INTERVIEW: Joaquin Phoenix for ‘Reservation Road’

Last weekend Joaquin Phoenix hit theaters as Bobby Green, nightclub manager turned cop, in We Own the Night. This weekend he plays a much different role as Ethan Learner in Reservation Road, a man who loses his son in a hit and run accident and in a coincidental turn of events hires Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) as his lawyer in an effort to keep on top of the case he believes the police have pushed off the table.

The film definitely requires Phoenix to dig into his emotional well to churn up a few tears as he plays the obsessed husband, but as he tells us, he hardly dwells in the grief of his characters. He was quite animated and extremely chatty as you will see by his long, yet interesting, response to the first question. Let’s get started.

Was there any effort to keep the mood light on set considering the weight of the subject matter?

JP: You’re in an awkward position when you are asked that in the off chance that you don’t want to affect people’s experience of when watching the film. I wouldn’t want people to be watching the film and go, ‘I know that after he did that crying scene he actually went out with Terry and watched Father Ted and laughed their asses off.’ Because you wonder, doesn’t that take you out if it? I have that with the things that I love, I always find that I am disappointed by the reality of it. I don’t like it, so I am reluctant to say…

The truth of it is that, yeah I completely fuck off and there were a lot of laughs and there was some fun. I am not the person that feels like I have dreams or I take it home. I have been doing it for a long time and you learn to do that. Plus, you have to when you’re shooting a film in which you bounce around from scene-to-scene and it is not necessarily shot in order. You can’t ever afford to just stay in one place, and while generally the mood of [Reservation Road] was heavy, and part of that was Terry as well. On the second day he came in and said, ‘I don’t want any more fucking crying.’ [smiling]

It says something a little unsentimental about him in some respects. Terry is like one of the most joyous people that you ever met. He is so full of life and just really enjoys life that he is not going to stay in any heavy mood for long.

For me you hold onto it for as long as you are shooting the scene, and it’s hard, but the maintenance of something is what’s difficult. Getting there is one thing, but maintaining it for multiple takes is another thing. I feel that when I go in to do a scene that I stay present in that scene until it cuts and we’re moving on to the next thing, but there are times when you just completely fuck off and jerk around.

It changes from movie-to-movie and scene-to-scene, I just worked with [Robert] Duvall [in We Own the Night] and we would be there rolling cameras and he would be like, ‘Have you been to Peter Lugar’s? The best steak, you gotta get the steak,’ and ACTION – and he just launches into the scene and it is like ‘What the… Where did that come from?’

There’s this weird thing that I feel like about this serious acting thing, which is something that has been around for a long time and I remember being aware of it when I was a kid. I think it’s really bullshit, all that matters is the final product. If you get there by laughing with somebody or you get there because you “are” the character, you have them call you by the character’s name – whatever it may be it doesn’t matter to me at all anymore and I don’t think it should. I don’t think that one actor is a better actor or more serious because they always seem to be studying. I’m envious and marvel at people who can walk in and the director goes, ‘We just changed this line,’ and they just nail it.

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