenix was a standout playing the troubled preteen son of Dianne Wiest. He was again honored by the Young Actor Awards for his supporting character, whose furrowed brow, intense introversion, and seeming discomfort in his own skin demonstrated Phoenix's strength for inhabiting sensitive, conflicted men.
Following that first triumph, Phoenix did not act for several years. At the age of 15, he took an extended solo trek backpacking through Central America. In October 1993, he was involuntarily thrust in the spotlight following the tragic death of his talented brother. Phoenix had been at the Sunset Strip nightclub, the Viper Room, with River the night the 23-year-old actor took a lethal combination of drugs, and it was his voice on the frantic 911 phone call that news shows insisted on playing, despite the private nature of the moment. It was a life-changing moment for Phoenix, who was never the same again after losing his older brother. Several years later, Gus Van Sant, who had directed River in "My Own Private Idaho"(1991), recognized Phoenix's familial intensity and tapped his little brother to co-star in "To Die For" (1995). Phoenix - who, by this time, had changed his name back to Joaquin - was quietly brilliant as a burnout teenager seduced by an ambitious local newswoman (Nicole Kidman) into murdering her career-squelching husband. In 1997, Phoenix co-starred in "Inventing the Abbotts" (1997), a drama about two brothers who discover a secret connection between their family and that of three beautiful sisters. The hot young cast included Liv Tyler, with whom Phoenix began a highly publicized off-screen relationship, though it became clear that he was uncomfortable with publicity, interviews, or any of the peripheral requirements of being a film actor.
Phoenix next played the hot-headed young husband of Claire Danes in Oliver Stone's comic noir failure, "U-Turn," before pairing up twice with Vince Vaughn. In "Return to Paradise" (1998), Phoenix earned critical acclaim for playing an American jailed in Malaysia for possession of drugs, while the black comedy "Clay Pigeons" (1998) saw him as a quiet mechanic duped by Vaughn's smooth-talking, truck-driving serial killer. Continuing his rise, Phoenix played a streetwise punk who helps detective Nicolas Cage in his search for the truth behind what appears to be a snuff film in "8mm" (1999), directed by Joel Schumacher.
The year 2000, however, proved a banner one for the actor, as he finally broke through to the A-list. He garnered attention as the slick aide to a corrupt businessman in John Gray's "The Yards" (2000), before nearly stealing "Gladiator" (2000) from star Russell Crowe with his malevolently operatic take on the young emperor, Commodus. His most high-profile role to date earned him Golden Globe, Oscar, and BAFTA nominations among many others, transforming him into a highly sought-after supporting player. Phoenix, however, was not much interested in Hollywood accolades and glad-handing; instead, continuing to take roles based on their creative challenges. These roles often challenged the cast and crew as well, with Phoenix earning a reputation as an actor who thoroughly became his character over the course of a production. Lastly, Phoenix demonstrated his range by underplaying his next high profile part, the Abbe Coulmier who oversees the Charenton madhouse where the Marquis de Sade has been confined in "Quills" (2000). Skillfully delineating a man of the cloth torn by his duty and his desires, the actor offered a fine performance that was a capper to a prolific year.
In 2002, Phoenix appeared with Mel Gibson in the thriller "Signs." The M. Night Shyamalan film told the story of a family who discovers mysterious crop circles on their farmland, with Phoenix playing Gibson's amusingly wide-eyed and naive younger brother. Phoenix next starred with Claire Danes in the little-seen romantic drama "It's All About Love" (2003), the story of lovers' attempts to save their relationship in a near-future world on the brink of cosmic collapse. The actor also provided the voice of Kenai, an Inuit hunter, in Disney's animated "Brother Bear" (2003).
In 2004, Phoenix graduated to leading man status with headlining roles in three films. First, he reunited with Shyamalan for the tension-filled thriller "The Village," playing a bold young member of an isolated 19th Century village whose desire to see the outside world threatens to break the community's pact with the mysterious creatures who live in the surrounding forest. He also took the lead in the firefighting drama "Ladder 49" (2004), playing a firefighter who reflects on his life, loves and career while awaiting rescue from a blaze. The actor fully immersed himself in the role by training with the Baltimore Fire Department for a month and participating in live rescue missions. Next Phoenix earned high praise for his turn as a cynical journalist witnessing the horrific 1994 genocide in "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), co-starring an excellent Don Cheadle as the manager of a luxury hotel where fleeing Tutsis go to seek refuge.
