Written By: Teresa Greco
In the vast tapestry of Hollywood’s luminaries, Joaquin Phoenix’s presence echoes that of Napoleon Bonaparte’s enduring imprint on history—an enigmatic figure celebrated for his multifaceted character and unyielding determination. Much like the ambitious French leader he portrays in Napoleon, Phoenix embodies unwavering resolve and remarkable brilliance that transcend mere cinematic portrayal. His career spans diverse roles, firmly dedicated to cinematic excellence, rendering Phoenix an icon revered not just for his on-screen mastery but also for his passionate dedication to noble causes, which aligns with his sincere commitment to societal betterment and ethical living.
Phoenix’s ascent to stardom is a testament to his extraordinary talent and abiding commitment to his craft. His versatility spans characters as diverse as his portrayal of Commodus in the historical drama Gladiator (2000), where he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Phoenix won a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of musician Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk the Line (2005). For his performance as the title character of Joker (2019), Phoenix won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2020. Reflecting on the depth of preparation he undertook for the role of Arthur Fleck in Joker, Phoenix shared, “I didn’t really know what it would be, or what it would turn into. It was a long process of exploration, discovery, and collaboration.” He has since starred in the independent films C’mon C’mon (2021), Beau Is Afraid (2023) and portrays the lead role in the new historical drama Napoleon (2023).
Directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpa, Napoleon takes audiences on a captivating journey through history, chronicling Napoleon Bonaparte’s ascent to power and his significant relationship with Empress Joséphine. Phoenix expressed his keen interest in being cast in the film, “The truth is, there was just a very nostalgic idea of working with Ridley again. I had such an incredible experience working with Ridley on ‘Gladiator,’ and I was so young. It was my first big production. I really yearned for that experience again, or something similar. He’s approached me about other things in the past, but nothing that felt like it would be as demanding for both of us. And so I really liked the idea of jumping into something with Ridley that was going to be that.”
Front and center in this cinematic spectacle, Phoenix delivers a compelling performance as Napoleon, while co-star Vanessa Kirby brings life to the character of Empress Joséphine. Premiering in Paris on November 14, 2023, the film dazzled audiences with its stunning visuals and gripping storytelling. “If you want to really understand Napoleon, then you should probably do your own studying and reading,” Phoenix said. “Because if you see this film, it’s this experience told through Ridley’s eyes. It’s just such a complex world. I mean, it’s so fucking complex. What we were after was something that would capture the feeling of this man.”
Following its debut, Napoleon made its way to theatres in the United States and the United Kingdom on November 22, 2023, before becoming available on Apple TV+. As of November 26, 2023, Napoleon fared well at the box office, earning $32.5 million in the United States and Canada and a total worldwide gross of $78.8 million—a testament to its widespread appeal and cinematic impact.
Joaquin Rafael Phoenix was born to be a star, raised amidst an environment where creativity thrived. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on October 28, 1974, Phoenix was part of a family deeply immersed in the performing arts. He shared this passion with siblings River, Rain, Liberty, and Summer, each carving their paths in the world of entertainment. The family’s collective dedication to artistic endeavours laid the foundation for Joaquin’s remarkable journey in the cinematic landscape.
Phoenix’s upbringing instilled in him an intuitive understanding of character portrayal, allowing him to effortlessly embody roles with a sense of authenticity and depth that appears intrinsic to his persona, where he remarked in an interview, “I don’t really have a process. It’s just trying to find the truth in a moment.”
In an industry that often privileges superficial glamour over substance, Phoenix remains a beacon of authenticity on and off the screen. His pursuit of excellence and his resolute commitment to noble causes as an environmentalist, animal rights activist, and producer exemplify a quest not merely for material opulence but for meaningful contributions and enduring impact.
Beyond his cinematic achievements, Phoenix is a committed social activist, championing various causes through his involvement in charitable organizations and advocacy groups. He supports entities like Amnesty International, The Art of Elysium, HEART, and the Peace Alliance, actively campaigning to establish a United States Department of Peace. He serves as a member of the board of directors for The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit which helps vulnerable and food-insecure children in South Africa get the education they need to build a life free of poverty.
An ardent vegan and animal rights advocate, Phoenix aligns himself with In Defense of Animals and PETA. He adamantly refuses to wear clothing made from animal skin, often requesting synthetic materials for leather costumes in his films. His steadfast commitment to animal welfare earned him PETA’s Person of the Year award in 2019. In 2005, he narrated the documentary Earthlings, focusing on society’s economic dependence on animals, leading to the Humanitarian Award at the San Diego Film Festival for his impactful contribution to the film.
Continuing his advocacy, Phoenix narrated another documentary titled Unity in 2015 for Nation Earth, alongside fellow vegan advocates Jessica Chastain and Ellen DeGeneres. He also executive-produced What the Health in 2017, premiering on Netflix, which explored vital health-related topics. His involvement extended to starring in Guardians of Life, a short film series by Mobilize Earth, supporting causes for Amazon Watch and Extinction Rebellion. Throughout his career, Phoenix’s commitment to social activism and animal welfare remains integral to his influential voice in society.
His legacy in the entertainment industry is cemented by his exceptional acting and influence on his peers. Actress Rooney Mara, his partner, praised his dedication, saying, “He’s the only actor I know of who’s untouchable. You can’t reach him.” Mara and Phoenix met in 2012 on the set of Her, in which Mara played Phoenix’s ex-wife. Their friendship evolved into a romantic relationship while working on Mary Magdalene four years later. Engaged in July 2019, the couple welcomed their first child, a son named River, after Phoenix’s late brother, who died in 1993.
Phoenix shared, reflecting on the dual nature of fame, “It’s a cliche, but fame is often a double-edged sword. There’s a loss of privacy, a loss of anonymity. But then there’s also the flip side—the public acknowledgment and appreciation for what you’ve done.” Phoenix often portrays his family life as uncomplicated. Residing in the Hollywood Hills, he finds joy in activities such as meditation, indulging in documentaries, script reading, and practicing karate as a black belt holder.
There is no rest for the wicked, where Joaquin Phoenix is set to headline a sequel to Joker, titled Joker: Folie à Deux, co-written by Scott Silver and Todd Phillips in 2024. Additionally, he is slated to join forces with director Lynne Ramsay for the upcoming feature film Polaris, sharing the screen with his love, Rooney Mara. The duo will also team up in Pawel Pawlikowski’s dramatic thriller, The Island. Lastly, he’s expected to lead in Eddington, a dark comedy within the realm of western-noir, directed by Ari Aster.
His dedication to his artistry goes hand in hand with his introspective nature. “I’m still learning,” Phoenix confessed in an interview, humbly acknowledging that each role teaches him something new about the intricacies of the human psyche. His continuous pursuit of growth and understanding underscores his commitment to constant self-improvement. It will be intriguing to observe how this translates into Phoenix’s portrayal of Joker in the upcoming sequel, especially following his 2020 Oscar win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. It raises curiosity about how he might elevate his performance in this anticipated continuation. How do you take something exceptional and make it even more extraordinary?