Speaking | Joaquin Phoenix
an emily blunt interview
Premiere Red Carpet Footage
Speaking? Joaquin Phoenix isn't known for taking the easy
he's an actor's actor- and respected. So
when you see his name attached to a cast list one expects a certain
caliber of film. And his latest, Ladder
49, doesn't disappoint.
filmmakers made great sacrifices to make the film ring true and
honor the men and women who wear a firefighter's uniform. For
the role Joaquin and his cast members went through grueling training
- attending the actual fireman academy and propelling off buildings.
The result is a realism and ode to this noble profession every
person can salute.
a laid back sort. He showed up in a Louisville Fire Department
baseball cap casually dressed and looking his usual handsome shyish
self. Still reeling from the images of this extraordinary actor
in his McHotty-styled fireman's gear I attempted to focus on his
work and stay clear of getting lost in those piercing blues he
Okay, so the buzz about town - and we'll get this over with right
up front - is that you were afraid of heights. Did you not think
about that when deciding on taking the part?
Joaquin: (laughter) Yeah. What was I thinking? That's what Jay
[Russell, director] was asking himself when I got to the first
firehouse and I couldn't go down the pole. He was like 'Who have
I cast for this?' And I was panicking! I was like, 'What am I
gonna do?' But, training at the academy made all the difference.
It was an amazing experience. You don't totally overcome your
fears. Firefighters tell you if you aren't scared, then get out
of the job. But you learn to control your fear. You learn to trust
your crew and trust your equipment. That was the thing. I was
just certain that the rope was gonna break when we were rappelling
off this tower, I turned to my instructor and said 'There's no
way I can do this. I can do the other stuff but I can't do this'.
'Yes, you can'. He said 'just look in my eyes and trust me. I
promise you, you're gonna make it. You're gonna be fine'.
Emily: Was it important for you to do this film after 9-11 and
all the firefighter sacrifices?
Joaquin: It was important. I mean I think everybody was thinking
'how do we express our thanks?' And, it was an amazing opportunity
really to say thank you. It's a thing that Jay and I talked about
from the very beginning. The most important thing is that firefighters
see this film and feel that it's an accurate depiction of their
lives. If that happens and that works, that's all we could ask
for and that takes precedence over whether it's financially or
Emily: Have you gotten any feedback from firemen yet?
Joaquin: Yeah and it's been the most amazing experience. They've
thanked us for making this movie. I can't tell you what that's
like to go to these fire houses and have these guys come up and
take your hand and look you in the eye and say 'thank you for
making this movie'. It's so powerful. I had a woman in Dallas
at the firehouse. She told me her husband was a fire fighter and
he passed away fifteen years ago under a similar circumstance
like my character trapped in a building. And she said, 'I want
to thank you for making this movie because I always wondered what
he thought about' (at this point Joaquin actually tears up). It
was so powerful. I don't think anyone's ever thanked me for making
a movie before so it's meant so much to me. I can't tell you how
good that feels to know they like this film and say 'finally,
someone got it right. Someone has told our story'. And that's
Perhaps that's why there seemed to be a special energy on this
film. You all went through the training and "became"
firemen for a while.
Joaquin: Yeah. And for me, the energy on set is as important as
anything and really creating the feeling that you're experiencing
in that scene. If something is intense, then I want the energy
on set to feel intense. I'm going to do whatever I can to make
it intense for myself. If it's supposed to be light and joyous,
then you create that sense and so it just depended on what scene
we were doing?
Emily: You were running around all manly manned up- propelling
and stuff - Were you injured at all on this film?
Joaquin: [laughter] No. Well, my knees are shot!
Yeah, they are. I was supposed to do some physical therapy but
I didn't have time. I'd done this movie and I'd been doing so
much physical stuff, just the word 'physical' made me uncomfortable.
You're on your knees all the time and I just did it for real and
it just ended up being that we were actually in the gear and on
our knees longer than firefighters usually are because they go
in, they knock out the fire and take the gear off but we would
be in it all day long. It's fine walking around. It's just really
tender when I actually get on my knees.
Emily: So no more priest roles for you. [a reference to his Quills
Joaquin: (laughs) Right! Exactly.
So what helped shape the realness of the film then - besides jumpin'
around on your knees all day?
[laughter] The training that we did really helped form the story
that affected the script. It always had its heart and had some
grit to it. But initially it
was just a northeastern city, it wasn't Baltimore, and each department
different and once we got to Baltimore and learned the specifics
Baltimore city fire department that helped make some difference.
But to be
honest there's a writer named Terry George that came in and saved
or lives. He came in and went on the ride alongs with me. He hung
out with all the guys, went to the bars afterwards everything
we did he hung out with us for a couple weeks.
The Hotel Rwanda Terry George?
Exactly! That's why I did Hotel Rwanda. Actually we were
pre-production for this and I asked him what he was doing and
he said Hotel Rwanda. We talked about it.
You were great in that as well by the way. [oops, I swooned]
Thanks! It was a great be a part of that film and [Don] Cheadle
is phenomenal in it.
What kind of a challenge was it going from this to that?
It was actually the other way around. I did this first. It was
hard. This was in total six months of my life were all I thought
about was fire
department. It's weird you know it like what helps you shake a
to have another character. I don't know how to explain what goes
on. I don't
even fuckin' understand it.
Your not attracted to the real blockbuster. Gladiator
was a fluke. Where does that come from? And is that something
that has always been important to you?
Yeah. I wanna do things that reflect our experiences and our realty.
I guess. I don't know what it's from. But those are movies that
I love. When I see 'Dog Day Afternoon' you know? As much as it's
this wild story its grounded in reality. All those characters
seem authentic and I don't know - to me it' s a whole new way
to make movies. I'm sure at some point I'll make some ridiculous
frivolous comedy for the hell of it - just to say I did! [laughter]
But the thing that moved me always is these things in real life.
I think there's a need in films to tell stories about heroes.
I've always avoided those parts because they rarely ring true
for me. There's all these contrived little plots in order to give
our protagonist some sense of goodness and with firefighters,
that sense of goodness and heroism is inherent in what they do,
in their profession and, because of that, it seemed we were able
to explore some other parts of the character, not always be concerned
about how do we make this guy heroic? Initially, in the first
script I read, he was a perfect character and it just didn't feel
true and, talking with Jay about some of the stuff, we felt that
there were always long embraces with Linda (wife) and I every
morning - the staring at each other longingly - and things like
that. I really liked the idea of being able to play a heroic character
but to try and capture some of what, to me, felt like real life
in that things aren't always perfect with your family. You're
tired. You're annoyed. There were some things that we brought
to scenes, scenes that we changed that, for me, gave it a sense
of authenticity and made us feel like 'yeah, we're really watching
what it's life for this husband and wife to sit together at dinner
after his best friend has been burned and he doesn't know how
to talk about it and yet she's pressing him. Initially they held
each others' hands and looked at each other and said 'yeah, babe'.
And that's not what happens. Most of the time when you have a
quote, unquote 'hero', you spend the entire time just trying to
set up that he's a hero, that he's doing something good. It was
so nice to not have to worry about that. That's why I felt comfortable
in taking on a role like this because I felt like it was still
true to life and reflective of our reality.
And Ladder 49 is filled with
reality folks. Gut retching emotional bits that'll have you baking
cookies in thanks for your local fire house and saluting as they
still ogling their manly beauty
. but with
a bit more seriousness attached. Joaquin deserves the Oscar for
his portrayal here. It's like no other hero I've ever seen on
film. It's an exquisite job.