* By Prairie Miller *
Joaquin Phoenix has quite a knack for moving around in time. Following
his impressive turn in Gladiator which takes place in ancient Rome, Joaquin
is now mixing it up with aliens in M. Night Shyamalan's supernatural
thriller Signs. Joaquin had lots to say during this interview about tangling
with co-star Mel Gibson in Signs, as well as a very unusual role that called
for Joaquin to provide comic relief in the midst of some seriously
nerve-jangling situations in the movie.
*You're the comic relief in this movie. Did you enjoy taking a break from
the more serious roles you've been doing?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I don't think I want to be a comedic actor, but I think I just want to try everything, give a shot at everything. And this certainly presented the opportunity for me to play a role that was more fun, not as serious. I didn't get arrested or kill anybody, so that was really good. It was exactly what I wanted to do in terms of the character. I'm very fortunate that way, where the sense of wanting to do something, I couldn't really specifically say what character I wanted to play or anything like that, but I get a script and that's it. So that's exactly what I was looking for. And I want to experience everything. So I chalk this up to another experience, another character.

*Mel Gibson has starred in numerous action movies, while you are frequently cast in dramas. In Signs, you're more the action guy, while Mel has a more dramatic role. Did that reversal appeal to you?

JP: Yeah, it did. It did appeal to me in as much as any character I've played appeals to me. The character offered a really good opportunity for me. I hadn't done anything like that, so it was great.

*What is Mel like when you get to know him?

JP: We kind of hit off immediately. I credit Mel mostly with that. He's really easy to get along with. Very fun. And he likes his work. He likes acting. He likes talking about acting and so he's very, very generous as an actor. So I just liked him, and I guess that comes through in the movie.

*Did he play any pranks on you?

JP: Well, we did this scene where I'm in the closet watching TV. And he comes down and says his line, and I lean out and I say one line. We were up to like fourteen takes or something, and I was probably a little snobby. So I hear Mel coming down the stairs, and he's really kind of stomping his way down. And I'm in a closet and I think: Wow, he's really overdoing it. He's milking this moment. What's he doing? I should have a talk to this guy, set him straight. I'm being sarcastic here. And then I hear that he's off the stairs, and he doesn't come to the door. And I think that he's doing something different, just trying to surprise me, get a different kind of reaction or something. So I sit there and kind of prep, saying my one line over and over. And no one ever showed up. And then the lights go out, and I'm locked in this closet in the dark and I don't know what to do. I know that I'm not going to walk out, because I'm not going to walk out and see forty people laughing at me. But I refuse to lose. So I just stayed in there and screamed insults and sang to myself, and kind of hung out for fifteen minutes. And all of a sudden the door swings open, and it's Mel. And he says his line. So I lean out and say my line, and that was it.

*What drew you to this role of a failed athlete who lives with his brother and two kids?

JP: He has this spirit, a fighting spirit and a survival instinct. He has a sense that there is a purpose behind his actions, and by the end of the story he seems to discover his purpose.

*Do you play baseball?

JP: No.

*Did you ever play baseball?

JP: No.

*So, how did you learn to play the sport for this movie?

JP: I'd just sit in my room and swing the bat. I sat in my hotel room and I'm doing it for like a month. And I'm killing my arms because I'm swinging at nothing. And I'm like, this is ridiculous. So I went to Night and I go, at least I should probably just get some kind of dummy or something to practice on like we're really going to do. And he's like, there's nothing going to be there. So I was like, oh, great! So I guess it was good practicing with nothing because that's how it turned out.

*Have you ever had any kind of supernatural experience?

JP: None that I can recall!

*What scares you?

JP: This!

*Dealing with the press?

JP: I was going to bring the bat I had with me in the movie, actually.

*Uh oh. I'll be gentle! Signs is about the world-wide phenomenon of crop circles and the question of who has created them. How do you stand on this issue?

JP: I really have no idea. I don't know what to make of it.

*Do you think it's possible that aliens created them?

JP: I think there is that possibility. It could be absolutely anything, as far as I'm concerned. But I think I know less about crop circles now then I did when I started the movie.

*Did you spend a lot of time with the child actors Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin on the set?

JP: Yeah, I lost thumb wars. Abigail, she has some mean thumbs!