There’s no denying Joaquin Phoenix is a gifted actor. He picks roles with such seriousness and intensity, some fans say he’s even the finest performer of our generation. "I abandon my life when I work," the Joker antihero once told The Guardian. "I don’t communicate with friends or family. It sounds intense, but it’s the process of getting there that is really hard."
That being said, for an actor that’s practically grown up in the spotlight, he doesn’t take very well to being interviewed. Some say it has to do with the media still asking him about his brother, actor River Phoenix, who tragically passed away in 1993 in front of the Viper Room while Joaquin witnessed it. Meanwhile, others say the Oscar-nominated star is merely shy. As one film producer who’s worked with Phoenix told Page Six, "Hiding is just a natural state for him," before summarizing perfectly, "Everyone wonders, ‘Is he really that sensitive — or does he just want you to think he’s weird?’ You’ll always be confused about him. Which actually is kind of weird."
Naturally, Phoenix’s penchant for privacy translates to a reticence towards interviews, and when he does finally decide to sit down and share bits of his life, the result is either shocking or downright funny. Here are some examples of the most uncomfortable Joaquin Phoenix interviews ever.
Joaquin Phoenix wouldn’t joke about this question
Controversy plagues the role of The Joker whenever he appears in a new Batman flick. When The Dark Knight Rises premiered in Colorado in 2012, a gunman opened fire at a local movie theatre, killing 12 people. A widely believed narrative — which his since been debunked — stated that the killer said something to the effect of "I am the Joker." Meanwhile, many believe it’s the role of the Joker that led the late Heath Ledger to his untimely death — a part which Jack Nicholson (a former Joker himself) warned him about.
You can imagine Joaquin Phoenix‘s disdain when The Telegraph reporter, Robbie Collin, decided to ask the actor whether or not his role as the eponymous character in Joker would inspire real-life copycats. "Why would you…? No… no," the actor sputtered, before getting up and leaving. After some peace-keeping with Phoenix’s PR rep, the actor returned, yet the question remained unanswered.
A similar situation arose during an IGN interview. Keeping his cool this time, Phoenix said that he could see how the film could be "fuel" for an already unstable person. But he also feels that "you can’t function in life saying, ‘Well, I can’t ask that question for the small chance that somebody might be affected by [it].’" He continued, "But I think the same way that you feel that you need to ask that question and engage in the conversation this way, I think that’s how I feel as an actor. And that’s all I have to say."
A sudden nervous breakdown?
From the second the actor stepped on stage, fans knew something was off. Sporting dark sunglasses, a beard, and general disheveled look, Phoenix barely spoke to his interviewer, giving a series of one-word answers and mumbles. With Letterman purposely prolonging the silence in some instances, the audience couldn’t help but awkwardly laugh, causing the actor to even blurt out at one point, "What do you have them on? What do you gas them up with?" As the whole thing bizarrely kept up, the host tried to press on and ask the Her star if the rumor that he was leaving acting was true. Phoenix’s response? He wanted to focus on his "hip-hop music" instead. Uh, okay.
As it turned out, Phoenix pulled the biggest prank in A-list history. His "breakdown" was, in fact, merely a character in a Casey Affleck-directed mockumentary, I’m Still Here. After the flick came out, Phoenix returned to The Late Show over a year later, apologizing to Letterman. "You’ve interviewed many, many people and I assumed that you would, kind of know the difference between a character and a real person," he explained, adding, "I apologize. I hope I didn’t offend you in any way."
The interview that even made Joaquin Phoenix feel guilt
Since Joaquin Phoenix is known to be notoriously brutal with the press, it appeared that bringing along director Spike Jonze for the press tour of their movie, Her, seemed like a good idea. Think again. The two decided to tackle a Los Angeles Times interview together, with Jonze acting as a sort of peacemaker. What happened instead only seemed to make things a bit more hostile.
The interview starts off with writer Chris Lee noting, "Joaquin Phoenix refused to hug it out." Uh-oh. He then goes on to explain that the Oscar-nominated actor tolerated his questions for over an hour, finally going "on the offensive" after being asked too many "matters Phoenix didn’t care to address." Finally, with a scoff and his voice exuding ridicule, the star bluntly asked, "Um, how long have you been doing this?" If that isn’t enough to send a mortified interviewer to flee, Jonze then gets uncomfortable, suddenly declaring, "Come on, let’s hug it out." Phoenix’s response was a total freakout. "I don’t want to hug it out! I don’t want to hug out anything that doesn’t need to be hugged out!" Cringe.
Perhaps at the end of the session, the Gladiator star felt some guilt for how he tortured the journalist, as he decided to walk Lee to his car, then later followed up with a phone call that Lee described as "closure." We suppose all is forgiven?