Proving to be an actor of rare versatility, Phoenix followed up with his biggest and most important role to date - playing country music legend Johnny Cash in James Mangold's biopic "Walk the Line" (2005). The casting choice was blessed by no less than the Man in Black himself, following a meeting in which Cash quoted the actor with verbatim lines from "Gladiator." Phoenix nailed the American music legend with stirring accuracy, chronicling his transformation from a self-conscious young performer to the commanding, nearly riot-inducing presence of the famed concert at Folsom Prison. Intensive vocal training made for surprisingly effective singing and playing of Cash's tunes, earning him not an Oscar nomination nor a Golden Globe win, but a Grammy for the soundtrack.
When Phoenix checked himself into a rehab facility for alcoholism in April of 2005, the film's gripping detox scenes took on a new poignancy - the memory of what demons had driven his brother to an early grave was never far from mind either. He subsequently took a much-needed hiatus from the demands of "Walk the Line" and spent time directing music videos for bands like Silversun Pickups and Albert Hammond Jr., among others. Phoenix also traveled to Brazil to participate in a documentary about the native Yanawana tribe for the socially-conscious production company Direct Current Media, immersing himself in the community and culture.
Phoenix may have evolved into an A-list Hollywood actor, but he never left behind the moral and political beliefs of his idealistic upbringing. He remained a staunch vegan and animal rights activist, appearing in vegetarian and anti-fur advertisements for PETA and participating in fundraising events for In Defense of Animals. Phoenix also garnered some publicity for his insistence on an entirely synthetic, PETA-approved wardrobe for his role as Johnny Cash, including plastic cowboy boots. He acted as a spokesman for The Peace Alliance - an organization seeking the establishment of a governmental Department of Peace - and Amnesty International. Phoenix was also on the board of directors of The Lunchbox Fund, a food relief program for school-age children in South Africa. In 2005, the San Diego Film Festival honored him with a Humanitarian Award for his voiceover contribution to "Earthlings" (2005), a documentary project about animal abuses in manufacturing and industry.
Phoenix returned to the screen in the fall of 2007 in "We Own the Night," his third film for director Michael Gray. He co-starred with the equally intense Mark Wahlberg for a tale of family and professional loyalties in the nightclub and drug-dealing world of 1980s Brooklyn. Despite fine performances from the stars, it failed to make much of a dent in the public or critical consciousness. At the same time, Phoenix rolled out "Reservation Road," a family drama pairing him with Mark Ruffalo with highly-anticipated results. Only a few months before the 2009 release of his Brooklyn-set romantic drama, "Two Lovers," co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Phoenix raised eyebrows by announcing his retirement from acting in order to focus on rap music. Following the announcement, Phoenix began appearing in public with a scruffy beard, uncombed hair and dark sunglasses - all meant to publicly display an alleged mental breakdown. A bizarre appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993- ) in early 2009, where he rambled incoherently while avoiding direct answers, became fodder for public ribbing. Just weeks later, even Ben Stiller mocked Phoenix's strange new persona at the Academy Awards by donning similar scruffy garb.
With questions and confusion mounting over Phoenix's apparent descent into madness, it became known that friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck was following him around with a camera, documenting the fall of a movie star and rise of a rap artist for his so-called documentary, "I'm Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix" (2010). Just a week after its early September 2010 release, Affleck alluded in The New York Times that Phoenix's alleged meltdown and attempts to become a rap star were indeed a piece of public performance art - something even casual observers of the two-year ruse believed to be true. It was also revealed through other sources - though denied by Affleck - that Letterman was in on the joke for their 2009 interview, something that recalled similar ones the host conducted with unhinged comic Andy Kaufman on his old late night program two decades previous. Despite the public hoopla, and arguments over whether Phoenix was the second coming of Kaufman or a pale imitation, "I'm Still Here" opened in very limited released, earning barely six figures its first weekend. Back to taking acting seriously, Phoenix was cast by Paul Thomas Anderson to co-star in "The Master" (2012), in which he played a World War II veteran struggling to adjust to life after the war who is taken under the wing of a quasi-religious leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) not unlike Scientology's L. Ron Hubbard, to spread his teachings across the country. As the film was hailed by critics, Phoenix was praised for a powerhouse performance that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
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CAST: (feature film)
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With his Oscar nomination for "Gladiator", Phoenix became half of the only pair of brothers to receive acting nods. Older brother River Phoenix was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for 1988's "Running on Empty".
"I never lost the urge. I had a lot of opportunities, but I never liked them. They were all so cliched. I just wasn't interested in 'she's my stepmother, and I pour ketchup on them,' that kind of ridiculous movie."---Phoenix on his break from acting in the early 1990s, to Stephen Schaefer of The Boston Herald, September 25, 1998.
