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Joaquin Phoenix is an actor known for such films as Gladiator and Walk the Line, in which he played Johnny Cash.
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But Phoenix outdid himself in his next major role, undergoing even more extensive preparation to play one of country music's greatest stars, Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line (2005). Phoenix had to learn to sing and play the guitar like Cash for the role, which took nearly six months of lessons from the film's executive music producer, T-Bone Burnett. His co-star, Reese Witherspoon,
went through her own rigorous musical training to sing like June Carter Cash, Johnny's wife.
To stay in character, Phoenix asked everyone on set to call him "JR" which was Cash's nickname. "I'm embarrassed about it now. But when I heard "Joaquin" it just didn't feel right" Phoenix explained to Entertainment Weekly. All of the hard work paid off. Widely praised by critics, the film and its stars netted numerous nominations and awards. Phoenix himself received his first Academy Award in the Best Actor category and his first Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). Even the film's soundtrack, which featured vocals by Phoenix and Witherspoon, brought home the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
Bringing the hard-living Cash to the big screen took its toll on the young actor. After filming ended, Phoenix went into rehab for issues related to alcohol. "There was a lot made of my going to rehab, and it seems very dramatic, but it wasn't like that," Phoenix told Time magazine. "I just became aware of my drinking as a tool to relax when I don't work. I basically went to a country club where they didn't serve alcohol."
In 2007, Joaquin Phoenix reunited with Mark Wahlberg for the gritty urban tale We Own the Night, in which they played brothers on opposite sides of the law. In Reservation Road, Phoenix starred as a father who loses his son in a hit-and-run accident. He also had a leading role in 2009's James Gray's independent drama Two Lovers with Gwyneth Paltrow.
In February 2009, Phoenix made headlines with his strange appearance on David Letterman's Late Show, leading fans to wonder about the actor's mental state. The interview, full of awkward pauses and low mumbling, encouraged Letterman to make several jokes about the actor's seeming lack of awareness. The actor briefly forgot the name of his Two Lovers co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow, stuck gum under Letterman's desk, and appeared to swear at bandleader Paul Shaffer for laughing at him during the show. Some have suggested this latest incident was a calculated stunt on Phoenix's part, but the actor says his behavior isn't a joke. "I have better things to do than just, like, (mess) around with people," he said. "This is my life and this is my work."
Around this same time Phoenix announced his retirement from acting and revealed plans to release a rap album. Fans speculated that this, too, was a publicity stunt, but the actor asserted that he had serious hopes for his new career. A viral video of Phoenix performing in Las Vegas began circulating around the web, but the poor quality of the clip only seemed to bolster the theory that Phoenix was performing an elaborate joke on his fans.
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