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Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Joaquin Phoenix

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands

How well do you know this leading man? Did you know that Joaquin Phoenix’s parents were cult missionaries? Or that he doesn’t watch his own films? Let WatchMojo fill in you on the most interesting facts about actor Joaquin Phoenix!

Check out MyMojo to see how people voted on our list of the Top 10 Joaquin Phoenix Performances: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Joaquin%20Phoenix%20Performances


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Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Joaquin Phoenix

How well do you know this leading man? Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down or picks for the Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Joaquin Phoenix.

For this list, we’ll be looking at interesting trivia and little known facts about American actor Joaquin Phoenix.

#10: He’s Still Very Anxious While Acting

Joaquin Phoenix is among the most talented thespians of his generation. Put him a role, and you can all but guarantee that the end result will be a remarkable performance, regardless of how the film itself performs. As such, and given his decades of experience in front of the camera, you’d think that on-set would have become the environment in which he’s most at home. Apparently not! As he’s said in various interviews over the years, he’s actually nervous every time he acts. In 2013, he told the Daily Mail that “every f-ing movie, it feels like it’s my first”. He’s described his anxiety on-set as “crippling” and “terrifying”. It sure doesn’t show in the finished product!

#9: He Doesn’t Watch His Own Films

Countless people love watching Joaquin Phoenix’s movies, but he isn’t among them. There are actually a number of big name actors out there who are apparently uncomfortable watching themselves on-screen and therefore avoid it. It’s seemingly just too hard to enjoy a film and turn off that self-critical part of the brain. Javier Bardem, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman . . . Phoenix is in good company. For his part, Joaquin admits that he sometimes feels curious, but knows that that the self-awareness brought on by watching himself could negatively impact his future work. He’s apparently only sat through “Her” and “The Master”, the latter at director Paul Thomas Anderson’s request.

#8: He Went Method for “Walk the Line”

Joaquin Phoenix isn’t afraid to go to extreme lengths for his craft. He gave up years of his life to play a fictionalized version of himself for the mockumentary “I’m Still Here”. That particular experiment was well-documented, but what you might not know is that he also took the method approach to become Johnny Cash for the film “Walk the Line”. He not only taught himself to sing and play the guitar like Cash, but he stayed in character as the country star even between takes. Phoenix, who insisted on going by Cash’s legal birth name on-set, J.R., admitted being embarrassed by his behavior in hindsight. But hey, whatever it takes to get the performance!

#7: His Parents Were Cult Missionaries

Joaquin Phoenix is indeed a very interesting man, and he had an upbringing to match. The middle child of five siblings born to Arlyn Phoenix and John Lee Bottom, Joaquin spent his early years travelling around South America with his family. His parents were both Americans, but as members of the controversial “Children of God” new religious movement, they moved around a lot spreading the teachings of the cult. They would ultimately leave the group in 1978, four years after the birth of Joaquin, at which point the family adopted the last name Phoenix to symbolize a new beginning. After returning to America, the Phoenix children got involved in acting.

#6: The Cut on his Lip is a Birthmark

Actors are chameleons, expected to play a wide variety of roles and assume the backstories of the characters they’re playing. So as you may have noticed, very few of the big name stars have distinct facial blemishes. Joaquin Phoenix is an exception however, bearing a unique and quite noticeable slash running vertically from his upper lip to his nose. At first glance it looks like a scar. Others assert that it’s leftover from surgery to repair a medical condition known as a cleft lip. Apparently, neither is correct however! Though it might be an unusual one, according to Joaquin, this line is actually a birthmark.

#5: He Was the One Who Called 911 when his Brother Suffered a Fatal Overdose

After decades performing in major films to critical acclaim, Joaquin is undoubtedly the most famous of the Phoenix siblings nowadays. But when he was younger, his older brother, River Phoenix, was the family’s biggest star. Heralded as one of the greatest young talents in the industry, River sadly saw his journey cut short when he died from a drug overdose in 1993 at the age of 23. Handling such a tragic loss is always immensely hard, but Joaquin had the added burden of actually having to make the emergency 911 call. Sadly, the media has very little respect for privacy in the case of celebrity deaths, and the leaked phone call was aired repeatedly in the aftermath.

#4: He Went by the Name Leaf for over a Decade

When you’re young, sometimes fitting in can feel really important. In the case of Joaquin Phoenix, who was born into a cult, we can imagine that fitting in was extra challenging. The third child born in his family, Joaquin was the first not to be given a nature-themed name - something that he clearly was not happy about. Taking his identity into his own hands, at the age of just five years old, he re-christened himself Leaf to better fit with his elder siblings. Apparently, this also stemmed from frustration over the fact that others had trouble pronouncing his name. He’d go by Leaf for a decade until 1989 when he went back to Joaquin.

#3: He's Been a Vegan Since the Age of 3

Most people start to experiment with different dietary choices during their teens. And for many a young person, a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is one that they might go back and forth on a number of times before really committing. Not Joaquin Phoenix! He’s been a vegan from the tender age of just three years old. As he explained in an interview with Collider, he was inspired to stop eating meat after seeing his family kill their catch on a fishing trip. Even as a young child, he couldn't help but see the injustice of it all, and has been vegan ever since. He won’t even wear leather for a role!

#2: He Graduated from Fire Academy for “Ladder 49”

Remember when we were talking about Joaquin Phoenix’s commitment to his roles? Well, this is perhaps the most staggeringly impressive example. It’s one thing to stay in character; it’s another thing entirely to actually live out the characters’ past experiences. And that’s exactly what the actor did in preparation for his role as fireman Jack Morrison in the film “Ladder 49”. According to ABC News, in the lead up to filming, Joaquin reportedly went through six weeks of training at Baltimore Fire Academy, successfully graduating from the program. He then went on to work as a fireman on West Baltimore's Truck 10 for a month. Now that’s commitment.

#1: Werner Herzog May Have Saved His Life

In 2006, Joaquin Phoenix was involved in a car accident. Thankfully, he walked away from it relatively unharmed, but this story could have ended very differently. The actor’s car reportedly suffered from brake failure and wound up flipping over on a side road in Los Angeles. Though he wasn’t injured, he was apparently disoriented, because he was lying in the upturned car attempting to light a cigarette despite there being spilled gasoline everywhere. Explosive consequences were thankfully avoided when none other than legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, who lived nearby, appeared on the scene. He apparently reassured Phoenix that everything was fine, helped him out of the car and, most importantly, took away the lighter.

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