"Joaquin is a guy who has seen a lot, been through a lot, yet he's warm, not bitter. He's chosen not to shut himself off. I feel a real brotherly love for him; he's more than just a friend."---Vince Vaughn
"The reason why I keep making movies, which is the reason why I keep doing interviews, is 'cause I hate the last thing that I did. I'm always trying to rectify my wrongs."---Joaquin Phoenix quoted in Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1998.
"I had a really wonderful upbringing. We were a tight family. It was wonderful to grow up with so may siblings. We were all just about a year or two apart, and we were always so supportive of each other. I learned everything from my older brother and sister and taught it to my younger sisters."---Phoenix quoted in Daily News, August 11, 1998.
"I'll never live down my character in 'To Die For'. See, the problem is, if early in your career you come out with a really well-defined character that kind of establishes you, you become known for that. For a while after 'To Die For', I didn't care, but eventually it bothered me and I started defending myself, citing my other work, not that I played Edward Teller or fucking Richard III, but even that's pathetic, having to defend yourself in that way. It's ridiculous and embarrassing and who gives a shit? Why should I have to defend myself like that? I did it, it was good, it's over. Fuck it!"---Joaquin Phoenix to Movieline, March 1998.
"I've come to a nearer acceptance, I wouldn't say understanding, because it's something I'll never understand, but just an acceptance of River's death. What was difficult in the beginning was that I felt robbed of my memories. See, a public death is a really difficult thing to go through. The death of someone you love is difficult enough all on its own. Then, when your memories of what happened are distorted and put out there for public concumption... you just feel so robbed. Anything that was mine, that I knew, people would angle for, try to ask me, they wanted to know things. From the inside, tell me a little bit from the inside."---Phoenix quoted in Movieline, March 1998.
"I think he feels uncomfortable doing interviews and being around people he doesn't know, I understand, because you can't be completely honest. It's like thinking of the right thing to say and not just on impulse."---Liv Tyler about Phoenix to Empire, April 1997.
"To try and be a part of only one style or one genre is limiting. I don't limit myself that way."
"I'm not the indie kid and I'm also not the John Grisham novel hero, but I am all of those things. I do whatever excites me at the time. I'll be in some huge $80 million buddy cop movie, I don't care, and I'll also do some wild independent movie. I refuse to have an agenda."---Phoenix quoted in the London Times, November 9, 2000.
"If he wanted to, he could be the biggest actor in the world."---director M. Night Shyamalan on Phoenix to Premiere
Phoenix was offered the part in "Gladiator", he instead asked to audition, just to make sure he deserved it.
"It's a chore to talk about my personal life, it's nobody's business. It doesn't really work for me as an actor. The less someone knows about me, the better, because my intention is to play a variety of characters. We so often try to pin actors down and label them as entertainers. I like acting. That's what I do, that's what I enjoy. I finish it, and I'm really sad, and then they tell me I have to talk about the movie and myself. Well, wait a minute. Didn't I just spend three months making the movie?"---Phoenix Eonline
"If you're doing it for outside validation, you're going to be destroyed," Phoenix says. "The same thing that can make you feel great one moment, saying you're wonderful one moment, and the next you're [not]. I think I'm conscious of that. I've always done things for me. That sounds really selfish. I don't know any other way to do it. That's what drives me."---Phoenix on acting as quoted in USA Weekend, July 28, 2002.
"I like characters who have conflicted emotions," Phoenix insists. "It's much more realistic and less limiting in terms of what you can do as an actor."---Phoenix quoted in Total Film (UK), September 2003.
"Once I'd done To Die For, I felt such a sense of fulfillment in working that I realized that is what had been missing and it was what I wanted to continue to do."
"I don't know if I can really articulate what it is that keeps me coming back, except it's just reaching these moments of understanding when you're trying to solve this puzzle with all of the characters, or it's the theme of the film. And when you're successful in doing that it's the greatest feeling in the world."
"I love that feeling, and I will do twenty horrible scenes that I completely fail at just to have that one where you hit it. I guess that's why I keep going back."---Phoenix on why he started acting again after a long absence to IGN FilmForce, July 24, 2003.
"He's a very caring person with a lot of integrity, very sensitive... He reminds me a little bit of Bill Hurt in a way because Bill cares very much about things."---From Sigourney Weaver, who plays his mother in "The Village."
"That's a real compliment to me... He (Phoenix) goes way deep."---from William Hurt himself, who plays the village's leader in "The Village."
"He's acting on a different plane. He's almost superhuman."---From Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays the woman who loves him in "The Village." as quoted to CNN.com, August 4, 2004
On April 12, 2005 Joaquin Phoenix's publicist announced that he had checked into an undisclosed rehabilitation facility for treatment of alcoholism
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