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

The film that reviews the milestones in the life of Johnny Cash, begins with two key moments: the concert he gave in Folsom Prison in 1968, and a trip to his early childhood, when he was not over 10 years old and was listening to an old radio the voice of June Carter, a child country star.

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

The film is a musical odyssey set in the 1960s, starring Joaquín Phoenix, an actor who took on the role at the age of 30, with 19 tapes in his medical record and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the Comfortable Emperor in the film. Gladiator de Ridley Scott.

Although Benicio del Toro kept the statuette for his role in Traffic, What was deemed insufficient to win the award by the Academy, was seen by Johnny Cash as a great performance. So prominent, that he saw Gladiator at least three times in the movies and clearly remembered a specific dialogue.

“They say 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 Joaquín Phoenix.

The actor was invited to dinner at the home of singer-songwriter and artist June Carter, years before starting work on Walk the line. “I was in shock. I couldn’t believe Johnny Cash was quoting my dialogue,” the actor said in an interview with The New York Times in 2005.

“Then I thought for a long time why those particular lines stuck to him. I think he understood something about punishment and redemption,” she added.

But according to James Mangold, Cash knew all the lines in the movie. Everybody.

Joaquin Phoenix como Jhonny Cash en Walk the line.

“He was excited to know that Phoenix would play him in the biopic,” Mangold said in an interview with in 2005. “Johny was very confident. Very laid back, a very cool guy. When you have a guy like Joaquin who, frankly, He is very similar, a very great actor, Johny knew that we were working in the right direction, “he said about the musician.

Sadly, Johnny Cash never saw the final result of the film. The singer passed away on September 12, 2003, two years before the film was released.

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 the absence of his father instead of going fishing with his brother. A rotating head saw dragged him 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 under terrible circumstances.

Joaquin was 19 years old when he partied at The Viper Room club with his brother River (24) and a group of friends. River, a promising actor, used 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 bothered that in interviews he is asked about that painful aspect of his life. Unfortunately, when he took on the role of Johnny Cash, that memory and comparisons were unavoidable.

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

The actor after the recently released Joker, he knew that the questions surrounding his brother were to sell headlines with a tabloid 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 mourning brother.”

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

More about Joaquin Phoenix

In fact, who later starred The Master and 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 considered that he achieved a “Christmas” version of Johnny Cash.

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

Drug and alcohol addiction was another point of communion between the actor and the musician.

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

“I had definitely lost my way. In 1967 … I was on amphetamines, very bad, and totally insane. 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 to 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 long when you’re on speed. I lay down 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 of Walk the line, Joaquin Phoenix entered rehabilitation for alcohol abuse and later continued his treatment participating in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t know about the show, but I did research on addictions when preparing my role as Cash. He was a heavy drinker, but I don’t think he considered drinking his addiction. He took 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 before he even met her.

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

Years later, when they were both married to other people, their paths crossed on stage. The chemistry was instantaneous, 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, brought them out of the misery that Johnny was falling into.


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

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

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

Like the inseparable birds, Johnny and June had such a strong connection, it really came as no surprise that within three months of June’s death, Johnny Cash said goodbye to this world. Establishing that he wanted to be buried next to his beloved.

“We have been together for 40 years,” Cash said in one of his last interviews. “We worked together on the road since 1963, and we were married in 1968. The secret of a happy marriage? Having separate bathrooms,” he joked, as if hiding the still latent pain, as recorded by MTV.


Johnny Cash y June Carter.

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

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