Calm amidst the controversy surrounding his brand-new movie, Phoenix talks around his facility journey, why that doesn’t define him, and also how he’s ultimately learned to leaving the darkness top top the set.

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CLOWNING GLORYJoaquin Phoenix, photographed in Beverly Hills. Suit by Wacko Maria; shirt and also tie by Saint Laurent through Anthony Vaccarello; sneakers by Converse.Photograph by Ethan James Green; Styled by Tom Guinness.

Not long prior to we drive to his favorite episode bar in Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix, the actor, tells the story of just how he came to be a vegan.

It to be October 28, 1977, his third birthday, and also Phoenix and also his family members were plank a cargo delivery bound because that Miami indigenous Venezuela. His parents had actually just abandoned their lives as followers of a notorious spiritual cult, the children of God, which was led by a charismatic previous preacher named David Berg, who referred to as himself Moses. Phoenix’s parents, who spent much of the so late 1960s wandering the West coast in a VW microbus, had end up being missionaries, traveling about the southern U.S., Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, and also giving bear to Rain, Joaquin, and Liberty along the way. Come sing about God, Rain and first-born river went busking ~ above the street. The organization made Phoenix’s parental “the archbishops” the Venezuela and Trinidad.


Photograph by Ethan James Green; Styled by Tom Guinness.
In those years, children of God had actually not descended fully into the darkness and perversion because that which it came to be infamous, including the use of sex because that recruitment and allegedly introducing kids to sex at a young age. The household was far from Berg’s orbit. Once they realized what was happening, the Phoenixes, whose last surname was then Bottom, left the cult, disillusioned, penniless, and also expecting a fifth child, Summer.


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The freighter was moving a container through Tonka toys, and the crew provided Phoenix a truck and also made him a date of birth cake. “I vividly remember this cake, and also I think that was most likely the an initial cake the I ever before had, choose a proper cake,” Phoenix says. “I remember the toys. I had never gained a brand-new toy before, and really the many jarring and also intense memory was what led to our veganism.”

He and his larger siblings, River and Rain, to be watching paris fish leap the end of the water when Joaquin observed some fishermen pulling their catches off your rods and also throwing lock violently versus nails that had been pounded right into the wall of the vessel. At the moment, he says, it dawned top top him that the fish his parents had been feeding him ago in Venezuela, whereby they stayed in a beach house and also sang prayer songs to God on the streets, were actually these helpless, flapping creatures being tortured to fatality on deck.

“It to be so violent, it was simply so intense,” he recalls. “I have actually a vivid storage of my mom’s face, which—I have actually seen that same face maybe one various other time, where she was totally speechless because we yelled in ~ her. ‘How come you didn’t tell united state that’s what fish was?’ ns remember tears streaming under her face.… She didn’t know what to say.”

Two months later, after relocating to Winter Park, Florida, the whole family converted to veganism. In 1979 they piled right into a station wagon—with a new last name, Phoenix—and drove to Hollywood, where they changed themselves as an unlikely troupe of boy actors and also singers who showed up in TV shows favor Family Ties and also Hill Street Blues, espoused veganism and also animal rights, and also featured a beautiful eldest son, the shooting star river Phoenix.


Hoodie and also T-shirt through Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello; pants by Wacko Maria.


Photograph by Ethan James Green; Styled through Tom Guinness.
When Joaquin Phoenix unsheathes his chopsticks because that the seaweed salad at Asanebo, the Japanese restaurant in Studio City, this story adds to the queasy emotion that the actor might be offended by the platter of life mackerel that shows up at the table.

“Dude, carry out your thing,” he shrugs, casual in a black T-shirt and rolled-up pants, graying hair slicked back. “Not anyone is together evolved.”

He’s kidding. Maybe. With an impish smile, he lets the comment hang. “It’s approximately you,” the says, and also then bursts into maniacal laughter: “It’s for this reason fucked up!”

