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Joaquin Phoenix Discusses "Walk the Line"


Joaquin Phoenix stars as Johnny Cash in

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in "Walk the Line"

© 20th Century Fox
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Joaquin Phoenix on What He Believes Ultimately Saved Johnny Cash’s Life: “I don’t know if it’s one thing. I don’t think in ‘68 everything turned around for him and everything was better and his life changed forever. It was an ongoing process. All these different forces came together, and June was obviously a big part of that in helping him to achieve sobriety and to maintain it. I think through that he kind of, in some ways, fell back in love with music and with the stories that he wanted to tell.

I think he was able to reconnect to an audience. Because I think, you know, at some point it must have been very hard to maintain that connection. I think that it was so vital to John’s experience as an artist was maintaining a connection with his audience. The power of John’s music is the real sense of intimacy. You always feel like you’re right there in the room with him. Even at the height of his fame, he would still play shows in the back of a f**king pick-up truck and s**t. You know what I mean? It’s amazing and we don’t see that anymore.

I think his shows weren’t about dazzling you with lights and costume changes. It’s just a man on a stage, very unpretentious. But I think because of the touring schedule and because of his drug abuse, I think that inevitably he disconnected from what initially inspired him. So I think that, you know, through June and I think through his faith, he found that connection again.”

Joaquin Phoenix on Pursuing Music Now That He’s Finished With “Walk the Line:” “I like music. I’ve always liked music. I didn’t understand it at all and I’ve a great understanding, a great appreciation now for it. But, you know, I didn’t pick up the guitar. It was like a month ago was the first time I picked up a guitar since I finished the film. I always just like drop something when I’m done with it.

No, I won’t be recording anything. I’ll do stuff for myself now that I have a great understanding. If I ever direct something one day, I have a greater understanding of music to work with a composer. Even though it’s very helpful to me, I won’t continue writing songs or anything.”

Joaquin Phoenix on Being Cast as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line:” Phoenix doesn’t have a background in music and he’s not even the same size as Johnny Cash, so how did he wind up playing the musician in “Walk the Line?” Phoenix said, “I assume it’s Mangold. I don’t really know how that comes about. Thank you for pointing out the size difference (laughing). Yeah, I’m not sure. There are probably many people that were considered. Of course, I read a script and I have a list of 10 people that should do this instead of me, that are much more qualified. But I don’t know. You want to think it’s because Jim [Mangold] does research and knows how I work and knows that I would be really committed to this. But I don’t know.

Everyone in film, you just theorize and you kind of hope for the best. Everyone has these ideas but sometimes you just get f**king lucky. They kind of go like, ‘Ahhh, they have this quality. I think they look good with this person.’ Or, ‘I imagine they’d have good chemistry.’ You kind of just don’t know. I don’t know what that first idea was, why he thought it might work.”

Joaquin Phoenix on the Oscar Buzz and His Sense of Accomplishment After Playing Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line:” “Well really, for me, like my sense of accomplishment comes when I finish something and I know that I’m completely spent, and I know that I’ve done everything that I can. I think that what’s mattered most is what I’ve heard from the family and the people that were close to John. To have Kris Kristofferson come up and say, ‘Thank you so much for doing this. You did John proud.’ That’s all that I could ask for.”

Joaquin Phoenix’s Research on Johnny Cash: Phoenix turned to whatever resources he could get his hands on to portray Cash on the screen. But there were times his research led him to discovering interesting facts about Johnny Cash’s life that couldn’t be included in the film. Phoenix said, “Oh man, there were so many things. I mean, the toughest thing about researching someone like John is that every time you turn the page in his book you go, ‘Oh, this is amazing. Now how do we not tell this story?’ It’s really hard but at some point you really have to focus on the story that the director is trying to tell, and look for the research material that includes that.”

On Pushing Through Objections to Get What He Wants: In a crucial scene in “Walk the Line,” Johnny Cash has to convince record producer Sam Phillips that he needs to record an album immediately. Phoenix said he could relate to that scene. “Of course. Certainly as an actor you’ve had that experience all the time. Early on, even now still, there’s rejection. And you have to be really committed to what it is that you want to do. And certainly I’ve had experiences that changed my life.”

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