Did Joaquin Phoenix sing his own songs in “Walk the Line”? What else can you tell me about him?
—V.E. Rockman, Galax, Va.
Not only did Phoenix, 38, sing his own songs, he also learned to play the guitar after being handpicked by Johnny Cash to star in “Walk the Line.” For his acting in that role, Phoenix was nominated for an Oscar.
In a 2005 interview when the movie was released, the San Juan, Puerto Rico-born actor said, “From previous experience with things, I know you put in enough work and enough time, you get to a level of comfort with something. But nevertheless, each time you go into it, it’s new. You don’t feel it’s possible, or at least I don’t. When I picked up that guitar, it felt so foreign to me, I just thought, ‘How’s this going to work?’”
The third of five children, Phoenix (whose name at birth was Joaquín Rafael Bottom), his parents and siblings briefly lived as part of the religious cult Children of God. When he was 4, his parents left the group, gave him the surname Phoenix and returned to the U.S., where Joaquin adopted the name “Leaf,” which he felt was more in line with those of his siblings River (now deceased), Rain, Liberty and Summer.
Living in California, the Phoenix children were discovered by agent Iris Burton, who got them acting jobs in commercials and on TV shows. Joaquin’s early credits include “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Kids Don’t Tell,” “SpaceCamp” and “Parenthood.”
As an adult, Phoenix reverted back to Joaquin for roles in “To Die For,” “U Turn,” “Inventing the Abbotts,” “Gladiator” (for which he received his first Oscar nomination), “Signs,” “The Village,” “Hotel Rwanda” and “Ladder 49.”
In 2008, Phoenix announced he was retiring from acting, which he later explained he had done in order to film the mockumentary “I’m Still Here.” In 2012, Phoenix was back in movie theaters with a starring role in “The Master.”
Phoenix is active in social causes including Amnesty International, The Lunchbox Fund and PETA.