Later, he speak me to “enjoy your swastika” before stepping out for a cigarette. Phoenix’s ethical intensity and also sense of comedy—that laugh—define his talent as an actor, in addition to a sense of vulnerability. In his recent role, as Arthur Fleck in the mental comic publication drama Joker, he transforms himself right into a tortured and also mentally rough loner driven to very inhumane acts of violence—against humans—in pursuit of a quixotic stand-up comedy career. ~ above camera his cackling laughter, sheepish grin, and also slow-blinking eyes channel unforeseen heartbreak and also humanity in a DC Comics rogue from Batman—in fact, erasing any type of trace of comic books and instead presenting a character study of a fevered vigilante experiencing from psychological illness, alienation, narcissism, and latent rage. Directed by Todd Phillips as an homage come grimy 1970s and also ’80s classics, particularly those do by boy name Scorsese v Robert De Niro (who costars), the film’s artful explicate of an alienated white male performing plot of nihilistic savagery has already rekindled the conversation end the relationship between Hollywood violence and the real-life sort seen last summer in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

After the Venice film Festival, wherein Joker premiered, a fiery controversy erupted over the movie’s nuanced relenten of a character not unlike the “involuntary celibates,” or incels, behind current mass shootings. Suddenly, the film’s likeness come Taxi Driver reminded those with long memories the Scorsese’s 1976 movie partially inspired the would-be assassin john Hinckley Jr., that shot Ronald Reagan in 1981. Variety called Joker “the rarely comic book movie the expresses what’s happening in the genuine world,” but Richard Lawson, writing for Vanity Fair, expressed an additional common sentiment, the it can be “irresponsible propaganda for the an extremely men the pathologizes.” In Venice, Joker took home best film, which likely would have been much more controversial had actually Roman Polanski no won the grand Jury Prize. “I no imagine the it would certainly be smooth sailing,” Phoenix states of the push reaction. “It’s a complicated film. In part ways, it’s good that civilization are having a solid reaction come it.”

Phoenix mainly wants come let the movie speak because that itself. “There’s so plenty of different ways of looking in ~ it,” Phoenix states of the Arthur Fleck/Joker character. “You have the right to either to speak here’s someone who, prefer everybody, needed to be heard and also understood and also to have actually a voice. Or you can say this is someone that disproportionately demands a big quantity of human being to be fixated on him. His satisfaction comes as he was standing in among the madness.”

Phoenix has constantly had an intuitive feel for the dark next of the human psyche. In Lynne Ramsay’s You Were never Really Here, indigenous 2017, he play a damaged hit male who death rich males who rape underage girl by hitting them v a ball-peen hammer. Before that, in Spike Jonze’s Her—during which the met his fiancée, costar Rooney Mara—he was a lonely depressive who finds love in his computer’s operating system. In 2010, the flummoxed anyone by playing a semifictional version of himself as a self-destructive actor trying to build a hip-hop career for the mockumentary I’m quiet Here—a movie the further facility the line between reality and fiction as soon as director Casey Affleck was sue for untoward habits by two female crew members—before returning v a bravura performance in The Master, together the unhinged devotee of an L. Ron Hubbard-like quasi-religious leader. That began a operation of finely wrought indie performances. “From a an extremely young age, I had actually an allergy to—what’s the word?—to just frivolous, meaningless kids’ stuff,” the says. “From an extremely young age. And also I don’t understand why. I’m sure you desire some Freudian explanation, perhaps there is.”

Observing the darkness in his work, the tempting to look for its resource in his an individual history. It no long back that he to be still being referred to as “the 2nd most renowned Phoenix,” his name connected most very closely with the fatality of his cult-legend brother, River, in 1993, which Joaquin witnessed, along with sister Rain, in former of the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard, then co-owned through Johnny Depp. The general public memory the his brother has actually faded sufficient that Joaquin is currently the most acquainted Phoenix, however the tragedy is never far for Joaquin himself. In component that’s since reporters never stop asking him about it. But he was additionally deeply influenced by his brother, and also by his death, also if he stays reluctant to draw a straight line between his unusual background and also his personal tragedy and also his talent because that inhabiting the morose, damaged, violent, and also otherwise anxiety-riddled personalities he take away on—roles he appears vividly do for.

