In case you didn’t know, Joaquin Phoenix has apparently quit acting and is trying to become a rapper. While the entire venture is still coming together and Joaquin is still writing and producing his first album, he seemed very serious about making this music thing work. And even though he says he’s finished with acting, after speaking with him today, I’m still unsure if this new career is real, or if it’s just another part in a long line of movies.
But I do think he’s really trying to make an album. The big question is…will it be any good.
Anyway, since the interview went on for over thirty minutes, I’ve decided to post the interview in two halves. That way you don’t have to read nine pages of transcript at once.
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview by clicking here. This is one of those I suggest listening to….
Question: You think maybe with your acting you might be able to bring in certain people that wouldn’t normally…
Joaquin Phoenix: It would be dope if I got Russell Crowe and Keanu Reeves and Jared Leto and we just did a thing. That would be pretty dope right?
Because they’ve all been in bands that have been kind of torn apart by people?
Joaquin: Oh really? Were they torn apart?
Is that what you see as a similarity or what?
Joaquin: No, I was just joking I was just trying to find all the actors who have done music.
That kind of brings up the question though of “30 Odd Foots of Grunts”, “Dogstar”… they got a lot of shit for that. So do you have any fear of your own that you’re going to be lumped with those guys in the years to come?
Joaquin: I’m just accustomed to living in that place, so I’m not really worried. It’s not about success, it’s not about being “good”; it doesn’t matter to me. It’s about experience. I didn’t act because I wanted to be good or I wanted people to say that I was good, I enjoyed that process and now I enjoy this process. What can I say? It might suck, everyone might hate it and I’d be the only one that likes it but that’s alright because I’ve been having an amazing time writing the record.
Well for you I’m sort of curious, there’s two sides to music. There’s the record making, which is the artistic statement and the performing which is getting out in front of the crowd and connecting. Which is more important to you? Are you about the record or about the crowd?
Joaquin: The record is more important to me and that’s really what I’ve been working on. Diddy just said, “Look you got to get out there,” so I’ve been going around to little clubs and freestyling. He said “You have to do a show because it’s too easy to go—it’s freestyling, and fuck up and forgetting, you walk out, and when you really set your mind to it and go, this is a show and set it up,” and I was like “Okay,” so I set up this show to really get the experience. I was certain it was going to be a disaster; I mean I was doing the mixes the night before, I had no idea what the system was right? So you’re sitting there going “Fuck, is the snare too loud? Do I need to pull it down? It seems like the base is too loud.” So I was rushing doing these mixes and I’ve never done it before. And it was such a weird concept, like you have just given someone an iPod with a backing track, with a mic. It was really strange to me because I want to have a show, I want to have musicians and little things so it was really just part of the training. But you know, unfortunately, it was public, and I was public so you’re seeing the training. What about this movie the “Two Lovers”?
Well you hip-hop in it. Was it freestyle or did you make it up?
Joaquin: No, I did not. James [Gray, director], you know, we were talking, sitting in the car prepping for that scene and rehearsing, saying something has to happen because we cut to the car and everyone is hanging out. So we talked about things, so what do these dudes do, they grow up in Brooklyn, this age, and they all loved hip-hop, so James told me that he had a hip-hop group, so I said “That’s just too genius, I cant fuckin’ imagine,” and so I said “Okay, let me try and do something,” so I just have a few different ideas, so I drive down and say “Should I do this one or this one?” and then we just ended up doing like all of them and I don’t know which one he used for the movie.
We’re talking about “Two Lovers” the ending of the film has this ambiguity I just want to have your take on “Leonard”—Do you think there is a chance for him to find happiness or is he always going to be living in the shadow of “Michelle”. What do you think might be coming next after the film ends for him?
Joaquin: I don’t think it’s a very good life for Leonard. I imagine, I think he is going to find happiness; he’s just never going to find this idealized romantic-love-happiness. He’s just going to find the reality; he’s going to have a few kids. Probably take over his dad’s business and the kids will have birthday parties and they’ll laugh and he’ll… what was the name of Vinessa Shaw’s character? “Sandra”. Yeah you know. If he married “Sandra” he’ll be fine, I think he would just have a normal life.
When we follow the interviews, we can’t help but notice that the hip-hop Joaquin looks very different than the leading man, sex symbol Joaquin we’ve seen in the past. Can you tell us about this look you have going on today?
Joaquin: Look, it’s very much a effort. I don’t know what your excuse is. I have to do things extremely physical as well. That’s the thing people do—recognize me and they know me as this kind of thing, in some ways I don’t know that this is my look, you know? It’s just been important for me to just do something that’s extreme. That really separates me from that public “Joaquin-persona”, whatever the fuck that is. Or I’m just lazy.
So the beard and the hair help you kind of lose yourself?
Joaquin: No, I just think that it stops people from saying “Johnny Cash”. You know and now they just say “Grizzly Adams.”
