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New Clip From 'The Master'; Joaquin Phoenix Says Making 'I'm Still Here' Damaged His Career

by Oliver Lyttelton
September 9, 2012 10:49 PM
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Don't call it a comeback, he's been here for years. Joaquin Phoenix has been appearing on screen for nearly three decades, initially under the name Leaf, but really came to attention in 1995 in Gus Van Sant's "To Die For," a film that really put him on the map. And across the next decade and a bit, in everything from blockbusters "Gladiator" and "Signs" to his hugely impressive collaborations with James Gray on "The Yards," "We Own The Night" and "Two Lovers," Phoenix steadily revealed himself as one of the most talented and committed actors of his generation.

And suddenly four years ago, he seemed, at a distance, to go off the rails -- appearing in public looking disheveled and disturbed, under sunglasses and a mountain-man beard, and announcing that he was retiring from acting for a career in rap. As it turns out, it was all an elaborate piece of performance art for a film directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, entitled "I'm Still Here," and Phoenix has made about as impressive a comeback as you could ask for, returning in a lead role in Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," which most have touted him for to win an Oscar for, with collaborations with Spike Jonze and again, James Gray, on the way.

But in a rare interview with the LA Times, Phoenix admits that "I'm Still Here" caused serious problems when he tried to return to more traditional acting. "For some time," the actor tells the paper, "people didn't know if [the gag] was continuing in some way. I would go in for meetings and they were not sure if I was [messing] with them or not. There was a noticeable drop in quality from things that I had looked at before 'I'm Still Here.' I thought, 'Wow, I've certainly limited myself in terms of the kind of work I can do. I can still get a job, but it's not the job I want to get.' "

Fortunately, Anderson had long wanted to work with Phoenix, and had written the part of Freddie Quell, the disturbed, hard-drinking ex-navy man who falls under the spell of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and his "Cause." And Phoenix says that the transition from his previous project wasn't as difficult as you might imagine. "I was so fortunate to make this film after 'I'm Still Here' because in many respects, there were a lot of unknowns that we could discover in the moment. That was very similar to where we would go in 'I'm Still Here,' [when we] we threw all the rules out the window. That was so exciting. It was so much fun to make. It was horrible, but it was great. And I was so nervous about what it was going to be like to be back on a movie set."

Luckily, any nervousness he felt isn't to be seen on screen -- both our reviews of the film found that Phoenix gave an astonishing performance, which will certainly be remembered come Oscar season. For more from the actor, including the origins of his distinctive walk in the film, his avoidance of research into Scientology, and the unlikely role a fart machine played in the shooting of the project, head over to the LA Times. And you'll be able to see the results when "The Master" comes to theaters starting this Friday, September 14th. Check out the latest clip from the film below titled "Gone To China," which announces a New York screening at the legendary Ziegfeld to benefit the Film Foundation on Tuesday, September 11th. You can purchase $10 tickets here.

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  • JOANN | September 14, 2012 11:21 AMReply

    i always felt he was under rated as an actor i think hes an incredible actor and when he did walk the line playing johnny cash i was in awe !!! so glad to see him back and possibly with an oscar nod !! cant wait to see THE MASTER congrats Joaquin !!

  • JD | September 10, 2012 8:48 AMReply

    Joaquin Phoenix is definitley an interesting case, he's unquestionably a talent capable of intense, brooding performances but after his mainstream breakout in Gladiator he fell into the trap that many young actors seem to and that is getting into films that weren't particularly suited for his talents (see Buffalo Soldiers, Signs,Its all About Love and The Village) in an attempt to show off his range. He got back on track with two solid performances in Hotel Rwanda and Walk the Line and then gradually fell off the radar with Reservation Road, We Own the Night and Two Lovers. Obviously I'm Still Here was just too divisive to call a hit but I think after the time away from the business he's got a second shot at an incredibly promising career as The Master is perfectly tailored to his talents and his upcoming schedule looks promising, it looks like he can turn it around and join the group of leading men who are considered the most talented of their generation

  • Remy | September 10, 2012 6:47 AMReply

    Who'd have thought that taking a multiple-year break from your career on a whim to publicly pretend you've gone cuckoo would make prospective employees nervous about hiring you?

  • gordy winkleburg | September 11, 2012 12:18 PM

    ya dat is a suprising thing that is hah ☮

  • lenij | September 10, 2012 4:21 AMReply

    I don't understand how Silver Linings Playbook got an A and you gave the Master just a B.

  • Jay | September 10, 2012 12:38 PM

    I've seen The Master and not SLP so what now, Edward Davis? But really, it will be hard to top The Master.

  • Edward Davis | September 10, 2012 9:00 AM

    Because they are two different films reviewed by two different people and the grades are completely independent of them. Also, you haven't seen either, so your comments are just speculation on what you assume is better.

  • DG | September 10, 2012 2:35 AMReply

    Agreed, I found I'm Still Here hugely impressive, surprisingly candid and real

  • jimmiescoffee | September 9, 2012 11:24 PMReply

    i think 'i'm still here' is a brilliant piece of work given the scope.

  • Oogle monster | September 9, 2012 11:18 PMReply

    Every article about PTA + The Master gets me SO stoked!! Any idea why Phoenix acts so bizarre in interviews/red carpets? I mean I'd rather hear PTA talk but still...

  • JG | September 9, 2012 11:09 PMReply

    Actually his birth name is Joaquin. He changed it to Leaf to fit in with River & Rain, then changed it back.

  • Drew | September 9, 2012 11:06 PMReply

    Don't bother with the tickets. I went by and checked today. The screenings already sold out.

  • Evan | September 9, 2012 11:03 PMReply

    I'm studying acting in college right now and I can say that Joaquin is my hero as well as many in my department. The guy is just amazing.

  • Cassandra | September 11, 2012 12:19 PM

    i love you.

    call me

  • Eddie | September 9, 2012 11:01 PMReply

    Love Joaquin, but would've been interesting to see Jeremy Renner in that role. Ah well, looking forward to seeing them both in "Nightingale."

  • Jones | September 10, 2012 6:07 AM

    Would it have? What does Hollywood see in Renner that I can't? The fact that PTA even contemplated Renner shocked me, and I was aghast when The Master was go with Renner in the lead (I thank god Phoenix is Freddie). He was serviceable in The Hurt Locker -- it was a good part -- but otherwise ... well, he was the low point in an already bland film with The Town. He seems to fit in better with material like Fish in a Barrel

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