“I try not to fucking think around that,” he says, v that half-comic ambiguity. “Why am i doing this fucking interview? You’re walk to ruin my acting.”

Joaquin Phoenix is, as he tells me in ~ one point, “as sensitive as any kind of motherfucker is.” as soon as I display up to his mission-style bungalow top top a steep canyon road in the Hollywood Hills, he’s in the kitchen boiling a pot of sweet potatoes for his vegan dogs, Oskar and Soda, the last a large white pit bull mix the rescued native euthanasia 13 years ago. Soda has an allergy to direct sunlight, which way she must be kept out of the sunlight from ripe to five. Phoenix bought she a specially made fit to go to the beach. “She looks so fucking cool however she doesn’t prefer it,” the says.

He lives with Mara, who in enhancement to playing his ex-wife in Her was mary Magdalene to Phoenix’s Jesus Christ in the Garth Davis-directed Mary Magdalene. (“Obviously that a part I was simply born to play,” Phoenix states dryly.) He believed Mara despised him throughout the do of Her however later learned she was just shy and actually liked him too. “She’s the only girl I ever looked up on the internet,” the says. “We were just friends, email friends. I’d never ever done that. Never looked up a girl online.”

Phoenix has actually recently gone through hypnosis to quit smoking, a habit he take it up as a teenager, however it no seem come be functioning out. His fingernails space chewed to nubs and he keeps 2 packs that American Spirits and several lighters close in ~ hand. “I eat yes, really healthy,” that says. “I don’t really prefer junk food. Ns don’t like processed foods. Right? but I still can—like, ok fuck increase a bag that chips. Prefer a fuckin’ Subway sandwich and shit.”

For Joker, the went on really restrictive diet—advised by the same doctor who aided him lose weight because that The Master—and lost 52 pounds. After ~ the film, that gained earlier 25, however the oily image of his severe, wraithlike body in the trailer because that Joker arrived choose a shock critical spring, proof that Phoenix had once again gone every in top top a role. Together Arthur Fleck, Phoenix leans into his physical features, native the scar ~ above his upper lip (not a surgically addressed cleft, that says, however a nonsurgical scar he to be born with) come his leonine gaze, sad-sack grin, and distended shoulder, which the was likewise born with. Phillips told that he looked choose “one of those bird from the Gulf of Mexico the they’re rinsing the tar off.” “He’s obtained the most amazing form,” he says. “He’s for this reason beautiful.”


RIVER RUNS v ITPhoenix was deeply affected by his brother, and by his death, though he is reluctant to draw a directly line in between that and his work.

Photograph by Ethan James Green; Styled by Tom Guinness.

Phillips, that directed the comedies Old School and also the Hangover series, pitched the idea of a Joker movie to Warner Bros. Together a kind of anti-superhero film, with virtually no CGI results or cartoonish plots, however instead a dark realism drained that heroics. Phillips had found it significantly difficult, he says, to make comedies in the new “woke” Hollywood, and his brand of irreverent bro humor has actually lost favor.

“Go shot to it is in funny nowadays v this wake up culture,” that says. “There were articles written around why comedies don’t work-related anymore—I’ll tell you why, since all the fucking funny guys are like, ‘Fuck this shit, because I don’t desire to offend you.’ It’s tough to argue v 30 million world on Twitter. You simply can’t perform it, right? so you just go, ‘I’m out.’ ns out, and also you know what? through all my comedies—I think that what comedies in basic all have in common—is they’re irreverent. So ns go, ‘How carry out I execute something irreverent, yet fuck comedy? Oh ns know, let’s take it the comic publication movie universe and also turn it on that is head through this.’ and also so that’s really whereby that come from.”

