Joaquin Rafael Phoenix (//; né Bottom; born October 28, 1974) is an American actor and producer, who has received several accolades, including a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and nominations for three Academy Awards.
Phoenix at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival in 2018
Joaquin Rafael Bottom
October 28, 1974
|Residence||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Other names||Leaf Phoenix|
|Partner(s)||Rooney Mara (2016–present)|
John Lee Phoenix
|Relatives||River Phoenix (brother)|
Rain Phoenix (sister)
Liberty Phoenix (sister)
Summer Phoenix (sister)
Phoenix started acting in television with his brother River and sister Summer. His first major film role was in SpaceCamp (1986). During this period, he was credited as Leaf Phoenix, his self-given name. He later went back to his birth name and received positive reviews for his supporting work in the comedy-drama To Die For (1995) and the period film Quills (2000). He received wider attention for his portrayal of Commodus in the 2000 historical epic Gladiator, which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He subsequently earned Best Actor nominations for portraying musician Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk the Line (2005) and an alcoholic war veteran in the drama The Master (2012), which also won him the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. Phoenix's other films include the horror films Signs (2002) and The Village (2004), the historical drama Hotel Rwanda (2004), the romantic drama Her (2013), and the crime satire Inherent Vice (2014). He gained further acclaim for playing an assassin in You Were Never Really Here (2017), for which he won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor, and the titular character in Joker (2019).
Phoenix has also ventured into directing music videos, as well as producing films and television shows. For recording the soundtrack to Walk the Line, he won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Phoenix is a social activist, lending his support to several charities and humanitarian organizations. He is on the board of directors for The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organization which provides daily meals to students of township schools in Soweto of South Africa. Phoenix is also known for his animal rights advocacy. He has been a vegan since the age of three and campaigns for PETA and In Defense of Animals.
Life and career
1974–1994: Early life and performances
Phoenix was born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in the Río Piedras district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to American parents from the U.S. mainland. He is the third of five children, following River (1970–1993) and Rain (born 1972), and preceding Liberty (born 1976) and Summer (born 1978), all of whom have also acted. He also has a half-sister named Jodean (born 1964) from a previous relationship of his father. Phoenix's American father, John Lee Bottom, originally from California, has English, German, and French ancestry. His mother, Arlyn (née Dunetz), was born in New York, to Jewish parents whose families were from Russia and Hungary. Arlyn moved to California, meeting Phoenix's father while hitchhiking. They married in 1969, then joined a religious cult, the Children of God, and began traveling throughout South America. His parents eventually became disenchanted with the Children of God; they decided to leave the group and returned to the U.S. aboard a cargo ship from Venezuela in 1978. They changed their last name to Phoenix, after the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes, symbolizing a new beginning. Around this time, Joaquin began calling himself "Leaf", desiring to have a nature-related name like his siblings, inspired by spending time outdoors raking leaves. "Leaf" became the name he used as a child actor, until at age 15 when he changed it back to Joaquin.
In order to provide food and financial support for the family, the children performed at various talent contests, singing and playing instruments. In Los Angeles, his mother started working as an executive secretary for NBC, and his father worked as a landscape architect. Phoenix and his siblings were eventually discovered by one of Hollywood's leading children's agents, Iris Burton, who got the five children acting work, mainly doing commercials and television show appearances. At the age of eight, Joaquin made his acting debut alongside his brother River in the television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in the 1982 episode "Christmas Song". In his first major role, Phoenix co-starred opposite River in the ABC Afterschool Special entitled Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia (1984). Also in 1984, Phoenix made guest appearances in the Murder, She Wrote episode "We're Off to Kill the Wizard" with his sister Summer, and individual episodes of The Fall Guy and Hill Street Blues.
After appearing in the CBS television film Kids Don't Tell (1985), Phoenix made his theatrical film debut in SpaceCamp (1986) as Max, a 12-year-old who goes to Kennedy Space Center to learn about the NASA space program and undergoes amateur astronaut training. He guest starred in the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "A Very Happy Ending" in the same year, playing a child who blackmails a hitman (played by Robert Loggia) into killing his father (John Aprea). Phoenix's first starring role was in Russkies (1987), about a group of friends who unknowingly befriend a Russian soldier during the Cold War. Phoenix then appeared in Ron Howard's comedy-drama Parenthood (1989), in which he played the withdrawn teenage nephew of Steve Martin's character. The film was well received by critics and grossed $126 million worldwide. Phoenix was nominated for the Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film for his performance in the film. After establishing himself as a child actor, Joaquin decided to retire from acting for a while and traveled to Mexico and South America with his father.
