He says he was drawn to doing the movie because of the music alone. People project things on him, project their own fears and misgivings about the Mystery and the Mourning. Of course he was hit hard by the brother loss—yes, yes, yes, how could I not have been?—but what does it have to do with what anyone thinks or knows, or think they know, then or now or ever? There’s an honest simplicity about how Mr. Phoenix relates that is touching: not earnest, just is. The performance he gives is mature—you watch the couple grow up onscreen—and, yes, grave. They’re silly at first before a ring of fire settles around them like a crown and they are seared and older and we are most definitely touched.
He hasn’t seen the movie. Mr. Phoenix doesn’t view the flicks he’s in, doesn’t want to look at his own reflection, fearful he might involuntarily repeat some mannerism down the line.
He did his own singing, and it took four months to prep—a voice coach showed him how to hit the low notes. They sound more than all right. His singing is credible and creditable. He said getting up onstage in front of extras was worrisome. But getting up in the morning is sometimes the same.
Mr. Phoenix is 30 years old. Since he left rehab, he follows a program we’ll call Q&A, or QA for short, the reason being we are slightly coy, but also because we know there’s a factor of anonymity about QA, though the curious thing is Mr. Phoenix never knew much about QA until this thing happened—until rehab; he went to rehab not because he was out of control in the tabloid sense but because he was out of control for him. He loves the idea of making amends, thinks everyone should do it, and even though QA’s out there aplenty—all you need to do is turn on Rescue Me or Intervention or any idiot sitcom and you can watch a 12-step meeting—he thinks he might’ve gotten to it earlier if it had been on his mindscreen. I tell him the story about a novelist friend who still gets amends from critics who trashed his books, because they were loaded and jealous at the time they wrote their reviews. Mr. Phoenix really seems to like that.
He just bought some houses. Rents them out to single moms for cost, and to others who struggle. He’s emotional about that—not raw post-rehab emotion, just real. Not a pretentious bone in his body. Doesn’t like religion or God in the conventional sense; that’s what initially turned him off about QA until he figured out they meant God was whatever you wanted It to be. He prays each day but not like the preachers he saw on TV while in Nashville, talking about lesbians on the street using dope—“Lemme know where I can find ’em!” interjects Mr. Phoenix gleefully.