With director Lynne Ramsay’s fantastic new movie, You Were Never Really Here, now playing in New York and Los Angeles, last week I did something incredibly cool: I got to sit down with Joaquin Phoenix for an hourlong exclusive interview. Unlike most interviews where the person promoting the film sits in a hotel room for hours and reporters shuffle in and out every ten to fifteen minutes, what was so unusual and cool about this conversation is that I met up with him at a local Los Angeles hotel and we sat outside by the pool and talked without any publicists or other people around. As a huge fan of his work, getting to have an intimate conversation with Phoenix was an experience I’ll never forget and I’ll always be grateful to everyone that made this happen.
Since the interview covered so many subjects I’ve decided to break it into two parts. In today’s installment, Phoenix talks about how he got involved in You Were Never Really Here, the unusual way he got into acting, if he’s interested in directing a feature, his thoughts on film versus digital filmmaking, how and why he went vegan, how he collected comics as a kid, Todd McFarlane, his first two autographs, superhero movies, why he hates Saturdays, and so much more.
Check out what he had to say below and if you live near a theater playing You Were Never Really Here, I really recommend checking it out. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Collider: You’re known as a pretty serious guy. I know you don’t like doing a whole bunch of press, so I think I want to start with a fun question which is what does Joaquin Phoenix do on a Saturday afternoon when he’s not filming?
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Saturday’s a very slow day for me. It is. I actually dread Saturdays.
PHOENIX: I actually don’t have anything to do. It’s the worst day of the week.
Do you collect anything? Do you like going to a farmers’ market?
You don’t collect anything in general?
PHOENIX: No. What do you mean collect?
Well some people like sneakers or collecting movie posters.
Have you ever collected anything?
PHOENIX: Yes. Comics, when I was a kid.
I did the same thing.
PHOENIX: I was very much into it. The funny thing is, I have a couple things. I can’t really remember what they were, but I remember Amazing Spider-Man #298 was Todd McFarlane.
PHOENIX: Right? Wasn’t that the first …
Totally, #298 and #299.
PHOENIX: Then #299, and then #300.
That crazy red cover. Oh, dude I know.
PHOENIX: Right. And so, at the time though, I’m going “Geez, can you imagine what they’re going to be worth in the future?” Recently, I went home, went to my mom’s place and I had all my comics. I was like, “Oh my God, it’s finally happening. It’s 20 years later. This is going to be worth …” I went through it and I realized when you’re 13 years old, $200 is like fucking mega.
Yeah, it’s winning the lottery.
PHOENIX: I realized, “Now, they’re not worth that much.” I couldn’t believe that I still had them, some of them. That was the last thing that I collected.
Sure, but you know something, if you have a New Mutants #87, like the first appearance of Deadpool, some of that’s worth good money.
PHOENIX: Yeah. Well, I guess. I don’t know, but some of them are really beautiful.
This is completely on a sidebar, but I got to interview Todd McFarlane, and as someone who grew up like you, reading his comics, I flipped out. I couldn’t believe I was talking to him, because he meant so much to me as a kid.
PHOENIX: I mean, come on, it was this massive quantum leap when suddenly you looked at his work. I had seen nothing like it. I mean there’s some beautiful artists, but he just had something that was revolutionary. It completely changed.
Completely. The way he drew the spiders, and the way he did Peter Parker. He had a very iconic style that you knew it was a McFarlane cover, just from a distance.
PHOENIX: Yeah, yeah.
Franchise movies are bigger than ever. I would imagine that you have probably been offered many franchises, superheroes, or all that stuff. Does that interest you at all, as an actor, or is it sort of that you want, I don’t want to say the word challenging enough, but it’s a little bit, sometimes it can be not a three dimensional character, if that makes any sense?
PHOENIX: I guess it depends. It depends on the character, and the filmmaker, and what they’re after. I wouldn’t refuse anything just based on the genre. I think about superhero movies the way that I imagine Westerns were. There were just these comics that were like Westerns, and then they started making movies. At some point, someone came along and was like, “Wait a minute, we can actually really explore something here, about humanity and the character.” I think that there’s that potential with any movie. I have had meetings, and I’ve gotten close to a couple of things, because I’ve thought, “There’s something in that character that might be interesting,” but ultimately it didn’t work out.
There was a lot of talk, and this was not the way I was going to go with the interview, but Dr. Strange. There’s been talk about you and Joker. There’s been talk about a lot of stuff, and just some interesting filmmakers. The advantage of the superhero movie is these are some of the few films that have such a large canvas to work with, in terms of the budget and the way you can build a world. They’re very, very popular, and some of them are awesome.
PHOENIX: I mean who cares about popular? Sometimes having a limited budget might be really good. Something about having to work really hard, and adapt to your budget, that maybe creates something interesting, right?
PHOENIX: I think that’s probably … Isn’t that kind of what’ll happen? Sometimes a movie will work, and then they’ll do a sequel and they’ll have a bigger budget, and everyone kind of relaxes a little bit, and then it just gets progressively worse and worse?
The only thing for me is I look at the Marvel movies, and I think that what Kevin Feige has done over there has been very impressive, in terms of building this huge universe.
PHOENIX: Yeah. Amazing.
It’s hard to make one good movie, let alone all of these movies that … I look at a movie like Drive, which I love, and was made on a very limited budget. I don’t know if you ever saw that?
PHOENIX: I don’t even know what it is.
The Ryan Gosling movie.
PHOENIX: Oh, okay. Sure.
That was made at a very small budget. I’m recommending it strongly, if you haven’t seen it. I enjoyed some of your music videos that you directed a number of years ago.
PHOENIX: Wow, you have terrible taste.