On October 31, 1993, three days after Joaquin's 19th birthday, his older brother River died of an overdose outside The Viper Room. Phoenix who had accompanied his brother and older sister Rain to the club called 911, seeking help for his dying brother. After River's passing, the phone call was repeatedly broadcast on TV and radio shows. As a result of the media glare, his family retreated from the public and moved to Costa Rica.
1995–1999: Return to acting
During the comeback portion of his career, Phoenix was often cast in supporting roles as conflicted, insecure characters with a dark side. In 1995, he co-starred in To Die For, as a disturbed young man who is seduced by a woman (Nicole Kidman) to commit murder. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film was screened out of competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and became a financial and critical success, resulting in a domestic box office total of $21 million. New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised Phoenix's performance, writing "So pity poor Jimmy. Rivetingly played by Mr Phoenix with a raw, anguished expressiveness that makes him an actor to watch for, Jimmy is both tempted and terrified by Suzanne's slick amorality. In that, he speaks for us all."
In 1997, Phoenix played a small-town troublemaker in Oliver Stone's U Turn, and a poor man in love with a rich woman in Inventing the Abbotts. The films were received with mostly mixed and negative reviews, respectively, and neither performed well at the box office.
The following year, Phoenix starred in Clay Pigeons (1998) as a young man in a small town who befriends a serial killer. Budgeted at $8 million, the film became a box office flop, grossing only $1 million and was, like Phoenix's previous projects, not well received by critics.
In his next film, 8mm (1999), Phoenix co-starred as an adult video store employee who helps Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) penetrate the underworld of illegal pornography. The film turned out be a box office success, grossing $96 million worldwide, but found few admirers among critics.
2000–2005: Critical acclaim and commercial success
In 2000, Phoenix co-starred in three films. He made his first collaboration with director James Gray in The Yards. The film follows the corruption in the rail yards of Queens. Although failing to perform at the box office, The Yards was received with positive reviews. That same year, Phoenix played a fictionalized version of Roman Emperor Commodus in the historical epic film Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott. The film was a massive financial and critical success, becoming one of the highest earning films of 2000, with a worldwide box office gross of $457 million and received universal critical praise. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. For his performance, which the critic Lisa Schwarzbaum described as "deliciously creepy perversity", Phoenix was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role and received his first nomination for the Academy Award in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He and late brother River Phoenix became the first brothers to be nominated for acting Academy Awards. To date they are the only brothers to hold this distinction. Later, he portrayed the conflicted priest Abbé de Coulmier in Quills. Inspired by the life and work of the Marquis de Sade, the film premiered in the United States at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2000, and was a modest art house success grossing a total of $17 million at the box office, but it was received with critical praise, eventually receiving three Academy Award nominations at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards and The National Board of Review selected the film as its Best Film of 2000. For his combined roles, Phoenix won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor and the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor.
The following year, Phoenix starred in the satirical film Buffalo Soldiers (2001) as a U.S. Army soldier. The world premiere was held at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival in early September. However, because the film was a satire of the US military, its wider theatrical run was delayed by approximately two years because of the September 11 attacks; it was finally released on July 25, 2003. Although the film was a box office flop, it was received with mostly positive reviews. Famed critic Roger Ebert praised Phoenix for his "spot-on performance". Phoenix was nominated for the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor.
Phoenix also starred in M. Night Shyamalan's science fiction thriller Signs (2002). Phoenix plays Merrill Hess, a former Minor League baseball player who, along with his older brother Graham (Mel Gibson), discovers that Earth has been invaded by extraterrestrials. The film was a massive financial success, grossing $408 million on its $72 million budget, and was received with positive reviews. Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers praised Phoenix's performance, writing "Phoenix registers impressively, finding the humor and the pain in this lost boy".