The time Will Ferrell ‘covered all the pertinent topics’
You’d think that having a fellow actor interview Joaquin Phoenix would go smoother, considering they’re both part of the same machine that’s up against the press. Well, apparently not if that interviewer happens to be Will Ferrell — someone equally as bizarre as Phoenix. The result? A comically awkward chat between the two, given to us by way of Interview magazine and their idea to have the Anchorman actor question Phoenix on the phone. Of course, even the start of their talk starts off weird, with Ferrell saying press conferences are "bizarre" and Phoenix earnestly admitting, "I’m probably so self-consumed any time I do a press conference, overwhelmed by my own feelings and thoughts in the situation. It always feels so uncomfortable and ridiculous to me."
As time goes on, Ferrell gets more relaxed, causing the questions to get more nonsensical. "In your personal life, are you sometimes a little b**ch?" Clearly getting away with it, the comedian then follows up with, "When you worked with M. Night Shyamalan, did you ever just once call him M. Night Shyamalamadingdong?" Somehow maintaining his composure, Phoenix sticks to a one-worded "No," leaving Ferrell to move on to his next slew of interrogation.
As the interview wraps up and Ferrell tells The Master star they’ve "covered all the pertinent topics," his interviewee simply responds with, "I think we should’ve ended it in the beginning."
When Joaquin Phoenix was awkward by being sweet
If anything, the abrasiveness that Joaquin Phoenix dishes out during interviews is something we’re all already used to. What’s even weirder, however? When he’s doing the opposite.
Making an appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly in 2007, the hosts set the Two Lovers star up to participate in an arm-wrestling match against Kelly Ripa. As an impromptu table is being wheeled out for the game, Phoenix raises his hands and uncomfortably quips, "And just by chance we happen to have this! Nobody expected this to happen!" While Regis Philbin eggs Phoenix on to go stand by the table, the actor suddenly gets up and gives Ripa the warmest hug, instead. The whole thing is so out of character for the actor that it begs the question — why?
Perhaps the star had a few years in the industry that turned him into a bit of a softy, as only a year prior after the release of Walk the Line, Phoenix admitted how solitary life can be when filming of a flick wraps up. "Every movie soaks into you for a certain amount of time," he told The Guardian. "You can no longer rely on the world that you have created. The rug has been pulled from under you and suddenly there’s … nothing. The job finishes and you say, ‘What do I do? How do I act? What is my life?’ It can be very lonely."
Is Joaquin Phoenix just a big ol’ liar?
Joaquin Phoenix seemed to be in the most jovial of spirits when he went on The Ellen Show in 2015 (above) — until he couldn’t filter his brutal honesty.
The hilarious debacle started with the comedian and host Ellen DeGeneres thanking Phoenix for coming on to the show — given that the entire world knows he avoids interviews, and can burst at any given point during a discussion. The actor then told DeGeneres that he "had" to do the interview as his "family insisted on it." Explaining that he was watching DeGeneres’ standup special with his mom and sister, Phoenix then hit her "with a backhanded compliment," saying he fell asleep. With the audience erupting in giggles and the comedian giving him a perplexed look, Phoenix then tried to salvage the situation by saying he’s seen it before, rattling off the number of times before ending on "maybe one."
DeGeneres then pokes fun at Phoenix, telling him she believes him, considering he "has a tendency to make things up …You lie on talk shows every time I’ve ever seen you." Continuing his string of honesty, Phoenix quipped, "Everybody lies on talk shows! What do you mean? Yes they do!" While the two seemed to get along just fine, DeGeneres did bring up a good point about the actor’s bizarre tendency to fib to the public.
There was nothing brotherly about this Joaquin Phoenix interview
Joaquin Phoenix’s 2003 interview while on a promo tour for the animated children’s flick, Brother Bear, was something out of a nightmare for any budding young journalist. So cringe-worthy was it, in fact, it rivaled that of the epic takedown of interviewer Romina Puga by actor Jesse Eisenberg.
The interview kicks off with the journalist cracking a joke — a definite no-no for the future Oscar-nominated star. "You’re so much fun, I think our interview will last about two seconds," Phoenix calmly delivered, while his target seemed to brush it off. She then tells the actor that the flick was a "heartwarmer," and that she "cried three times during the course of it." Not holding back his contempt (shown above), the A-lister bluntly declares, "I don’t believe you’ve ever cried in your life." Managing to keep it together, the reporter asks him to tell her about character and how he developed it, as it’s "obviously not a physical manifestation" of the actor. With a scoff and an eye-roll, Phoenix tries to explain that the process was different, as he recorded his voice over a period of three years for the animated film.
