Joaquin Phoenix probably has one of the most difficult names to spell, but he also has quite the storied acting career. He isn’t afraid to do anything and everything to get into the roles he’s cast in either, losing weight, gaining weight and exuding the strangest of behaviors–all in the name of cinematic art. No one can say that he doesn’t give it his all. He suffered the most devastating of losses with the death of his brother and yet he persevered. Let’s take a look at the quirky life of this fascinating actor.
Joaquin Phoenix Facts
1. Real Talk
Don’t ever expect to be posting a selfie with Phoenix–he simply won’t pose for it. He prefers conversations! He once thanked a fan for her bravery, since she was on her own and he was with a couple of friends. She approached him in a department store and after he declined her request for a photo, the two had a brief chat before she bought some socks while Phoenix opted for some “stupid little sweatpants.” Stars—they’re just like us.
2. Check It Before You Wreck It
In 2005, Phoenix did something that most people don’t do: he checked himself into rehab for alcohol addiction. “I thought rehab was a place where you sat in a Jacuzzi and ate fruit salad,” he said. “But when I got there they started talking about the 12 steps and I went: ‘Wait a minute, I’m still gonna smoke weed.’” In actuality, Phoenix stopped smoking marijuana but occasionally still has a drink when he’s flying. Everything in moderation, as they say.
3. Happily Ever After
After dating Rooney Mara (you might remember her from The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and Carol) for three years, Phoenix popped the question. The frequent collaborators (they’ve starred in three movies and a documentary together) are officially engaged.
4. Give Him a Minute
Despite being in the business for decades, Phoenix still gets all worked up in the time leading up to filming (and sometimes during filming too). In 2012, he admitted that he suffers from anxiety weeks before getting onto a film’s set and then is nauseous the day before filming is set to start. He also sweats—a lot. Pads are used in his armpits to soak it all up.
5. All in the Family
Phoenix comes from a decently sized family, with his siblings all having some pretty cool names. There’s River, Rain, Summer, and Liberty with Joaquin right smack dab in the middle. And his real last name? Bottom. No kidding.
6. Who Played J.R.?
We all have regrets, right? Well, one of Phoenix’s is going completely method acting during the filming of Walk the Line, when he portrayed Johnny Cash. He was pretty insistent that people call him J.R. on set, since hearing Joaquin sounded odd to him at that time. He can admit just how embarrassed he feels about it, looking back at that time.
7. Jumping Into the Flames
Phoenix really committed to his role as a heroic firefighter in 2004’s Ladder 49. He actually went to the Baltimore Fire Academy—and graduated! For a whole month, he lived and breathed firefighting, which included attending to real fires.
8. A Menacing Degree of Commitment
Things sort of came full circle for Phoenix when he starred in a film where his character actually ends up getting involved with a cult led by Philip Seymour Hoffman. But that’s not even the weird part—instead, it’s how far Phoenix went to portray a traumatized veteran. While acting in the critically-acclaimed film The Master, Phoenix had his jaw almost wired shut using elastics and brackets to better connect to his character and to allow Phoenix to maintain a sneer throughout filming.
9. Smell Ya Later
In case you’ve watched I’m Still Here, you probably think Phoenix was, well, pooped on. We thankfully can report that it wasn’t real. The whole thing comes about because Phoenix (or rather, Phoenix playing a fictionalized version of himself) is very harsh to his assistant and threatens to do the deed himself. Instead, Phoenix got fake-pooped on while he was sleeping. Even though it didn’t really happen, it’s still pretty gross.
10. Red Carpet Woes
Simply put: Phoenix hates award shows. “It’s totally subjective. Pitting people against each other… It’s the stupidest thing in the whole world.” You can’t say he doesn’t hold anything back!
11. A 35,000 Foot Problem
Despite his last name, this Phoenix does not like to fly. On one especially challenging flight, the plane was about halfway through its travel time when Phoenix he had a panic attack. He was so overcome that the plane’s crew had to physically restrain him. Phoenix also said that the pilot essentially punched him to take him back down a notch or two.
12. Don’t Try This at Home
Phoenix starred as Jesus in the film Mary Magdalene. As the son of missionaries, it wasn’t something he took lightly. We don’t recommend this, but the actor went on a diet of 300 calories a day in order to lose weight and appear emaciated for the role. “Working with Joaquin is like working with this beautiful wild animal, where you have to give him the space to be free,” said the film’s director, Garth Davis. “There was no other person in my mind who could have played Jesus.”
13. For the Animals
The Phoenix clan were raised as vegans, so it’s really no surprise that Joaquin has carried animal activism with him through adulthood. He’s even gone so far as to refuse to wear a pair of shoes for a photoshoot because they were made from leather. While filming movies like Gladiator, Walk the Line and Quills, Phoenix had mixed feelings about wearing period-appropriate costumes made from animal products, preferring synthetic alternatives.
