Why Joaquin Phoenix Told Me To “Take A Hike!”

Joaquin Phoenix


I made a big mistake.

I pushed Hollywood movie star Joaquin Phoenix too far.

In 2005, I interviewed Phoenix via phone for his then latest movie, Walk the Line.

I still have nightmares about the interview.

I wanted to get really good quotes from him for Loaded magazine in the UK, which liked sexy, controversial interviews.

But I pushed the envelope. And lost.

If I were to interview movie funnyman Ben Stiller for a men’s magazine like FHM or Maxim, my questions may be fun and light-hearted and I may try to coax fun and light-hearted answers from him.

If I was interviewing Ben Stiller for the New York Times or a similar newspaper, my questions might be more serious and in-depth in nature.

As journalists, we should always keep our publication or radio or TV show in mind when thinking of questions.

Below is an excerpt from the interview.

Take this as a lesson on how not to interview a celebrity:

ME: In Walk the Line,  your brother dies from a tragic accident. In real life, your own brother River died from a tragic accident. Did you draw on that experience with losing a brother when you were making the movie?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Absolutely not. That’s exploitive and I wouldn’t do that for a fucking movie. There is a vast difference between your brother dying when you are seven years old and when you are 18.

ME: Is it frustrating seeing these TV programs rebroadcasting the calls you made to 911 on the night River died? Is that frustrating? What goes through your mind when that is brought up?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I realize there is nothing I can really do about it so I don’t pay much attention to it. It’s really their problem,  if they want to bring that kind of thing into the world. It’s not a part of my life.

ME: What goes through your mind when you drive past the Viper Room when you are in LA now? Have you been back to the Viper Room?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Dude,  dude. Take a hike.

ME: All right, sorry man,  I shouldn’t push it.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: It is amazing to me that I just said that and you would do that. That’s the epitome of callousness. I can’t even fathom it. Whether it’s one’s job or not…

ME: I apologize unreservedly, man. I apologize unreservedly. You’re right, it is. I totally accept that. What you just said is absolutely right and I can’t do anything but apologize enough. I’m very sorry.


Man, I felt lousy. In my bid to generate really interesting quotes, I pushed the boundaries too far.

I was pushing him to give me great quotes about his brother’s death. In hindsight, it was a low act.

I shouldn’t have done it. I went for it and I failed. And I upset someone in the process.

I felt guilty and I still regret it.

Have you ever asked an inappropriate question of someone? Tell us your story in the comment box, below.

If you’d like to learn how to become a journalist yourself, check out the Insider Journalism Secrets program.

  • ellie

    Dude, I saw this article like 6 years ago. Why do keep posting it? Is it really haunting you so much? Well, no wonder. If it's so hard for you to get over it, send him flowers and a vegan tofu cake.
    But it's actually nice to see that you can't get over it, because what you did was just downright appalling. It's good to see that you know it. And regret it.

    • James Swanwick

      Hahaha. Yes, maybe I should send him flowers and a vegan tofu cake. Or maybe I'll just buy him a beer next time. If he'll let me, of course. Thanks for your comment.

  • dogbedsuk

    Asking him how he feels when he drives past the Viper Room is a bit much. It would be like asking Prince William how he feels when he visits Paris. However, with their understandable silence it creates more questions. Most people want to know what he thinks (rightly or wrongly), how he feels about it.

    I can understand him being upset. Not only did he lose his brother he also saw it happen. Its been almost 20 years since he [River] died and I can understand blanket silence for a while but I think they should do their brother justice and pay tribute to him. Talk about him after 20 years. I cannot find one interview where they talk about him & not freak out or get offended. I think on the upcoming 20th anniversary of his death they should celebrate River Phoenix.
    I was speaking with a journalist friend of mine and he interviewed Joaquin and as soon as the journo mentioned River he said the atmosphere in the room changed and everyone froze. Its like a taboo subject or something with them, one friend described it.

    There are so many conflicting stories about the delay in getting paramedics on the scene and they may feel its a private matter but I’m sure people would like to know why it took so long for anyone to call. Some sources state 5 minutes others say 25 minutes while some say Samantha Mathis and Joaquin argued with the bouncer saying he [River] was fine – maybe in denial at the time and blind panic?

    People who never knew River and his family still want to know what happened exactly. I do even after all this time.

    I wish it could have been prevented and he had gotten help with his drug problem. Poor River Phoenix – God bless him.

    • https://twitter.com/TaBurchett Tim Burchett

      Their sister Rain seems more open to talking about River. On her Twitter page, she is always replying to peoples comments/questions about him.

      • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

        Oh really? I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing, Tim.

  • http://phoenixsnowangel.blogg.se/ Snowangel

    Everyone makes mistakes. Not everyone admits them and learn from them. You did. That takes courage and you will be a much better journalist. Thank you for sharing this and I have heard him being interviewed like this with almost copied questions like yours on spanish radio after WTL so ..it´s not the first time. He is an remarkable actor. In my eyes the best of the best. And a interesting person.

    • http://www.jamesswanwick.com/ James Swanwick

      Thank you for the encouraging words, “Snowangel”. I appreciate it.

  • Jo

    Interesting article. I know that some people are more private and guarded, but it has been a very long time since his death.

    I don’t think that the public “deserves” to know every detail, but most celebrities who have gone through a difficult time eventually talk about it.

    It could be a personal reason like guilt or regret, though. I know that Jennifer Jason Leigh never talks about her father Vic Morrow’s death. Apparently, they were not on good terms when he died, so I assume that she must feel bad about that.