Not getting what she wanted, the journalist tries prodding at Phoenix with similar questions until he finally gets fed up with the entire ordeal, shakes his head, and declares, "We’re done." Talk about painful!
When Joaquin Phoenix reminded everyone he hates interviews
You can at least admit that, if anything, Joaquin Phoenix isn’t shy about when he’s not having a good time. When the actor isn’t in jovial enough moods to flat-out lie to interviewers, he’ll at least make it clear he definitely has other things he’d rather be doing. "I f**king hate interviews," he declared in 2014 during a Shortlist chat. "I honestly don’t know how people perceive me. I don’t really give a sh*t!"
While interviewer Tom Bailey described the star as having "curled lips" as he smiled "to himself," you can’t help but wonder the intense A-lister enjoys watching those around him squirm as he declares such bold statements.
Phoenix’s nonchalance is definitely real, as he finishes the chat with some honesty, too. When asked if he still hates interviews, the actor laughs, noting, "The way I see it, our jobs are at odds with each other and always will be. But don’t be too sad. Don’t cry. Here, give me a hug." Bailey agreed to a hug from Phoenix, which lasted "about five seconds," much to the total shock of anyone reading.
An embarrassing publicity stunt cost Joaquin Phoenix years of work
The awkwardness that comes as a result of Joaquin Phoenix’s blunt mannerisms isn’t always solely torturous for his victims (erm, interviewers), but sometimes, for the actor himself.
The Joker star shocked the world in 2008 when he announced he was retiring from acting — a total surprise after the actor’s award wins and nominations that he seemed to be on a roll with. Speaking to Extra during a Paul Newman benefit, Phoenix declared, "I want to take this opportunity… to give you the exclusive and just talk a little bit about the fact that this will be my last performance as an actor… I’m not doing films anymore." Extra’s reporter, Jerry Penacoli, was genuinely shocked by the statement, even probing the A-lister further to ensure he was serious. "Yeah. I’m working on my music. I’m done. I’ve been through that."
Although, as everyone later found out, it turned out to be an elaborate hoax for his mockumentary, I’m Still Here. Phoenix also admitted years later that he was embarrassed by all the fake press. Speaking to author Bret Easton Ellis during a New York Times interview, the actor called his mockumentary work, "terribly humiliating." Even worse, the whole performance appeared to have hurt his career for a short period, as he revealed that he amazingly couldn’t find meaningful work for two years after the worldwide publicity stunt. Cringe!
Did Joaquin Phoenix get caught in another lie?
Joaquin Phoenix isn’t always friendly when he gets caught in his own web of lies, as proved by a phone interview with Time Out New York (via E! News).
In 2007, the Puerto Rico-born actor was promoting his flick We Own the Night, when he may have reached the limit of how many reporters he was willing to tolerate. When the journalist asked Phoenix about reports that he trained with a fire academy for his role in Ladder 49, the star suddenly blew up. "I just said that because I thought it would sound good to the press … It’s just what you’re supposed to do in your f**king job." Yikes. "Do you think because you did some research you deserve some special credit?" Before anyone could say anything else, Phoenix then slammed the receiver down, definitely getting his annoyance across. So… did he do the training, or not?
At any rate, perhaps the actor couldn’t shake off the intensity after wrapping up We Own the Night, as he’s known to get very invested in the roles he plays. It’s something his co-star, Robert Duvall, can attest to as well. Speaking to NY Daily News, the actor admitted to calling Phoenix "whacko," due to Phoenix’s tendency to "tease [Duvall] to the point of irritation." Noting that his co-star "worked hard at being crazy," perhaps the method actor had some difficulty shrugging off his role after filming wrapped up.
Actually, there’s no such thing as a not awkward Joaquin Phoenix interview
If you sit down and Google any sort of Joaquin Phoenix press conference he’s ever done, you’re presented with the hilarious gift of awkward displays from the actor himself, ranging from total boredom to complete irritation.
Since the A-lister’s tendency to come across as totally blunt during interviews is something that the entire entertainment industry knows, Phoenix has no problem admitting that to the world that press conferences simply aren’t his jam. "It’s the TV stuff I struggle with where it’s just soundbites — I f**king hate that," he explained to the Independent in 2018. "Press conferences where you’re up on a stage and people are down there constantly taking pictures, it’s f**king awkward."
Oddly enough, the actor admits that he doesn’t want any of these experiences to feel normal. "I don’t ever really wanna be comfortable up on that stage," he revealed. "There are some people who do that stuff and they do it often, whereas I’ll take breaks from working and my life is just normal, and I’m growing f**king vegetables in my garden." At the end of the day, perhaps that’s just what the actor needs — time away with his plants where he gets to do all the talking.