In 2003, Phoenix played the irresolute husband of a superstar-skater in It's All About Love, and voiced Kenai in the Disney animated film, Brother Bear. The film grossed $250 million worldwide and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. He was replaced by Patrick Dempsey in the sequel Brother Bear 2.
In 2004, Phoenix paired with Shyamalan again, playing a lovestruck farmer in The Village. It received mixed reviews but was a financial success, grossing $256 million worldwide on its $60 million budget. For his second film that year, Phoenix starred in the drama film Ladder 49 as a Baltimore firefighter. The film earned $102 million at the box office despite receiving generally mixed reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising the performances in the film. Phoenix's final film of 2004 was Terry George's Hotel Rwanda, playing photographer Jack Daglish. The film was a moderate financial success but was a critical success, receiving almost exclusively positive reviews from critics. For his performance in the film, Phoenix was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture along with the cast.
In 2005, Phoenix starred in the James Mangold directed film Walk the Line, a Johnny Cash biopic, after Cash himself approved of Phoenix. All of Cash's vocal tracks in the film and on the accompanying soundtrack are played and sung by Phoenix. The film was released on November 18, 2005, eventually grossing $186 million. Phoenix's performance received rave reviews from critics and it inspired film critic Roger Ebert to write, "Knowing Johnny Cash's albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it's Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked". For his portrayal of Johnny Cash, Phoenix was nominated for his second Academy Award, in the category of Best Actor as well as the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. He won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media for the film's soundtrack. Earlier that year, he narrated Earthlings (2005), a documentary about the investigation of animal abuse in factory farms, pet mills and for scientific research. He was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the San Diego Film Festival in 2005, for his work and contribution to Earthlings.
2006–2010: Producing and self-imposed break
In 2006, Phoenix was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 2007, Phoenix reunited with director James Gray for the film We Own the Night, which he also produced. In the film, Phoenix played a New York nightclub manager who tries to save his brother and father from Russian mafia hit men. The film premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, receiving mixed reviews from critics and grossed a total of $54.5 million worldwide. Critic Peter Travers described Phoenix as "electrifying and then some", and he was awarded the People's Choice Award for Favorite Leading Man for the performance. For his second film of 2007, Phoenix also reunited with director Terry George for the film Reservation Road. In it, Phoenix played a father obsessed with finding out who killed his son in a hit-and-run accident. The film failed at the box office and received negative reviews from critics, with film critic Peter Travers writing "Even the best actors – and I'd rank Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo among their generation's finest – can't save a movie that aims for tragedy but stalls at soap opera."
Phoenix made his third collaboration with director James Gray in the film Two Lovers (2008), where he played a bachelor torn between the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbor. Two Lovers premiered in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival in May, receiving largely positive reviews, especially Phoenix who was praised by film critics David Edelstein who wrote "He [Phoenix] is, once again, stupendous, and stupendous in a way he has never been before" and Roger Ebert describing his performance as "perfect pitch". Two Lovers grossed $16 million worldwide.
Phoenix's mockumentary film I'm Still Here (2010) premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival on September 6, 2010. The film was directed by Phoenix's then brother-in-law Casey Affleck and was also written by Affleck and Phoenix himself. The film purports to follow the life of Phoenix, from the announcement of his retirement from acting, through his transition into a career as a hip hop artist. Filming officially began on January 16, 2009 at a Las Vegas nightclub. Throughout the filming period, Phoenix remained in character for public appearances, giving many the impression that he was genuinely pursuing a new career. Although widely suspected to be a "mockumentary," the fact that the events of the film had been deliberately staged was not disclosed until after the film had been released. The film received mixed reviews and failed at the box office.
2012–present: Comeback and further acclaim
In 2011, it was announced that Phoenix would star in Paul Thomas Anderson's drama film The Master (2012). Phoenix played Freddie Quell, a sex-obsessed alcoholic World War II veteran struggling to adjust to a post-war society. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where Phoenix won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. The art house film only grossed $28 million but was received with universal critical acclaim, with the acting performances receiving high praise, especially Phoenix's. Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone gave Phoenix high praise stating "Joaquin Phoenix in the performance of his career. Phoenix wears the role like a second skin; he's a volcano in full eruption. You can't take your eyes off him." His performance was publicly lauded by fellow actors Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain and Robert Duvall. Phoenix received his third Academy Award nomination, his second for Best Actor, as well as nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and BAFTA Award for Best Actor.
