- RatedM18 /GenreComedy, Crime, Drama
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, ‘Inherent Vice’, Joaquin Phoenix steps into the shoes of another complicated character – the long-haired, pot-smoking private detective, Larry "Doc" Sportello.
As Larry, he lives among surfers and burnouts in 1970 Los Angeles, and soon finds himself at the centre of a trippy noir-like conspiracy involving skinhead bikers, a drug-addict real-estate baron, a detective called "Bigfoot", and a heroin operation disguised as a dentists' association.
The performance earned the 40-year-old, known for roles in ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘The Master’, a Golden Globe best-actor nomination.
‘Inherent Vice’ is the first-ever authorised screen adaptation of a novel by the award-winning and enigmatic author Thomas Pynchon. The film also stars Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston and Owen Wilson.
inSing chats with Phoenix about working with director Anderson and his character’s hippie get-up.
What do you look for in a script when you decide to make a film?
I don’t really know why I make the decisions that I make. I wish I did, just so I could give you a solid answer in an interview. But it’s usually just a feeling. It’s kind of like falling in love – you don’t really understand it, but it’s just something that you have to experience, and nothing can keep you away from it. I try to come up with reasons, but I don’t fully understand it.
Joaquin Phoenix (left) with Josh Brolin in 'Inherent Vice' | Photo: Warner Bros
Since you’re in most of the scenes in this film, did you feel the weight of that or was it fun to be so engaged?
I like working all the time. I dread having days off. The weekends are the hardest thing to get through. (Director) Paul and I would always talk about how we wished that we could just keep shooting straight.
I would just marvel at some of the other actors that would work for a couple days and they would be off for a week. Katherine (Waterston) came in and she worked in the first couple of weeks, and then she was gone for, like, three weeks. And that’s so difficult (for me) to do, to come back in after three weeks and just get in the groove. I need to be there every day, and I find it really difficult to have breaks.
Have you always been that way?
Well, sometimes I didn’t have a choice... I remember doing ‘Gladiator’ and I worked in the first couple of weeks and then I was off for like three weeks. And it was very difficult for me to get back into it.
Did you go back and read the book to learn more about your character, or was everything already in the script for you?
Paul gave me the book first, so I read it and then read the script. And then I went back and started reading the book again. I set out to read it a second time, and about halfway through, I thought, ‘I don’t want to know this too well. I want to be confused by what’s going on.’ So I would just kind of pick up the book occasionally.
But Paul had this way: He would sometimes combine characters because you couldn’t use all the characters from the book. He would take dialogue from one character and apply it to another. So I would remember the dialogue, but I would be confused why Jade, for example, was saying it, because I didn’t remember that Jade was the one saying it.
And then Paul would stir that up, and really make me feel really confused about it. I would be doing a scene with Jade, and he would walk around and just look at her suspiciously. I’d say, ‘Wait, what is it? The Golden Fang? Does she know about Shasta?’ And he would be, like, ‘I don’t know, man, you’re just going to have to figure it out.’
So he just really created this environment where I was confused and really never knew what was going to happen next or what role somebody was playing in the overall story.
You and Paul sound like you both got on really well. What’s the secret sauce of the two of you working together?
I think anyone that works with Paul would get on really well with him. He’s really inclusive and warm and thoughtful. He’s one of those people that makes you feel like you are important and you have value, even if you don’t. And he deserves all the credit.
Again, it’s like when you fall in love with somebody. I just really like him. I like his demeanour and I like the way that he sees the world and that he’s always searching for something else.
Does that mean he encouraged you to ad-lib, or did you really have to stick to the script?
I wanted to stick to the script and the book. One of the things that’s difficult when you adapt a book that you like so much is dialogue, which you just love. Pynchon’s words are great. I remember trying to get this dialogue into a scene and it wasn’t working. I couldn’t do it sometimes. It just doesn’t translate. And that was really difficult.
But, no, there wasn’t a lot of improv, at least from me, but Paul will oftentimes shoot multiple versions of a scene.
So much has transpired since you made ‘Walk the Line’ with Reese Witherspoon. What was it like acting with her again in this film?
I love working with Reese Witherspoon. She’s a great actor. It’s funny because it had been 10 years, but it’s like nothing had changed because we did the first scene, and she was like, ‘So, that’s how you’re going to do it? All right. Well I’ll have to save this again.’ (Laughs) And I was, like, ‘Okay. Here we go.’ And it’s true. She made the movie last time, and she’s great in this.
Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from the film | Photo: Warner Bros
Can you talk about your look as Doc in this film? Did you have much input?
It’s a process. I would say that Paul and Mark Bridges, the costume designer, are obviously a big part of that. Paul showed me pictures of Neil Young. He had those same kind of sideburns, and he had this hat, kind of a straw hat, and then you just go into the costume fitting and there are all these clothes and hats and you just start trying stuff on. That process just tells you what’s going to work and what isn’t going to work.
What do you like to do when you’re not acting?
I think the exciting part of my life is when I’m working. And when I don’t work, I like a very simple, quiet existence. So, nothing really exciting to report.
Would you consider working in television, now that so many great projects are happening there?
I guess. I’m always open to anything... It’s just great filmmakers and good characters, that’s what I’m interested in. So, if something came along, then I might do that.
‘Inherent Vice’ opens 29 January 2015