Completely bilingual in English and Spanish, Phoenix, who just won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival as best actor for his role in You Were Never Really Here, confessed that although he does not practice, he still keeps the Spanish alive reading Latin American authors. Among his favorites are Lorca, Miguel Piñero and the book El Olvido Que Seremos written by Héctor Abad Faciolince.
Q: You won in Cannes as best actor. How it was that experience?
A: Before I came here, I told my girlfriend it was going to be a really good experience because I was going to get crushed and that would be really humbling. I thought it would be great to know what it’s like to be unanimously disliked. That was my expectation coming here, so this is, um, better.
Q: How do you feel about awards?
A: I had been acting since I was a kid. When people are coming up and offering you coffees and holding umbrellas for you and stuff, it’s easy to lose your humanity. As an artist I want to shake things up, try something that turned me upside down and made me scared.
Q: You were born in Puerto Rico, can you talk about your first years there
A: We were a family always very tied. What I do remember the most about my childhood is my family always having fun. I do like Spanish culture if that is what you are asking me. I love Puerto Rico, Miami, Costa Rica, where my father lives. I like to practice my Spanish every time I can. Either in the shoots when I am working with any actor who speaks Spanish or with members of the crew.
Q: Do you read in Spanish?
A: I do. My favorite is Lorca, but also Miguel Piñero and I read the book El Olvido Que Seremos written by Héctor Abad Faciolince that I think is phenomenal.
Q: You like to be authentic. When do you know that you have been able to understand the essence of the characters?
A: There is a purpose behind each character. The most obvious things are the first ones that come to mind, but gradually you learn how to breathe, because it rests, and then to reach movements, the essence. For me it's an incredible experience to study every character I play.
Q: You have worked on several occasions with James Gray. What do you like about him?
A: For my way of working, it is very important to trust the director. I give myself completely to my characters and I need a confident director who can understand my work. As an actor I am interested in the process, the realization of the character. I live day by day and the only thing I am able to control is my work ethic. I think James Gray understands how I live my life, knows that I am authentic with me and I hope that my way of being and my decisions do not negatively affect the film. I do not want my personal life to overshadow my work. I would feel very bad if I did.
P: The story of Joaquin Phoenix lives parallel to the tragedy of his brother River ...
A: Everyone always asks me the same question. People have their own an idea of what I lived with the death of my brother, but it is something they have created thanks to what the press has said but how I lived the mourning for River is something that no one knows and is not their concern. That pain is going to accompany me throughout my whole life. It is not fair this speedy trial. I have faced the death of my brother in a different way than it has been written in the newspapers, I do not want to sell any film about my own experience because it would not be good for my work, I have never done it and I will not do it, not at least in a consciously manner
Q: Being a dreamer made you an actor?
A: Once I did everything for a dream. Acting is the piece that fills the puzzle of my life. The characters give me life, and when you succeed in your work the feeling is wonderful. What I like most about my profession happens during the shooting, when after having done twenty times the same sequence and on the twenty-first day you nail it.
Q: You're definitely not the typical Hollywood actor, do you ever play your game?
A: I do not even know what the Hollywood game is. If I knew I might play it but I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. No one tells me how to play (laughs)
Q: You find it difficult to remain integral in this industry?
A: It's not difficult because you have to look for the shit from the industry to live in it and I do not do it. I am not an attractive actor for the press, I am not chased by the photographers, I do not read the trash of the tabloids. When you cultivate the culture of popularity, you can create the illusion of being a celebrity but that takes effort and I am not interested in putting my energy in something that bores me.