The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Joaquin Phoenix, James Gray reteam for 'The Immigrant,' their fourth film together

  • Print

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - In James Gray's "The Immigrant," a dismal tale of survival in 1920s New York, Joaquin Phoenix shifts through a gallery of identities, from saviour to cad to pitiful loner. His performance — often improvised with co-star Marion Cotillard — is masterfully layered, though his character wasn't initially written that way.

"The character, as written, was much more of a brute," says writer-director Gray, who was inspired to pen "The Immigrant" after learning that his Russian Jewish relatives came to Ellis Island in the '20s.

In the film, Phoenix portrays Bruno Weiss, a charming deceiver who preys on defenceless women at risk of being rejected by immigration agents after arriving at Ellis Island. Bruno offers to save them but lures them into prostitution once he moves them to his apartment. The Polish Ewa Cybulska (Cotillard) is his latest victim.

But despite the circumstances, Cotillard had decided Ewa wasn't going to be a pushover, and Phoenix had decided Bruno wasn't going to back off.

"(Cotillard) had not only emotional strength, but a physical strength," says Phoenix, sitting next to Gray in a sun-splashed meeting room at a Los Angeles hotel. "There were times where she was like, 'Why would I go into this apartment with him?'" Phoenix recalls.

"No matter what I did, she just looked at me like 'I see right through you.' For a month it was just struggling trying to find a way to manipulate her and nothing worked," the actor says.

"He improvised a lot of great stuff," says Gray, 45, of Phoenix's performance. "You need to give an actor like him the freedom to roam and find things that are beautiful and unexpected. He can give them to you. But there is no question that a whole host of moments of tremendous anguish are going to come into play because he's involved."

Phoenix gets agitated whenever Gray compliments his acting skills and work ethic. At one point during the interview, he gets up, lights a cigarette and starts pacing across the room. He then locates a dry erase board and writes "SHUT UP" with a red marker. This gets a rise out of Gray, who confirms the two are always like this.

Long-time collaborators, Phoenix and Gray have worked on four films together, including "The Yards," ''We Own the Night," ''Two Lovers," and "The Immigrant." And Gray continues to pursuing Phoenix to act in his films because, the director proclaims, "He's the best actor we've got right now."

But Gray says that when he and Phoenix first began working together, "I didn't think he was the best. There would be stretches of brilliance . but he didn't have all of the confidence that he has (now). I felt his work reached another level somewhere around the mid-2000s."

It was around this time that Phoenix won the Golden Globe for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in 2005's "Walk the Line." He's been nominated for three Academy Awards for "Gladiator," ''Walk the Line" and "The Master" but has yet to win an Oscar.

After working together for so many years, Phoenix's methods are still a mystery to Gray. "You have more control over your instrument now, wouldn't you say?" Gray asks the actor, who quickly replies, "Nope."

"I'm going for less and less," Phoenix adds. "I'm going for out of body. I don't really want to be in control. The very best scenario for me is hearing 'cut' suddenly and going 'The scene is over?' I don't really want to be aware of it, inside of it and controlling it."

___

Follow Jessica Herndon on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SomeKind

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Cheapskate: Cheap summer weekends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A squirrel enjoys the morning sunshine next to the duck pond in Assiniboine Park Wednesday– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100527-Winnipeg Free Press THe Provencher Foot Bridge is lit up

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should political leaders be highly visible on the frontlines of flood fights and other natural disasters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google