In 2013, Phoenix starred in romantic science-fiction drama film Her directed by Spike Jonze. In it, Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a man who develops a relationship with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), an intelligent computer operating system personified through a female voice. It had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 12, 2013. Her had a worldwide gross of $47 million and received widespread critical acclaim, along with Phoenix's performance. Film critics Manohla Dargis and David Edelstein agreed that no other actor could have done the role but Phoenix, stating "Her is even harder to imagine without Mr. Phoenix, an actor who excels at exquisite isolation" and "It's hard to imagine someone more affecting than Phoenix in the role" respectively, and Phoenix received his fourth nomination for the Golden Globe Award. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Also in 2013, Phoenix collaborated with director James Gray for the fourth time in the drama film The Immigrant. He starred as Bruno Weiss, a pimp who prostitutes Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and ends up falling for her. It was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as well as at the 2013 New York Film Festival. The film was released in the United States on May 16, 2014. The Immigrant was not successful at the box office but received positive reviews from critics.
In 2014, Phoenix reunited with director Paul Thomas Anderson for the crime comedy-drama film Inherent Vice, the first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon book. Phoenix played the role of Doc, a private investigator and hippie/dope head trying to help his ex-girlfriend solve a crime. Inherent Vice premiered as the centerpiece at the New York Film Festival on October 4, 2014 and went nationwide on January 9, 2015. It was met with mostly positive reviews with many critics praising the film for its acting performances, while some were frustrated by its complicated plot, however it only grossed $11.1 million at the box office. Phoenix was nominated for his fifth Golden Globe Award for his performance.
Phoenix starred in the 2015 mystery comedy-drama Irrational Man. Directed by Woody Allen, the film was screened out of competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, received mixed to positive reviews, and began a theatrical release on July 17, 2015. Phoenix narrated his second documentary for Nation Earth about animal rights called Unity (2015). It was released on August 12, 2015.
Phoenix starred in four movies released in 2018: In the first, Phoenix portrayed Jesus in Garth Davis's Mary Magdalene, opposite Rooney Mara. It was released in the United Kingdom on March 16, 2018 to mixed reviews. The film's original distributor has been the cause of the film's delayed U.S. release. Later, Phoenix starred as Joe, a former FBI agent and Gulf War veteran suffering from PTSD, in the Amazon Studios thriller You Were Never Really Here (2017), written and directed by Lynne Ramsay. The film premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received wide critical acclaim, and won Phoenix the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor. The film began its US release on April 6, 2018. Many critics agreed the performance is one of Phoenix' best to date, with Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times describing it as "the most rivetingly contained" work of his career. In his third feature of the year, Phoenix portrayed quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan in his second feature with director Gus Van Sant, the biopic Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot. The film was released on July 13, 2018 and Phoenix's lead performance received critical acclaim. His last film role of 2018 was as Charlie Sisters in Jacques Audiard's English-language debut, an adaptation of Patrick deWitt's historical novel, The Sisters Brothers. The film was released on September 21, 2018. This same year, he also collaborated with Rooney Mara, Sia, Sadie Sink and Kat von D to narrate Chris Delforce's animal rights documentary Dominion.
In 2019, Phoenix starred as the iconic DC Comics character The Joker in Todd Phillips' film Joker. The film premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, with Phoenix receiving rave reviews for his performance. Variety's Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Phoenix is astonishing as a mentally ill geek who becomes the killer-clown Joker in Todd Phillips' neo-Taxi Driver knockout: the rare comic-book movie that expresses what's happening in the real world." The film was theatrically released in the United States on October 4, 2019, and became a major box office success, grossing over $1 billion, making it the first R-rated film to pass the billion-dollar mark at the worldwide box office.
On September 19, 2019, Deadline Hollywood announced that Phoenix has signed on to star in Mike Mills' next film, which will be produced and distributed by A24. The film will shoot in the fall of 2019.
