Joaquin Phoenix

The actor hung up on us. Was it something we said?

Illustration: Rob Kelly

For a kid who grew up in the religious cult Children of God (some prefer to call it a movement), Joaquin Phoenix didn't turn out half bad. The twice Oscar-nominated performer has won a Golden Globe for acting like Johnny Cash (in the 2005 hit Walk the Line) and a Grammy for sounding like him. And one cannot forget his touching portrayal of a teen astronaut who befriends a robot in SpaceCamp.

This month, the 32-year-old actor has two movies coming out: Reservation Road, a dramatic thriller that follows the lives of two fathers who are struck by tragedy, and We Own the Night, a suspenseful crime flick that takes place in Brooklyn during the late- '80s war on drugs. Phoenix lives in Los Angeles but he called us from a hotel in L.A. to discuss his work, his aversion to doing press and the lies he tells reporters.

Can I call you "Kitten"? Your profile on IMDb says that's one of your nicknames. No, you can't. That's not true. I once told a journalist that girls call me "Kitten," but I couldn't have been more sarcastic, and no matter how many times I've said that it was a joke, it still doesn't go away.

You've been called awkward, uncomfortable and nervous during interviews. Am I right to expect the worst? I think the day that I become comfortable doing interviews and going on talk shows is the day that I don't know what it is to be a human being anymore. I'm quite comfortable and not awkward in my life, but when I do press I can be awkward, because I don't enjoy it. I don't like the attention.

I think you may have picked the wrong line of work. I was really naive about what's involved in the film industry. I've been acting since I was eight, and I never looked at entertainment magazines, never watched entertainment shows. I don't think one should be comfortable standing on a stage with people applauding and laughing at every stupid thing you say.

I think people clapping at every stupid thing I say sounds awesome! It's one thing in a normal situation, when they genuinely like something you said, but when you're with an audience that seems to be trained to applaud at any given moment, it's hard to be really satisfied. It's a fake orgasm.

What question are you most sick of reporters asking you? The one question I've been getting is: "Do you take this home with you?" And the truth is, no. But people don't want to hear that. So it's a weird situation, because you either tell people the truth, which is that there isn't a whole lot going on, and then they don't think highly of you. Or you just lie, which I do a million times.... "Oh yes, it's really hard to sleep at night." Yeah, it's real hard to sleep when you have production assistants who will get you anything you want. You're on a set where people are constantly taking care of you. It's a piece of cake.

In We Own the Night, you play a hedonistic, drug-loving nightclub manager. That sounds like a fun role to prepare for. I never prepare. I think that's completely overrated. It's a very simple job. All you have to do is hit this bright mark, stand in the right spot and say the line. So I don't really believe in preparation.

But you prepared for Ladder 49 by training with a fire academy. I just said that because I thought it would sound good to the press. Look, there are preparation changes every time. I don't know why it seems to be of note that actors do any kind of preparation. It's just what you're supposed to do in your fucking job. Do you think that because you did some research that you deserve some special credit?

I'm not saying you deserve special credit. I just asked thatto get some good drug stories out of you. I have to take the next call. They're giving me the signal.

Wait—one more question: As a vegan and an animal-rights activist, would you be offended if I told you I just ate a hot dog wrapped in bacon, while wearing a fur coat? [Click, dial tone]

We Own the Night opens Fri 12.
Reservation Road opens Oct 19.