THE VILLAGE - Q&A with JOAQUIN PHOENIX
JOAQUIN Phoenix stars as the stoic and determined Lucius Hunt in director M Night Shyamalan's atmospheric and intriguing thriller, THE VILLAGE. The young star of SIGNS and GLADIATOR appears alongside Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Adrien Brody and newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard in the story of a seemingly idyllic 19th century community. The tranquil state of the villagers is threatened by 'Those We don't Speak Of' - mysterious woodland creatures with whom the village elders have made a truce. But then the truce is broken and one of the villagers may have to venture out of the community and into the outside world. Before filming began, Joaquin and the rest of the cast went through a 19th century boot camp, existing as a community, but without any 21st century luxuries.
What about working second time round with Night?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: It was great, especially after making SIGNS 18 months or so ago so. It was not like working with someone 10 years after the fact. We had developed a shorthand in SIGNS and that was able to come over into this. To be honest, there was also something intimidating about it. Part of what's good about working with someone that you've never worked with before is they don't know you and they are getting to know the character - they don't know the difference between what's you and what's the character. After SIGNS, Night and I got to know each other a lot better so he was able to tell when I was bullshitting much easier than before - so that was a little intimidating.
What was your boot camp experience?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Are we sure we want to call it a boot camp? I know it calls it that in the production notes. I know you didn't invent that. It was really just an opportunity for us to really focus on the film, to not have any other distractions and to get to know each other - really in character - and to develop our relationships in character; which I think is really important. It depends on the actors. There are some actors who really embrace each part and try to lose themselves in the part. Then there are others who are on their phones all the time. So to get all of us actors together in an isolated environment was really beneficial. At least I found it so.
Did you - as it says in the production notes - go into the night to face your fears of the dark?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: No, that's horse shit. I went into the woods with Adrien and this kid Fran to sleep there one night. They sent me to get wood and when I came back they were gone. I sat around waiting, and suddenly sticks would fly at me from the dark and there were some noises. That was really the extent of it. It was like junior high pranks, not me facing my fear. They asked me about this in some interviews, and I kind of went with the lie. But then I thought 'This is ridiculous, I can't do this.'
Would you have done THE VILLAGE if Night had not been attached to it?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: It's an interesting question. Actually I would have. When we were making SIGNS, I said to Night that I had always wanted to play a mute in a film. I wanted to know what it was like to have to convey a range of emotions without having much dialogue. So when I got the script, it was perfect. It was what I had always wanted to try.
Are you wary though when people say they have written something for you?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: It doesn't give me hesitation, but I definitely feel more pressure. With Night I always feel a great deal of pressure, because he knows his films so well. He knows his characters so well. He has a full history of each character. You kind of get the sense that he could almost act the part better than you could. That can be intimidating. With all good directors you always have a feeling that you don't want to let them down. I know with Night that each story is so personal, and that he puts such a great deal of work into his screenplays. You feel this overwhelming need to succeed.
How do you feel when you give a great performance in a great film and it doesn't do well at the box office?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I'll be totally honest. The only reason why I care if a movie succeeds or not is that it allows me to continue to work. A $100 million movie gives you great opportunities. But for me personally it's just the process of making the film that I enjoy. In some ways I couldn't care less if someone sees it or doesn't.
How has your singing and guitar playing been coming along for WALK THE LINE?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Shameful. (smiles) It is the strangest experience. I have done three and a half months prepping for that film, and I have never felt so inadequate in my life. It's been quite a journey. I have a much greater deal of respect for singers. It is incredibly vulnerable to go out there in front of a large number of people and sing. I also have a respect for people who lip synch to their singing because it's very difficult to do. We are doing live singing and playing and some to play back. I don't know how it's going. I'm a terrible judge of myself.
Are you going to recreate a concert in the film?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Oh, we are doing like 10 concerts. I have already done three.
What's that like?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Terrifying. (Laughs) During prep it is so foreign. How can you imagine what it is to be up on stage performing these songs? Once we are there, in wardrobe, you just have to command the stage in a way. I don't know. I lose myself in a way. At some point, I just come to and the day's over and they say 'you've wrapped' and I go ok. I really have no concept of what happens once the camera starts going.