The result is a drama that doubles as a critique of Hollywood: one alienated white male whose fail to be funny drives him into a vengeful rage. V co-screenwriter Scott Silver, Phillips conceived an beginning story because that the Joker together a for-hire party clown and mentally ok loner in a late ’70s/early ’80s Gotham, illustration from the filmic color board of standards like Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and also One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He says he conceived the character v Phoenix in mind and also gave that the manuscript in so late 2017. What followed was four months of conversations in ~ Phoenix’s canyon house. Phoenix queried Phillips endlessly before he join the film—part the his process, it turns out, which also included questioning his mom to research the script. In pitching the movie to Phoenix, Phillips told him he essential to think the the film as a heist movie.

“What space you talking about?” Phoenix asked, confused. “There’s right any activity in it.”

Phillips cracked, “We’re gonna take it $55 million indigenous Warner Bros. And do whatever the hell we want.”

For Phoenix, the decision was more personal.

“To me, there to be a duration of time when we think about all those great films from the ’70s, it wasn’t a genre,” claims Phoenix. “It wasn’t like, this is a drama. The was just a movie. Favor Dog work Afternoon is, like, intense, heartbreaking, and fucking funny. And those space the movie that ns love. And those space the movies that i pursue.”

To build the character of Arthur Fleck, Phoenix did study on narcissism and also criminology and also studied the activities of Buster Keaton and actor beam Bolger, the scarecrow indigenous The wizard of Oz, which motivated the very creepy dance that so acutely expresses Fleck’s exclusive madness. During one scene, the screenplay called for Fleck come shut self in a bathroom after several murders, in search of a ar to hide his gun. Phoenix and also Phillips made decision it didn’t feel right, and also while they debated the scene, Phillips played Phoenix some recently composed music for the movie. Phoenix began dancing, an elegant, tango-like movement, and Phillips asked the cameraman to begin filming v a handheld camera, just the 3 of lock in the room when a crew that 250 waited outside. The step became component of an eye-popping trailer, set to a Jimmy Durante tune, “Smile.”

“For me, I constantly thought that acting must be prefer a documentary,” the continues. “That girlfriend should simply feel whatever it is the you’re feeling, what you think the personality is going through at that moment.”

Ironically, the 2 barely spoke on the set, in part because that their similar acting methods and also artistic superstitions. “I didn’t choose to talk to the on set,” says Phoenix. “The very first day us said good morning, and also beyond that ns don’t know that we talked much.”

“His character and also my character, we didn’t have to talk about anything,” claims De Niro. “We just say, ‘Do the work. Relate together the characters to each other.’ It provides it simpler and also we don’t . There’s no factor to.”

There was however some disagreement on the method to the method. Before shooting his scenes, De Niro want the cast to perform a read-through that the script, a practice he thought about standard. Phoenix, however, has regularly disliked doing read-throughs, component of his very own mercurial “let it happen” style. Recalls Phillips: “Bob referred to as me and he goes, ‘Tell him he’s an actor and he’s acquired to be there, I like to listen the whole movie, and also we’re going to all gain in a room and also just check out it.’ and I’m in in between a rock and a tough place due to the fact that Joaquin’s like, ‘There’s no fucking method I’m act a read-through,’ and also Bob’s like, ‘I do read-throughs before we shoot, it is what we do.’ ”

In De Niro’s agency offices in Manhattan, Phoenix mumbled his way through the script and afterward went into a corner to smoke. De Niro invited him come his office, top top a various floor, to talk, but Phoenix demurred. “He’s in front of Bob, and also he goes, ‘I can’t, i gotta go home,’ recalls Phillips, “because the felt sick after the read-through, he didn’t favor it.”

Phillips urged him to come up—this to be Robert De Niro, after ~ all—and Phoenix reluctantly agreed. After castle talked end a couple of minor issues, De Niro turned to Phoenix, take it his face in his hands, and kissed the on the cheek. “It’s going to it is in okay, bubbeleh,” that said.

“It to be so beautiful,” claims Phillips.

Last July, Warner Bros. previewed Joker come a choose group the journalists in ~ a screening room in a West Hollywood hotel. After watching Phoenix together the maniacal creep Arthur Fleck, ns went outside to find my rental vehicle had to be towed—the rookie move of a non-Angeleno. It was 8:30 at night, simply in time for a prescheduled phone contact from Joaquin Phoenix.

