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Joaquin Phoenix Talks About "Walk the Line"

Joaquin Phoenix on Portraying Music Legend Johnny Cash

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Joaquin Phoenix stars as Johnny Cash in

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line"

© 20th Century Fox
“Walk the Line” star Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t hide the fact he’s not fond of speaking to the press. A notoriously private actor, Phoenix will actually get up and leave interviews without any notice if someone from the press strays off the topic of whatever film Phoenix is currently promoting. That said, if the buzz surrounding Phoenix's performance in "Walk the Line" continues to build, he may just have to bite the bullet and submit to another round of interviews come award season.

Phoenix’s portrayal of musical legend Johnny Cash is earning the actor some of the best reviews of his career, with critics praising his riveting portrayal of the Man in Black as worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Phoenix poured his heart into the role, and even sings Cash’s songs (something Jamie Foxx didn’t attempt in last year’s big award winner, “Ray”) in the biopic which was written and directed by James Mangold ("Cop Land," "Girl, Interrupted").

Joaquin Phoenix Describes Meeting Johnny Cash: “I met John [but] it wasn’t related to the film. It was six months prior to even hearing about this film and meeting [writer/director James] Mangold, which was ironic and fortunate.

He was in the studio with Rick Ruben and June. James Gray, a writer/director that I worked with on a movie called ‘The Yards,’ had gone into the studio to shoot some footage of them and I guess my name came up. John was a fan of ‘Gladiator’ and asked if I wanted to go to dinner. James Gray called and said, ‘Do you want to have dinner with Johnny Cash?’ I said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ And it’s strange because I’m uncomfortable with that. You don’t know somebody and then they just invite you to dinner and you don’t know what it’s going to be like. …Usually when you get invited to something like that, you show up and then it’s like a table of 20 people and there’s a lot of forks. You don’t know which one to use (laughing). But it wasn’t like that at all.

There were about six to eight people and it was all family. And John and June were just wonderful and unpretentious and welcoming. So we had dinner and then we went to the living room. Everyone just kind of naturally migrated into the living room and then John just picked up a guitar. That was his kind of small talk, you realized. Instead of like sitting around after dinner and talking about the weather or sports or something, he would just pick up a guitar and that seemed to be how he was most comfortable.

[He] started strumming and June came in and he asked if she’d sing a song. He’d been strumming for a while and then he leaned over and he’s like, ‘I’m waiting for June to get my nerve up.’ I was like, ‘You are waiting for June to get your nerve up? That’s so odd. I can’t believe Johnny Cash is nervous.’ And then she comes in and he said, ‘Will you sing a song with me?’ She said, ‘Yeah,’ and so they started singing a song.

They sang – I’ll probably f**k up the title – ‘On the Banks of the River Jordan,’ I think it’s called. And it was beautiful. It was an amazing experience. Something I will never, ever, ever forget. It was so powerful and I referred to that meeting. I don’t know how that happened. How it is that I… It had such a profound impact on the way that I saw John and June and their relationship and that affected the film. Had I not met him, I wouldn’t have had that experience and it’s pretty extraordinary to me that by whether it’s chance or divinity – I don’t know what it is that I got to meet him and experience that. To see them looking into each other’s eyes while they sang the song was magical. It was just absolutely magical. I referred to that moment many times throughout shooting.

It’s hard not to be cynical about love, particularly when it comes to celebrities or iconic figures, you know? You see it all the time. Most marriages and love affairs don’t last and so it was nice to witness that first-hand and know that it wasn’t something that was just fictionalized and created by Mangold to kind of paint this perfect love story. That it really was that perfect which I still, even having witnessed it, find it hard to believe. And I don’t know if that says something about my cynicism or what, but that was an amazing experience.

Then having experienced that and what was really, truly a profound sense of love, then moments later him quoting to me my most sadistic dialogue from ‘Gladiator’ saying it was his favorite part of the movie, kind of encapsulated Johnny Cash to me, in those kind of two separate forces that lived equally inside of him. And it really is night and day. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. And he, you know, he seemed to relish that dialogue as much as he relished looking into June’s eyes and singing a song. That was extraordinary to me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Page 2: Joaquin Phoenix on Music and Being Cast as Johnny Cash

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