Village Person - Joaquin Phoenix

Submitted by John Millar on Sun, 01/30/2005 - 16:00

John Millar You were in Signs - what about working second time round with Night?
Joaquin Phoenix It was great. It was not like working with someone 10 years after the fact. We had developed a shorthand in Signs and that was able to come over into this. To be honest, there was also something intimidating about it. Part of what's good about working with someone that you've never worked with before is that they don't know you and they are getting to know the character - they don't know the difference between what's you and what's the character. After Signs, Night and I got to know each other a lot better so he was able to tell when I was bullshitting much easier than before - so that was a little intimidating.
Millar What was your boot camp experience?
Phoenix It was really just an opportunity for us to really focus on the film, to not have any other distractions and to get to know each other - really in character - and to develop our relationships in character, which I think is really important. It depends on the actors. There are some actors who really embrace each part and try to lose themselves in the part. Then there are others who are on their phones all the time. So to get all of us actors together in an isolated environment was really beneficial. At least, I found it so.
Millar What's the truth of the story that you went into the night to face your fears of the dark?
Phoenix I went into the woods with Adrien Brody and this kid Fran to sleep there one night. They sent me to get wood and when I came back, they were gone. I sat around waiting and suddenly sticks would fly at me from the dark and there were some noises. That was really the extent of it. It was like junior high pranks, not me facing my fear.
Millar Would you have done The Village if Night had not been attached to it?
Phoenix Actually, I would have. When we were making Signs, I said to Night that I had always wanted to play a mute in a film. I wanted to know what it was like to have to convey a range of emotions without having much dialogue. So when I got the script, it was perfect. It was what I had always wanted to try.
Millar Are you wary when people say they have written something for you?
Phoenix It doesn't give me hesitation, but I definitely feel more pressure. With Night I always feel a great deal of pressure, because he knows his films so well. He knows his characters so well. He has a full history of each character. You kind of get the sense that he could almost act the part better than you could. That can be intimidating. With all good directors you always have a feeling that you don't want to let them down. I know with Night that each story is so personal and that he puts such a great deal of work into his screenplays. You feel this overwhelming need to succeed.
Millar How do you feel when you give a great performance in a great film and it doesn't do well at the box office?
Phoenix I'll be totally honest. The only reason why I care if a movie succeeds or not is that it allows me to continue to work. A $100million movie gives you great opportunities. But for me personally it's
just the process of making the film that I enjoy. In some ways I couldn't care less if someone sees it, or doesn't.
Millar When you first read Signs what did you connect to in that script?
Phoenix I can't think of anything. I wanted to work with Night. I hadn't seen The Sixth Sense when it came out in the theatres. I was actually working on Gladiator when it came out. I think Night wanted me to play the role that Donnie Wahlberg played in The Sixth Sense. They talked to me about that. When I was doing Gladiator, there was one point where I had a break - like a week off - and I called Casey Affleck on the phone and he said "Man, there is this new movie The Sixth Sense, you gotta see it. It's unbelievable!" That was the first that I heard about it. Then once I got back to the States and it had come out on video, I saw it. I was like "Yeah, that's the kind of movie that I would like to make". It was just the patience that Night has and the rhythm in his films that really allows a scene to breathe. It seems that he is as interested in the process of arriving at the point of the scene as much as anything. That's what I really like about acting - the opportunity to solve a problem. You have the answer, but what gives you the answer? What is the problem? You have to figure that. That's what acting is to me and I love that process.
Millar What was it like working with Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt?
Phoenix Sigourney and I had a relationship like we had in the film. I think she probably asked me a lot of questions and I didn't say much.
Millar Sigourney liked ploughing for The Village, what about you?
Phoenix I made a pasta dish that no one ate. It was inedible. A broccoli pasta. Yeah, we did all that stuff...ploughing the field and scything...that's some work! No joke! Every muscle in your body hurts and that I didn't enjoy at all. When I started a fire, I was there for 24 hours rubbing sticks together. Everyone else had gone to dinner. So, finally, I just got out my lighter and yelled,"Fire!" For me that whole process was just getting to know everybody more than anything. I remember seeing Sigourney out ploughing the field. Her time was up and she was like "No!" She really enjoyed it.
Millar What about the locals out on your location?
Phoenix There was no one around. It was really kept under wraps.
Millar Did you miss anything during the boot camp experience and being isolated?
Phoenix No, not that I disliked it. But when I work, I always feel quite isolated and stop communicating with my friends and family and just get into the work.
Phoenix Do you have plans to work with Night again?
Phoenix If he'll have me. Nothing is planned.