“Shhh! Shhh! “Says the director Mike Mills from the Alice Tully Hall stage at Lincoln Center. To her right, in a black hoodie with the inscription “Support The Animal Liberation Front”, low top sneakers, a woolen beanie and a black N95 mask, Joaquin phoenix tried to grab the mic before “Mills”, as he later called her, could give compliments.
“He hates to hear it,” continued the writer-director of go! Go on, block his star with his arm. “He’s my great friend and comrade. His support, faith and enthusiasm made [this film] to arrive.”
The heartbreaking comedy-drama debut at the New York Film Festival, in which Phoenix plays an emotionally closed-off public radio producer who bonds with his naughty nephew during a time of family crisis, landed beautifully with the crowd at full capacity. The Oscar winning Phoenix is expected to knock you out in everything he does at this point in his career, so the real joy was discovering his new co-star, Wooded Normand.
Just nine years old at the time of filming, Mills and Phoenix were eager to sing the praises of the young actor in a post-screening Q&A with the awesome NYFF director. Eugene Hernandez. (Indeed, before being asked about Norman, Phoenix, sitting to the right of the real-life co-star and radio producer Molly webster, was leaning in his chair, staring at his shoes, vibrating as if he’d rather be anywhere else on Earth.)
“It was almost immediately apparent that we were dealing with someone very intelligent,” Phoenix said of Norman, who has been acting since he was 4 and has credits on Poldark and Troy: Fall of a city. “He showed intelligence on the character, and [Mike Mills] and I both looked at myself to say that he understands what the character is going through centrally, and even in a way that we do not do it.
Phoenix also created a real audience murmur when he disclosed that the brave moppet – whose natural scenes of tenderness and conflict are reminiscent of classic movies like Kramer vs. Kramer and Alice doesn’t live here anymore– is actually British. “Shocking,” Phoenix joked, noting how good the young actor’s American accent is.
Mills, whose last two films Beginners and 20th century women drew heavily on his own father and mother, admitted that he “can only make decent films out of something he has seen a lot”, and that go! Go on was inspired by his relationship with the child he has with his fellow filmmaker Miranda July. “One night I was giving Hopper a bath and I said ‘I’m going to make a movie about bathing you.'” (And, in fact, one of the big scenes from go! Go on involves Joaquin Phoenix’s Uncle Johnny, who barely stands together, giving his nephew Jesse a bath.)
Mills also shared that one of the movie’s stellar recurring elements – in which Jesse has a little creepy fondness for playing an orphan – didn’t come out of his imagination, but was borrowed from the life of Aaron Dessner from The National group. (Aaron and his brother Bryce dessner created the music for the film.) “Aaron’s daughter told me this story, I think she’s doing this orphan game,” he said as the audience chuckled a little nervously.
Hernandez tossed questions at the audience, which is always a roll of the dice, but actually gave Joaquin Phoenix the biggest laugh of the night, as well as the lifeline he needed. A zealous young man stood up to say “a month ago I had a dream,” and at this point many veterans of the audience’s questions have already started to stiffen up. He went on to say that his dream was to ask many famous actors what the secret to good acting is. “And I asked Joaquin, who said ‘man, I don’t know! I just acted! ‘ So, can you really answer “What’s the key to good acting?” “”
At the signal, Phoenix retaliated, “Looks like I’ve done it before!” Without being fired, the artist then got up and calmed down under heavy applause.
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