Phoenixs 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 Cashs songs (something Jamie Foxx didnt attempt in last years 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 wasnt 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 its strange because Im uncomfortable with that. You dont know somebody and then they just invite you to dinner and you dont know what its going to be like. Usually when you get invited to something like that, you show up and then its like a table of 20 people and theres a lot of forks. You dont know which one to use (laughing). But it wasnt 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 shed sing a song. Hed been strumming for a while and then he leaned over and hes like, Im waiting for June to get my nerve up. I was like, You are waiting for June to get your nerve up? Thats so odd. I cant 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 Ill probably f**k up the title On the Banks of the River Jordan, I think its 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 dont 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 wouldnt have had that experience and its pretty extraordinary to me that by whether its chance or divinity I dont know what it is that I got to meet him and experience that. To see them looking into each others eyes while they sang the song was magical. It was just absolutely magical. I referred to that moment many times throughout shooting.
Its 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 dont last and so it was nice to witness that first-hand and know that it wasnt 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 dont 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 wouldnt believe it unless you saw it. And he, you know, he seemed to relish that dialogue as much as he relished looking into Junes eyes and singing a song. That was extraordinary to me. Ive never seen anything quite like it.