“Where room you?” the asked, providing to come to my aid. There was an uncomfortable moment as i told him the location. In one uncanny and also unfortunate coincidence, that was straight behind the Viper Room. Phoenix paused, then said: “I understand that’s ~ above Sunset, however what’s the overcome street?”

Having simply seen Phoenix in his harrowing role, it was difficult not to think of the grim night, October 31, 1993. It was three days after ~ Joaquin Phoenix’s 19th birthday. He had actually accompanied River and also Rain to the club, which to be frequented by the Hollywood brat pack of the era, including actors Keanu Reeves and Christina Applegate. One version of the story is that a renowned guitar player handed river a Dixie cup include a fluid concoction the heroin and also cocaine, and also he drank it—well over a lethal dose, the coroner later on determined. Together River convulsed on the sidewalk outside the club and also Rain looked on, Joaquin make the heartbreaking 911 call. The transcript of his panicked words—“Please acquire to him. Please! Please!”—would be printed in newspapers around the country.

Now, 26 year later, Phoenix drives up in a beat-up old black color Lexus, warm and also smiling in a pair the white karate pants and well-worn Converse sneakers, a tobacco dangling native his lip and also his hair not so lot combed back as yanked right into submission. Just ago from practicing karate, that goes automatically into the foyer the the nearby hotel come ask the manager for help finding where the automobile was towed, and also a couple of minutes later on we’re driving come Hollywood Tow Service, a fluorescent-lit garage top top an empty street, talking around Ray Bolger and also Phoenix’s current experiences v cryotherapy, where you reveal your human body to subzero temperature (“It’s amazing, friend gotta try it”).

“My parents were never negligent,” that says. As soon as Joaquin and also his siblings were children, his household was life in Venezuela, except the kids of God ar in the unified States. In 1977 they got a letter from the leader relenten a brand-new practice the “flirty fishing,” utilizing sex to carry in followers. “They acquired some letter, or yet it came, some pointer of that, and also they were like, ‘Fuck this, we’re outta here,’ ” Phoenix says. “I think they to be idealists, and also believed that they were v a group who common their beliefs, and their values. I think they more than likely were looking for safety, and family. Leave a country that had actually assassinated a president and any number of civil legal rights leaders within a couple of fucking years, i beg your pardon is so hard for me come fathom, right?”

His mother, who readjusted her an initial name come Heart, later on said “it took numerous years to obtain over our pain and loneliness” after ~ leaving the cult.

After the family members arrived in Florida, the singing and dancing continued, through River and also Rain forming a brother-sister act, winning talent contests and gaining the attention of neighborhood media. Once Phoenix’s father quit working since of one old earlier injury, his mom took charge: She sent out an article about the kids to an old acquaintance from the Bronx, penny Marshall, that was then starring in the abc sitcom Laverne & Shirley. Marshall’s office wrote ago to speak the family members should stop in if castle were ever in L.A., however hastened come warn them no to move there if castle weren’t currently coming. The family, having readjusted their last name to Phoenix, packed their station wagon and also moved come L.A. “We said, ‘Well, that’s an excellent enough,’ ” states Heart Phoenix. “It turned the end that we never ever did accomplish them.”

Heart got a job as a secretary for an executive, management at NBC and met a high-profile child agent named Iris Burton, who gained the kids into commercials and bit components on TV. To supplement their income, the kids sang their initial songs choose “Gonna do It,” written by River, and busked for money in corresponding yellow shirts and shorts. They learned dance; Joaquin ended up being an avid rest dancer.

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The Phoenix family members were both morally rigid—the youngsters would not appear in soda or rapid food commercials—and totally freewheeling: when Joaquin inquiry his mommy if that could readjust his name, she told the yes, and he walk to watch his father, who remained in the yard raking leaves. A moment later on his new name to be Leaf.

In part ways, his early on roles together Leaf Phoenix collection the tone for his career. In an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, because that instance, he play a deaf well-off boy who witnesses a murder and hatches a arrangement to blackmail the murderer. He also costarred with River in an ABC Afterschool Special called “Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia.”