Joaquin Phoenix: ‘I let go’

INTERVIEW – In Our children’s souls, The American actor plays a lost and immature reporter who agrees to take care of a young boy. And bet on emotion.

He is one of the most instinctive actors in Hollywood cinema. We know this wholeheartedly, focused on the most sincere approach to the profession possible. After winning the best actor award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for A Beautiful Day, by Lynne Ramsay, Joaquin Phoenix can afford what he wants. He was a terrifying Joker in Todd Phillips’ 2019 film. In a similar vein, he made an impression by playing Emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s peplum, Gladiator (2000). Without forgetting his unforgettable role in The night belongs to us, by James Gray (2007), or the way he slipped into the skin of Johnny Cash in the walk the line by James Mangold, in 2005. By agreeing to play in the independent film by Mike Mills Our children’s souls, he allows himself a step aside towards emotion and normality. He talks about it openly, while remaining on the defensive.

LE FIGARO. – How did you meet Mike Mills?

Joaquin Phoenix. – Mike and I met at an atrocious, but rather quiet and low-key restaurant in Los Angeles. (Laughs.) Even though I liked his script, I warned him that I couldn’t make the film. One thing leading to another, the conversation took shape. We continued to text each other. Mike invited me to his place. I still couldn’t do his film, but we kept talking about it… Finally, I agreed to do it by pushing the walls of my schedule. I do not regret it.

What did you bring to your character?

During filming, over the course of our discussions, we were able to modify the character of Johnny. Between the script and the film, Johnny has evolved quite a bit. Mike took my feedback into account and rewrote the role so that I could play it closer to my emotions. Johnny is a radio journalist, a little lonely boy, a little lost, single, a little immature, but reliable, full of humor. A solid guy to whom you can entrust a child.

Sometimes, I’m tired of the pressure generated by the roles I’m given in genre films!

Joaquin Phoenix

What attracted you most to him?

This is a question that I am asked regularly about my roles. Each time, I don’t know what to say. Let’s say that here I fell in love with the character. I sensed a real honesty in him. This is undoubtedly what attracted me the most. Sometimes I’m tired of the pressure caused by the roles I’m given in genre films!

How did you experience one of the most heartbreaking sequences of the film, when Johnny loses the child entrusted to him in New York?

I would rather say that this scene is more alarming than it is heartbreaking. What appealed to me was the loss of control, the idea that an adult who thinks he has some control over the world suddenly finds himself confronted with the unthinkable. This moment of uncertainty was magnified by the camera of Mike Mills.

How did you get along with young Woody Norman?

Above all, I think that adults who believe themselves responsible are wrong. We are all swimming in an ocean of uncertainty. And I find that most children have a finer understanding, a radar sense of reality. That’s what happened with Woody. We tamed each other. I let myself be guided. I let go. I allowed myself to play differently as we played together, we created a space for two in complete freedom.

Do you think this more serene role could mark a turning point in your career?

It’s up to you to tell me! (Laughs.) I think the image people have of me is totally distorted by the characters I’ve played. I assure you, I don’t look like my movie roles at all!


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