The un-orthodox genius of Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix is an actor capable of masterpieces. His leading roles in Gladiator, Her and Walk the Line stand particularly tall in the pantheon of modern film and he’s been nominated for numerous Academy Awards. He has also publically called the Oscars “bullshit”…

He’s got a chequered past and an uncertain future but Joaquin Phoenix has always been just as much a gift to cinema as he has been an enigma. We’re taking a look at what makes him such a special performer and examining his upcoming roles.

JP Her.jpg

Having gone through rehabilitation for alcoholism in the past he’s due to play Jesus Christ in Mary Magdalene, due for release in November of 2017 and also notably turned down the role of Marvel’s Dr Strange, which was eventually taken on by British star, Benedict Cumberbatch.

In an interview with Time Out London Phoenix shed some light on his decision to duck big roles. He’s considered blockbusters and even sat in meetings discussing potential roles, but says “ultimately it never felt like they’d really be fulfilling. There were too many requirements that went against my instincts for character. I’ve been spoiled. I’ve never had to make those compromises”.

“Ultimately it never felt like they’d [big blockbuster films] really be fulfilling.”… 

Continuing in the same vein, Phoenix demonstrates a keenness to dig deep into each character he plays and in the same interview said why the likes of Star Trek wouldn’t suit his tastes: “I’ve read some of those scripts and 75 percent is a description of some asteroid going through space”.

Despite having many standout performances to his name and an opinionated stance on acting itself, Phoenix, perhaps self-deprecatingly, believes that actors get too much credit.

He once told The Guardian that the industry has a tendency to credit actors, rather than the ingenious directors creating immersive fiction around them. He said, “Actors themselves probably perpetuate that myth and every once in a while maybe it’s true. But if a movie works, it’s the director”.

JP Gladiator

Film-wise Phoenix has been relatively inactive of late. That’s a real shame because his hatred of celebrity and his readiness to reject big money movies is a perfect antidote to Hollywood’s increasingly commercialistic main-stream offering.

As remake after remake, after spin-off, after sequel roll off the production line, who wouldn’t rather see Phoenix at his best?

Phoenix is adept at portraying a man on the edge, maybe because of his own internal struggles and maybe because of the strain that celebrity has put on such a reclusive character? Whatever the explanation, he captures Johnny Cash’s struggle with fame, shows his encroaching psychological corruptions and even sings Cash’s songs so well that no fan of the man in black would complain.

Equally remarkably, in a more grandiose setting, he is the perfect sickening villain, turned green with envy and neglect, to counter Russel Crowe’s brave and honourable Maximus.

Watching Phoenix take on those roles the viewer sees men enduring genuine psychological torture. That was again the case in 2015’s underappreciated Woody Allen feature, Irrational Man in which Phoenix steps into the shoes of a philosophy professor ensconced in inner turmoil and thrown into an affair with a student.

Find our full review of Irrational Man HERE.

From that short description alone the role seems like it would fit the man like a glove, right? It did.

The film wasn’t widely lauded though and Phoenix’s two appearances in the cinema of 2015 gave way to a 2016 in which there were no opportunities to see him on the silver screen. However, with both You Were Never Really Here, and Mary Magdalene, pencilled in for 2017 fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

Phoenix’s role in the former, a thriller in which he takes a central role, is more easily looked forward to. It’s with more than a little apprehension that audiences will wait for his appearance as Christ. On that front though, it has to be said, that if an actor like Phoenix can’t test the boundaries of performance by taking on roles like this one, who can?

By George Storr

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