At C’mon C’mon’s New York Movie Competition Premiere, Mike Mills Forces Joaquin Phoenix to Take a Praise

Related

Share


“Shhh! Shhh!” said film director Mike Mills from the stage at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. To his right, in a hooded black sweatshirt that read “Support the Animal Liberation Front,” low-top sneaks, a wool cap, and a black N95 mask, Joaquin Phoenix tried to grab the mic before “Mills,” as he later called him, could offer any compliments.

“He hates to hear it,” continued the writer-director of C’mon C’mon, blocking his star with his arm. “He is my great friend and comrade. His support, faith, and excitement made [this film] happen.”

The New York Film Festival debut of the tear-jerking dramedy, in which Phoenix plays an emotionally closed-off public radio producer who bonds with his rascally nephew during a time of family crisis, landed beautifully with the full-capacity crowd. One expects the Oscar-winning Phoenix to knock you dead in anything he does at this point in his career, so the true joy was in discovering his newcomer costar, Woody Norman.

With Norman just nine years old at the time of shooting, both Mills and Phoenix were eager to sing the young actor’s praises during a post-screening Q&A with NYFF’s genial director, Eugene Hernandez. (Indeed, prior to being asked about Norman, Phoenix, seated to the right of costar and real-life radio producer Molly Webster, was hunched over in his chair, staring at his shoes, vibing like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth.)

“It was apparent almost immediately that we were dealing with someone highly intelligent,” Phoenix said of Norman, who began modeling at the age of four and now has credits on Poldark and Troy: Fall of a City. “He exhibited an intelligence about the character, and [Mills] and I both looked at each other to say he understands what the character is going through in a central way, and even in a way that we don’t.”

Phoenix also created a bona fide audience murmur when he divulged that the spunky moppet—whose natural scenes of tenderness and conflict recollect classic films like Kramer vs. Kramer and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore—is actually British. “Shocking,” Phoenix joked, remarking at how good the young actor’s American accent is.

Mills, whose last two features, Beginners and 20th Century Women, took heavy inspiration from his own father and mother, admitted that he “can only make decent movies from something he’s seen a lot,” and that C’mon C’mon was inspired by his relationship with his own child, whom he shares with wife and fellow filmmaker Miranda July. “One night I was giving Hopper a bath and then said, ‘I’m going to make a film about giving you a bath.’” (And in fact, one of the great scenes in C’mon C’mon involves Phoenix’s barely-keeping-it-together Uncle Johnny giving his nephew, Jesse, a bath.)

Mills also shared that one of the film’s outstanding recurring elements—in which Jesse somewhat creepily likes to role-play as an orphan—did not emerge from his imagination, but was borrowed from the life of Aaron Dessner of the band the National. (Aaron and his brother, Bryce Dessner, created the film’s score.) “Aaron’s daughter gave me that story—I think she does that orphan game,” he said as the audience laughed a little nervously.

Hernandez threw to the audience for questions, which is always a roll of the dice, but it actually afforded 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 audience questions already began to tense up. He continued to say that his dream consisted of his asking many famous actors what the secret was to good acting. “And I asked Joaquin, who said, ‘Dude, I don’t fuckin’ know! I just act!’ So can you actually answer: What is the key to good acting?”

On cue, Phoenix fired back: “Sounds like I already did!” Without being dismissed, the performer then stood up and peaced out to rousing applause.

More Great Stories From Vanity Fair

— Where to Watch Emmy-Winning Shows 2021
— There’s Actually a Pretty Simple Way to Fix the Emmys
What Michaela Coel Did With I May Destroy You Is Bigger Than the Emmys
— Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz Keep Coming Back to Each Other
Alicia Vikander Feels Closer to Her Blue Bayou Surroundings Than You Think
— Sign up for the “Awards Insider” newsletter for must-read industry and awards coverage.



spot_img