Friday, March 16, 2012

March of the Hot Vegan Army - Day #16 - Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix

Know him from: This Oscar-nominated actor is probably best known for his admirable portrayal of Johnny Cash in the movie Walk the Line opposite Reese Witherspoon. He also featured highly in two of M. Night Shyamalan's movies, Signs and The Village. He played a prominent role alongside Russell Crowe in the 5 time Oscar winning Gladiator, and in the gritty We Own the Night. He has been acting since childhood, and has had quite a large number of other movie and tv roles since the early 80s. He just finished filming a movie called The Master, currently in post-production, which also stars Amy Adams, and is currently filming an as-yet-unnammed film alongside Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.

Why he's vegan: His oft-repeated story is that he became a vegan when he was just a tiny 3 year old tot, after he saw a fish beaten against the side of the boat on a fishing trip. He said he realized at that moment that that is what it takes in order to eat animals: a living being has to die violently. He and his four siblings all grew up vegan. Joaquin loves tofu and vegetables, and he always wears only animal-friendly clothing. He recently filmed a pro-vegetarian Thanksgiving PSA for PETA, which you can see here. This animal rights activist also lent his voice to the documentary Earthlings, produced by day #3's Maggie Q, which reveals the horrific way that most animals and animal products arrive on one's plate. Ellen Degeneres has credited this movie (nicknamed "the vegan-maker") with solidifying her resolve to adopt a plants-only diet and lifestyle.

Why he's awesome: Besides the dark and mysterious, kind of "bad-boy" good looks, Joaquin Phoenix has shown that he will not compromise his beliefs for convenience. He apparently wore all-pleather jackets during the filming of Walk the Line. He has also said that producers on the sets of his various movies have been very accommodating about making sure animal-frienly options were always available for him. In fact, famous vegan cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a pretty funny story about how she had to make vegan egg rolls for one of JP's movies filmed in NYC, as Joaquin had to eat an egg roll while walking down the street in a scene. Read her hilarious take on the whole odd situation here.

One of the many reasons that I like Joaquin is because it is hard sometimes, even for a vegan like myself, to look at the harsh realities of what happens to animals the world over, either for fashion, food, or merely for increased profit margins. Joaquin seems to stare these realities in the face constantly, and try to lead others by example and by education. And plus, he's really good at his job. If you haven't seen the movies listed above, particularly Walk the Line, go find a way to see them. I bet you'll have a new respect for the guy, especially if you currently only know him for his publicity stunt from a few years ago...

Which brings me to what some of you may have been thinking the whole time reading this article: that Joaquin Phoenix is just a weird guy. His scruffy, out-of-it appearance on the David Letterman Show back in 2008 and the veritable media firestorm that followed is probably what caused this reaction. Apparently, however, the whole stunt was actually just supposed to become a part of a "mockumentary" film that Joaquin Phoenix was making with fellow actor Casey Affleck. The storyline was such that Joaquin was "quitting acting" to become a rapper. Now, I'll grant you, this whole thing clearly didn't go well, and perhaps Casey and Joaquin might have wanted to film this scene on Letterman separately for the purposes of the movie, or at least let Letterman in on it...

But regardless, here is the way I think of it. Many of our favorite actors and actresses have been part of some TERRIBLE movies in their time, whether before or after they were famous. Sometimes the acting business is hit or miss. And, sometimes, I would imagine it's tough to be inside this sort of closed-off world and still have any sense of how things would look from the outside. Look at many of the box-office bombs that have existed since the early days of the movie business. None of those movies would have been made if the people working on them thought they'd do that badly.

Entertainment is incredibly subjective. And initial public opinion tends to count for a lot in terms of whether an artistic endeavor gains or loses momentum. Just think of what would have happened if the first people to see Michael Jackson's Thriller music video had hated it. It was a really weird concept if you think about it. These zombies rose from the dead to take part in some wild 80s fashion and dance it up Jackson-style. It was odd, and people could easily have seen it that way. Or take Lady Gaga's fashion sense. People could easily think of it as weird, but they have chosen to think of it as ground-breaking. That is really "the line" one "walks" in entertainment, you're either brilliant, you really missed the mark, or even worse, you were "predictable."

So, that said, Joaquin, welcome to the Hot Vegan Army. I am thinking that since you are such a master of disguise that you'll have to infiltrate the enemy camps and covertly plant some vegan lasagna. Report back here when finished.

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