Joaquin Phoenix: Tough Childhood, Worldwide Fame and Other Little Known Facts about the 'Walk The Line' Actor
His life has been as complex as that of some of his characters, if not more, and that could explain how versatile the actor can be in his work. Here’s what you need to know about him.
Since his breakthrough role in 2000’s “Gladiator”, Phoenix has developed a reputation of being quite an eccentric actor that takes things to the limit for the sake of his art. These are some of the secrets behind the “Joker” star.
Joaquin is one of five children that spent the early years of their lives as part of a controversial Christian cult established in South America, known as the Children of God, with their parents John Lee and Arlyn Bottom joining in the 1970s.
As the family followed the group across the US and abroad, they struggled to support themselves, and the children saw themselves forced to perform in the streets to make money.
Once the couple found out the dark truths about the cult, which involved abuse, misconduct, and financial manipulation, they decided to cut ties with it for good and moved to Los Angeles.
Way before Joaquin became a big name in Hollywood, there was his younger brother River, who achieved fame as a child actor in the 1986 drama “Stand by Me” alongside the likes of Wil Wheaton, Cory Feldman, and Kiefer Sutherland.
But River’s promising career came to an abrupt stop when he died of an overdose in 1993 after collapsing at the infamous nightclub Viper Room. Both his brother Joaquin and his sister Rainn were present when it happened.
In fact, it was a 19-year-old Joaquin that placed the 911 call about the incident. As much as he avoids talking about his brother, Joaquin’s call was released by the media and constantly played.
I’M STILL HERE
In 2008, Joaquin tried to fool everybody into believing that he had quitted acting to become a hip-hop artist. The announcement was followed by a series of troubling appearances by the actor that made the media wonder what was wrong with him.
In fact, it was all part of an elaborated plan by Joaquin and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, who created a fake documentary feature about the downfall of Joaquin to explore the public’s fascination with celebrities’ breakdowns.
The mockumentary, titled “I’m Still Here” was finally released in 2010. It was only then when it was revealed that the entire thing had been a hoax and that Joaquin had sacrificed two years of his career to make it happen.
In 2006, Joaquin was involved in a car accident that ended up with his car flipped over outside of the road. What could have been a tragedy, turned into a story that seems out of a surreal Hollywood film when a German filmmaker drove by.
77-year-old Werner Herzog, who has a home near the site of the crash, noticed the wreckage and tapped on the car’s window to check on a shocked Joaquin.
"There was this German voice saying 'Just relax'. "There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice. I felt completely fine and safe," Joaquin recalled in an interview with The Guardian later.
Joaquin has a very good argument for his decision of not allowing fans that approach him to take pictures with him. The “Her” star will rather share a genuine moment of conversation with a stranger than being fetishized as a famous face.
The actor shared a story with Playboy about a woman asking him for a picture in a store when he was with some friends and he enjoyed such a moment with her instead.
“I said, ‘You know what? I don’t do that, but thanks so much for coming up. I mean, I’m here with two of my friends and you’re alone and came up and said hi. That was really brave of you,’” Joaquin recalled.
“Whatever energy she had was gone instantly. We chatted a bit. It was fun,” he added.
A SURPRISING TALENT
By the time Joaquin was cast as legendary country music singer Johnny Cash for the 2005 biopic “Walk the Line,” he had already proved his worth as an actor, but he was the first to be surprised about his ability to sing.
Despite never having sung before, Joaquin managed to sing all the songs in the movie as well as learning how to play them on the guitar.
“I never sang before, but if I had tried to sing along to something it was to John Lennon and David Bowie, who both sing quite high. So to suddenly go to John was so odd to me. It was very strange to have to use a part of my voice that I didn't know existed," he told CNN.
LEAF/ BOTTOM / PHOENIX
There are a few curious facts about Joaquin’s name. In fact, he has had different names during his life, and we are not talking about screen names.
The actor was born Joaquin Bottom in 1974, but in 1978 he decided to change his name to “Leaf,” frustrated by the fact that people never knew how to pronounce his name and jealous about his siblings' meaningful names.
Joaquin kept the name until 1991, after taking a break from acting to later return with the name he is currently known for.
As of the last name Phoenix, it was adopted by the Bottoms as a symbolic family name after they fled the dark cult they were involved with in the past and started a new life.
Despite being a seasoned performer that started off as a child in the industry, Joaquin still has to overcome the anxiety that strikes him every time he embarks on a new role.
"They have to put [expletive] pads in my armpits because I sweat so much that it just drips down my wardrobe. For the first three weeks of shooting, I'm just sweating. It's pure anxiety, and I love it," he revealed in 2012.
“It's the stupidest thing in the whole world. It was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life when ‘Walk the Line’ was going through all the awards stuff and all that. I never want to have that experience again,” he once said.
Even if his portrayal of Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” earned him a Golden Globe win and an Academy Award nomination, Joaquin has grown ashamed of having stayed in character as a method actor all through the shooting of the film.
"I’m embarrassed about it now. But when I heard ‘Joaquin,’ it just didn’t feel right. It’s not a brilliant method. It’s simply that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I use all the help I can get. It’s an act of desperation,” he admitted.