You and James have a good working relationship. You’ve done a few films together, you developed a shorthand, are you a little bit sad that it’s possible you might not be working together again?
Joaquin: I love James but I don’t love him that much. And I mean, I have to do what’s right for me, you know what I mean? Yeah, of course there’s a little part of me that will probably miss some of those moments. But I think that happens for everyone at some time. You change your career or you work on something else. There’s a part of you that’s going to miss your old job in some ways, but maybe I’ll get to direct my video. Yeah I want to do “Thriller”-style. A whole big intro and shit.
You actually brought up an excellent point about the promotion process that begins for your music career and for everything else, so you already started about thinking about that?
Joaquin: Promotions what?
Well like making videos and promoting your music through that content, you already mentioned “Thriller” as an influence, is that something you definitely want to do? Make a big kind of style video?
Joaquin: I don’t know. I think you always have those lost ambitions…whatever I’m a fuckin’ moron, right? I just want to, like, imagine that I will do something great but it would probably be like one of the worst videos ever made. I’ll direct it, it’ll be the worst thing ever. But I think, you want to try, you strive for greatness, you know you’ll never probably reach there because you’re not good enough, but hopefully I’ll come up with some great concept and maybe I’ll get lucky and Spike Jonze will want to do the video.
Joaquin, I kind of have a random question, I work for MTV and we had somebody send us this letter, this guy is legit, his name is Dan Suh and he’s the manager for “Fall Out Boy” and he sent us a letter for you asking you to be your DJ. So I was going to give it to you if you want it…
Joaquin: Oh, thank you.
But this guy really is legit, he is legitimately the manager for “Fall Out Boy” and he says that every good rapper needs a DJ and he wants to be yours.
Joaquin: He wants to be the DJ?
He wants to be your Jam Master J he says in that letter. Are you hiring? Are you looking for a DJ? Or are you a one man band?
Joaquin: No I don’t have a DJ, because I like to, I’m not sure that, I’m working on the show, right? And I don’t want to talk, talk about everything right, because when you don’t achieve it everyone will know that you didn’t achieve it right? So, the show is not just going to be me with a mic and a backing track and so I might have a DJ, but its not going to be you typical hip-hop show I guess.
The thing about hip-hop is that there’s an obsession with keeping it real and speaking about real experiences, for your audience. Your experiences in life have been sort of very different possibly than your whole audience’s experiences…
Joaquin: The whole thing is sort of like: I woke up and they said “Action!”, and I was like “Oh shit! Where’s my mark? Oh shit!”
Well that’s the sort of thing, what is keeping it real for a guy who’s turned to rapping after acting for almost twenty years…
Joaquin: I know nothing about keeping it real, I know nothing about it. I don’t really know what that means. I don’t think anyone really knows what that means. But what are you asking? What is the content?
Well not what is the content but sort of, I mean… when I listen to track by some rapper randomly I experience parts of their lives and I experience an understanding. What is it that a famous, rich, white actor is going to be bringing to hip-hop that is going to resonate with people on a personal level?
Joaquin: Not that very much.
I just want to ask you about working with the girls on this, especially for Gwyneth [Paltrow] this was kind of a different role for her too, I’m just wondering when you were working with her did you guys bounce ideas off each other about her performance or yours or whatever, the relationship.
Joaquin: No, I don’t really do that I don’t like to know what other actors are thinking and I don’t want them to know what I’m thinking necessarily unless it’s like important for a scene. I think that there are certain scenes, moments, where it’s important that you understand what the other person is doing and you might talk about it, but typically for me, the director is the only person I talked to about the choices and my intention for a scene. And I don’t really want to know but it was great. I was genuinely surprised by how Gwyneth interpreted the character and what she did. Her first day, I’d been working for like two weeks so I was comfortable by then, you get comfortable with the crew and everything and she came in and I thought she was going to be nervous and take all day, but she just smoked me, I mean right away. I couldn’t believe it. It was terrifying. She was really amazing. She just arrived and she had the character down. Because you know, it seems at least in my experience, the first couple of days everyone is kind of moving around and they’re bumping into furniture and you’re trying to go like “How do I walk? What do I do? What’s natural? How the fuck do I just say ‘Good morning,’ to somebody and it sounds normal?” Because you look at it on a piece of paper and you start analyzing it and you’re like ‘Good morning’ because it’s a weird thing, with both her and Vinessa, either of them ever skipped a beat, they were just like “Bang!”—right into it.
James talked about the amount of takes you do when filming scenes, when you were making the film, are you kind of the person who gets it on the first take or are you the kind of person who likes to do it on multiple takes for the director to cut from?
Joaquin: I’m the type of person who has no idea, like I think that, for me, if I’m aware of something that I’m doing, then usually it’s bad. I think the only time that anything is good is when I’m not aware of it. So I don’t know. I don’t know how many takes I do. There’s not a conscious effort to try and give somebody more options. I think you’re trying to still find out what the truth is and get to that, sometimes it takes forty takes and sometimes it happens in a few.