Phoenix served as one of the executive producers of a television show called 4Real, a half-hour series which showcase celebrity guests on global adventures "in order to connect with young leaders who are creating social and economic change." He is also listed as a producer on the movie We Own the Night. In music, he was said to have produced the opening track for Pusha T's My Name Is My Name album alongside Kanye West. The track is called "King Push". Phoenix then denied in a statement to XXL having produced the record, saying "While it was widely reported that Pusha T used my beat and that I produced his song, I can't take any credit. A friend's son played me his music, and all I did was make an introduction to Kanye [West]'s camp.". He is set to produce a documentary about LGBT teenagers on summer camp.
In early April 2005, Phoenix checked into rehab to be treated for alcoholism.
On his religious background, Phoenix has said, "My parents believed in God. I'm Jewish, my mom's Jewish, but she believes in Jesus, she felt a connection to that. But they were never religious. I don't remember going to church, maybe a couple of times."
Since 2006, he has been living in the Hollywood Hills. On January 26, 2006, while driving down a winding canyon road in Hollywood, Phoenix veered off the road and flipped his car. The crash was reportedly caused by brake failure. Shaken and confused, Phoenix heard someone tapping on his window and telling him to "just relax." Unable to see the man, Phoenix replied, "I'm fine. I am relaxed." The man replied, "No, you're not," and stopped Phoenix from lighting a cigarette while gasoline was leaking into the car cabin. Phoenix then realized that the man was famed German film director Werner Herzog. While Herzog helped Phoenix out of the wreckage by breaking the back window of the car, bystanders phoned for an ambulance. Phoenix approached Herzog to express his gratitude, but Herzog downplayed his heroism and returned to his home nearby.
Phoenix unexpectedly announced in late 2008 that he had retired from acting to pursue a rapping career, and that the forthcoming Two Lovers would be his last film. On February 11, 2009, Phoenix appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote Two Lovers. He seemed incoherent and was mostly unresponsive towards David Letterman's questions about the film and his career plans. Phoenix appeared on Late Show again on September 22, 2010, and revealed that his "retirement" and eccentric behavior were for a mockumentary, I'm Still Here (2010), that he and Casey Affleck were filming.
In October 2012, Phoenix labeled the Academy Awards "bullshit." He later gave an interview apologizing for his earlier comments and acknowledging that the Oscars provide an important platform for many deserving filmmakers. He elaborated on the topic while on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2015, saying that he is uncomfortable receiving accolades for his work in movies when he considers the filmmaking process to be a collaborative one.
Phoenix dated his Inventing the Abbotts co-star Liv Tyler from 1995 to 1998 and South African model Topaz Page-Green from 2001 to 2005. Since late 2016, he has been dating Rooney Mara. In July 2019, it was confirmed that they are engaged.
Phoenix has long been a social activist, lending his support to a number of charities and humanitarian organizations, such as Amnesty International, The Art of Elysium, HEART, and the Peace Alliance (which campaigns for a United States Department of Peace). Phoenix is also on the board of directors for The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organization which provides daily meals to students of township schools in Soweto, South Africa, which was founded by his ex-girlfriend, South African model Topaz Page-Green.
Animal rights activism
Phoenix is widely known for his animal rights advocacy and is a vegan. Throughout the years, he has collaborated with animal rights organizations to spread awareness about animal abuse and to promote veganism. Phoenix is a member of In Defense of Animals and PETA and has campaigned for both. He does not wear any clothes made out of animal skin. In his films, he requests that leather costumes be made from synthetic materials. However, in a 2014 Playboy interview, he stated otherwise, saying that the boots in Walk the Line were "vintage".
For Nation Earth he narrated Earthlings (2005), a documentary about humankind's total dependence on animals for economic purposes. He was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the San Diego Film Festival in 2005, for his work and contribution to Earthlings. He narrated his second documentary for Nation Earth called Unity (2015), along with other famous celebrity vegans such as actress Jessica Chastain and comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
In 2017, he executive-produced the documentary What the Health, which premiered on June 16, 2017, on Netflix. The film says it "expose[s] the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars, and keeping us sick". In 2019, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Phoenix "Person of the Year", releasing the following statement: "Joaquin Phoenix never misses an opportunity to turn the spotlight away from himself and onto animals' plight and to set a great example of walking the vegan walk".
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