Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the line: the blessing of Johnny Cash – La Tercera

The tape that reviews the milestones in the life of Johnny Cash, starts with two key moments: the concert he gave in Folsom Prison in 1968, and a trip to his early childhood, when he was no more than 10 years old and listened in an old radio the voice of June Carter, a child country star.

Walk the line, directed by James Mangold and released in 2005, has the same title as one of the King of Country’s most famous songs, the one that speaks of his deep feelings for his beloved and what he is willing to do and overcome for her. A success considering that the film is a mixture of a battle with the ghosts of the past, a fight against addictions and a love story.

The film is a musical odyssey set in the 1960s, with Joaquín Phoenix as the protagonist, an actor who assumed the role at the age of 30, with 19 films in his record and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Emperor Commodus in the film Gladiator de Ridley Scott.

Although Benicio del Toro kept the statuette for his role in Traffic, what was considered insufficient to obtain the award by the Academy, was seen by Johnny Cash as a great performance. So prominent, you saw Gladiator at least three times in the cinema and clearly remembered a specific dialogue.

“They say that your son screamed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross. And that your wife moaned like a whore when they raped her, over and over again,” the singer recited from memory when he met Joaquin Phoenix.

The actor was invited to dinner at the home of singer-songwriter and artist June Carter, years before he started working on Walk the line. “I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that Johnny Cash was quoting my dialogue,” the actor told The New York Times in 2005.

“I thought for a long time afterwards why those particular lines stuck with him. I think he understood something about punishment and redemption.”

But according to James Mangold, Cash knew all the lines in the film. Everyone.

Joaquin Phoenix como Jhonny Cash en Walk the line.

“He was excited to hear that Phoenix would play him in the biopic,” Mangold told in 2005. “Johny was very confident. Very laid back, very cool guy. When you have a guy like Joaquin who, frankly, It’s very similar, a very cool actor, Johny knew we were working in the right direction,” he said of the musician.

Unfortunately, Johnny Cash never saw the final result of the tape. The singer passed away on September 12, 2003, two years before the film’s release.

At age 12, Johnny Cash mourned the death of his 15-year-old brother Jack, with whom he was very close. The teenager went to work at the mill in his father’s absence instead of going fishing with his brother. A rotating head saw dragged him away and caused irreversible damage. A week later, with serious injuries and excruciating pain, he passed away at his home in Arkansas.

It was one of the most painful moments of Cash’s life, as detailed in his memoir. A tragic event in his life that, decades later, meant a great emotional burden for Joaquin Phoenix: the actor also went through the death of his older brother in terrible circumstances.

Joaquin was 19 years old when he went out to party at The Viper Room club with his brother River (24) and a group of friends. River, a promising actor, consumed a mixture of heroin and cocaine that caused seizures and it was Joaquin who called 911 for help, unable to determine if his brother was still breathing. After a few minutes, River Phoenix passed away outside the nightclub.

Phoenix – and any human being – is deeply disturbed when he is asked in interviews about this painful aspect of his life. Unfortunately, when he took on the role of Johnny Cash, those memories and comparisons were inevitable.

“Having become a more well-known actor at the time, I was suddenly faced with having to talk about something that had already been very public. […] It felt like… ‘Well, I’m not sure if this is the right place and it feels disingenuous to be talking about this, and I can hear in your tone of voice that you’re trying to sound like someone who really empathizes, but let’s be honest with what what really happens here,'” Phoenix said in an interview with Vanity Fair in September of this year.

The actor behind the newly released Joker, he knew that questions about his brother were meant to sell headlines with a sensational story. “It was a lot easier to just say ‘Fuck you,’ because it was a much easier way out than trying to explain it.”

Phoenix didn’t want to be “the brother in mourning.”

Joaquín Phoenix prepared himself to embody the musician without having experience in either singing or guitar. I wasn’t even a fan of Johnny Cash. However, Mangold assured that Phoenix did not personify Cash, but became him.

More about Joaquin Phoenix

In fact, who later starred The Master Y Her, he learned to play guitar and wrote some songs “to see how to build verses, a melody and all that,” the filmmaker told However, he was still terrified of singing, as he felt he was achieving a “Christmas” version of Johnny Cash.

In the production of the tape he was assigned a vocal coach and his singing skills improved exponentially.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol was another point of communion between the actor and the musician.

Johnny Cash fell into a spiral of amphetamine use that led him to distance himself from his loved ones, arrive in deplorable conditions at rehearsals and even collapse on stage.

“I had definitely lost my bearings. In 1967… I was on amphetamines, really bad, and totally crazy. I got in my jeep and drove through Chattanooga, where there was a cave… a monstrous cave, going for miles and miles.” up to Lookout Mountain. I went into that cave with my pills, just exploring,” the “Jackson” man told MTV.

“I had all these wild ideas about finding gold, the Civil War [memorabilia] or something in this cave. I went on and on taking the pills, I kept taking amphetamines, and after a certain point, after being there for three hours… I tried to close my eyes, but you can’t close your eyes for very long when you’re on speed. I laid on the floor and said ‘God, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t go any further, you have to take me now, I want to go, I want to die,” he added regarding the time of addictions.

After finishing the recording Walk the line, Joaquin Phoenix entered rehabilitation for alcohol abuse and later continued his treatment by participating in meetings of anonymous alcoholics.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t know anything about the show, but I did research on addiction when I was preparing for my role as Cash. He was a heavy drinker, but I don’t think he considered drinking his addiction. He was on amphetamines and barbiturates, and I studied what this detoxification consists of and what it does to your body. In my case, it was due to alcohol abuse, “he confessed to The New York Times in 2005.

Johnny Cash had a crush on June Carter even before he met her.

In Walk the line her childhood memories are recreated by listening to a little June singing with her family through the radio.

Years later, when both were married to other people, their paths crossed on stage. The chemistry was instant, but like any love story, it had its ups and downs.

Between flirting, jealousy, music, falls and relapses, and the definitive rehabilitation; the love of and for June Carter, made them get out of the misery in which Johnny was falling.


Reese Whitherspoon como June Carter y Joaquin Phoenix como Johnny Cash en Walk the line.

Reese Witherspoon was the one who played June Carter and, although in the months of rehearsal several differences between her and Phoenix were manifested, they eventually became great friends, even transmitting the same passion that united the people who inspired the story.

“June… she was my rock solid. She was always there; she was my counselor, my great support, my everything. She was an extraordinary woman,” she told MTV a couple of months after the artist’s death.

Like the so-called inseparable birds, Johnny and June had such a strong connection, it really was no surprise that three months after June’s death, Johnny Cash said goodbye to this world. Leaving established that he wanted to be buried next to his beloved.

“We’ve been together for 40 years,” Cash said in one of his last interviews. “We worked together on tours since 1963, and we got married in 1968. The secret of a happy marriage? Having separate bathrooms,” he said as a joke, as if hiding the still latent pain, according to MTV.


Johnny Cash y June Carter.

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Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the line: the blessing of Johnny Cash – La Tercera