You are just so immersed in the role?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Part of it a conscious attempt to lose yourself. One of the things that I always see in bad acting is kind of a self-awareness. Actors who watch their own movies, read their own interviews, and look at pictures of themselves, start pulling faces and doing things that they think are really good and interesting, and I just try not to be self-conscious and forget about myself.
When you first read SIGNS what did you connect to in that script?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I can't think of anything. I wanted to work with Night. I hadn't seen THE SIXTH SENSE when it came out in the theatres. I was actually working on GLADIATOR when it came out. I think Night wanted me to play the role that Donnie Wahlberg played in THE SIXTH SENSE. They talked to me about that. When I was doing GLADIATOR, there was one point where I had a break - like a week off - and I called Casey Affleck on the phone and he said 'Man, there is this new movie THE SIXTH SENSE, you gotta see it. It's unbelievable!' That was the first that I heard about it. Then once I got back to the States and it had come out on video, I saw it. I was like 'Yeah, that's the kind of movie that I would like to make'. It was just the patience that Night has, and the rhythm in his films, that really allows a scene to breathe. He seems that he is as interested in the process of arriving at the point of the scene as much as anything. That's what I really like about acting - the opportunity to solve a problem. You have the answer, but what gives you the answer? What is the problem? You have to figure that. That's what acting is to me, and I love that process.
What was it like working with Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Sigourney and I had a relationship like we had in the film. I think she probably asked me a lot of questions and I didn't say much.
Sigourney liked ploughing for THE VILLAGE, what about you?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I made a pasta dish that no one ate.
What kind of pasta dish?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Inedible. A broccoli pasta. Yeah, we did all that stuff...ploughing the field and scything...that's some work! No joke! Every muscle in your body hurts, and that I didn't enjoy at all. When I started a fire, I was there for 24 hours rubbing sticks together. Everyone else had gone to dinner. So, finally, I just got out my lighter and yelled,'Fire!' For me that whole process was just getting to know everybody more than anything. I remember seeing Sigourney out ploughing the field. Her time was up and she was like 'No, Ho! Ho!' She really enjoyed it.
What about the locals out on your location?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: There was no one around. It was really kept under wraps.
Do you miss anything about the boot camp experience and being isolated?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: No, not that I disliked it. But when I work, I always feel quite isolated and stop communicating with my friends and family and just get into the work.
Do you have plans to work with Night again?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: If he'll have me. Nothing is planned.
What was your experience like on LADDER 49?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: It was amazing. Probably the most intensive research I have ever done for a role. Certainly the most hands-on research I have ever done. Which was probably very important, because I felt a great obligation to be true to these guys' experience. It was exciting and terrifying. I started at the training academy and did three weeks there. I joined a class - Class 10 - and I wanted to first get the experience of what it is to be a rookie and to go through the training and kind of get the anticipation of being sent to a fire house. It's random where they send you and whether you are going to be on the engine or whatever. They should have seen their faces! They were so excited! That was amazing, just to work with the instructors and overcoming some fears. One of the things that you do is something called a Maze when they have a large semi-truck that they have converted into this maze. There is only crawling space. You are on your stomach, and they blindfold you and put full gear on. You go on and from the moment they seal the door if you lift your head an inch it hits the roof and you can't go down. So you start crawling with your hand extended, and suddenly there's a drop, and you have to figure how to turn round in that space. I didn't like that at first. Then of course there was rappelling heights. Everybody was scared. You've got to the top of the tower and looked down! It was an amazing experience for me. And then finally getting into the field and working with one company and sticking with them for a month.
So you went on call to a real fire?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I did everything that they did, but I felt completely safe. I was absolutely petrified, but I did feel that ultimately I was going to be ok. One of my great concerns was that one of them would get harmed in trying to help me -because they would have helped me. They all told me that. They said 'We will go down to get you out.' It was an amazing experience.
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