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Joaquin Phoenix

Is the Joker Joking?

Gettyimages | Theo Wargo
By Brian Hurwitz

Many actors go to extraordinary lengths to prepare for a role. They literally throw themselves into the emotional, mental and physical world of the characters they portray in hopes it brings true authenticity to their work. Joaquin Phoenix is just such a performer. In recent years he has offered the movie-going public some of the most memorable performances in the history of cinema and, after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a dramatic role, is favored to win his first Oscar. But owing to his commitment to his craft coupled with the Hollywood publicity machine, it's hard to tell where the actor stops and the man starts.

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River Phoenix
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:River_Phoenix.png

Discovered by a talent agent as a child dancing on the streets of Westwood, California with his four brothers and sisters, Phoenix quite literally grew up in the spotlight. He appeared on several hit TV shows such as Hill Street Blues and Murder, She Wrote along with hit films like Parenthood and SpaceCamp. Nominated for a number of prestigious awards while still in his teens Phoenix was hailed as a star on the rise. But when his older brother and best friend, the iconic acting powerhouse River, tragically died of an overdose right before his eyes, friends and family say Joaquin was never the same.

Owing to the intense media scrutiny his brother's death received, many believe Phoenix never forgave the press for their coverage of River's death. He's cultivated a love/hate relationship with reporters and photographers ever since. While he regularly refuses to indulge the endless stream of questions lobbed at him by reporters, he nonetheless gives them plenty to write about. He is perhaps most notorious for an appearance on David Letterman during which he claimed he was quitting acting to pursue a career as a rapper. Although he later admitted the whole thing was a publicity stunt, Phoenix is so committed to his craft it's hard to tell when he's kidding and when he's not.

Joaquin Phoenix
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joaquin_Cannes_2000.jpg

He is a man who had his jaw wired shut while shooting PT Anderson's The Master in order to tap into his character's "physicality." He literally starved himself to play Jesus in Mary Magdalene and once again for his starring turn in The Joker. And when he played Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, he ordered the film crew to treat the extras like actual prisoners in the famous Folsom Prison scene. Phoenix is also an impassioned advocate for social justice and supports many charitable and humanitarian organizations such as Amnesty International and the Peace Alliance. He is also a dedicated member of the animal rights group PETA and a vegan.

Whenever he gives an interview or a speech, spectators know they're about to hear something they've likely never heard before. It doesn't appear that he's pushing boundaries so much as redefining the term. He's as likely to criticize his fellow actors for their lavish lifestyles as he is himself for what he deems a poor performance. Phoenix admits to being his own worst critic who, away from the media scrutiny, is an intensely private man who likes giving interviews about as much as he likes getting root canal surgery.

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