14. The Truth Behind the Scar
One of Phoenix’s most famous features is the scar on his lip. He says that while his mother was pregnant with him, she felt some kind of a sharp pain and then he came out with that scar. We have no idea if he’s serious about that or not, but it makes for an interesting story. So, it seems that rumors of the scar being from a cleft palate or lip simply aren’t true. We think.
15. The Name Game
When he was a kid, Phoenix changed his name to Leaf. I mean, why not, right? He actually had a pretty level-headed reason for doing it, too. “No one in the States could pronounce ‘Joaquin’ and I used to get really embarrassed about it as a kid. All the other kids in my family had gorgeous names.”
16. The Man in Black
Johnny Cash handpicked Phoenix to portray him in the film Walk the Line. Apparently, Cash really enjoyed Phoenix’s acting in Gladiator and thought he’d do a great job. Cash was right on the money: between Phoenix’s acting and singing (Phoenix did his own vocals for the film’s soundtrack), his performance netted him an Oscar nomination.
17. An Honor to Bee Here
Phoenix has a small yet interesting tattoo on one of his ankles: the Busy Bee mascot from the firehouse he worked at for a month while preparing for Ladder 49. Phoenix felt that the image was a great tribute to those he worked with at Truck 10.
18. Don’t Quit Your Day Job
During his weird “retirement” stint, Phoenix exhibited some, shall we say, strange behavior. Take, for instance, the night that he rapped at a nightclub in Miami, Florida. First, Phoenix wasn’t exactly winning top honors at any award show for his performance, which culminated in him jumping off the stage to attack a heckler. In retrospect, the stunt was probably for I’m Still Here, but it’s still pretty brutal to watch.
19. Everything Happens for a Reason
Phoenix was once engaged to actress Liv Tyler, but ultimately broke off the relationship. “I’m a great believer in people coming into your life, and you into theirs, for a reason,” he said about their engagement. “I know that when Liv and I met, it was for a reason—I really needed her and she really needed me.” He said that he ended things because he knew they weren’t really going anywhere together anymore. “I’m thankful that we had the time we had.”
20. The Family Business
When they were kids, Phoenix and his siblings worked as street performers as a way to help their parents get by when there wasn’t much food or money to go around. The Phoenix clan also put their experiences to use by performing in talent shows.
21. Just Kidding!
Phoenix tried fooling the world in 2008 when he declared that he was retiring from acting and planned to become a rapper. People really started questioning the whole thing after he actually performed at several interviews and press appearances. Turns out that Phoenix’s heart had never strayed from acting. All of the publicity stunts about becoming a rapper were actually for his role in the 2010 faux-documentary film I’m Still Here. Good try, Joaquin!
22. Started From the Bottom
In 1973, a year before Phoenix was born, his family moved to Venezuela to join the Christian cult known as Children of God. As with many cults, the emphasis was increasingly placed on sex by the cult’s leader, David Berg.
23. Losing Their Religion
As it turns out, that Children of God group that Phoenix’s parents were members of? It was pretty much a cult. “My parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it,” he told Playboy once. “I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such.” He added that his parents figured out what was up and got themselves out.
Phoenix’s parents eventually saw the writing on the wall and abandoned the Children of God to return to the US. Sadly, before this happened, Joaquin’s older brother River was allegedly sexually assaulted when he was just four years old. After leaving the Children of God group, the parents changed the family’s last name from Bottom to Phoenix as an homage to starting over.
24. This River Runs Deep
Sadly, Joaquin’s older brother River died of an overdose in 1993, something which the younger Phoenix doesn’t exactly talk about. “I don’t have the slightest desire to speak about my dead brother,” he’s said. “It gets on my nerves to always be compared with him. My brother was a magnificent person and an outstanding actor.”
He also admitted that it took him more than a year to put himself back together after his brother’s death. Phoenix was actually the one to call 9-1-1 that fateful night, a call that would ultimately be publicly released by the media, and constantly played. At the time, Joaquin was only 19 years old.
25. Herzog the Hero
Phoenix was involved in a dangerous car accident in 2006. His car’s brakes failed and the vehicle flipped over a winding road. Phoenix was clearly in a state of shock, because he told a man that had tapped on his windshield that he was fine and relaxed. The man recognized that he wasn’t when Phoenix attempted to light up a cigarette, despite the spilled gasoline.
Turns out that man was the famous director Werner Herzog who, in characteristically quirky fashion, called for help and then disappeared. And if you think it’s random that Herzog showed up—he actually lived in the area and happened to be around during the time of the accident.