Joaquin Phoenix


  1. Skeet Ulrich, Scream, 1996.   He refused the handsome-hero Billy Loomis. Next in the loop were Ben Affleck, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Kevin Patrick Walls. Plus Michael Landes and Justin Whalin, who had both played Jimmy Olsen in Lois & Clark which – in case you were thick – was subtitled The New Adventures of Superman. Landes was dropped after the first, 1983-1984, season because he looked too much like Dean Cain’s Supie. Ironically, Ulrich won Lomis because he resembled Johnny Depp… who began in director Wes Craven’s other quirky horror franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984.

  2. Vince Vaughn, Psycho, 1997.    
    By 1990, Anthony Perkins had played Norman Bates four times.  So why should anyone else play him?  It’s been (over)done. It’s a classic. And by The Master. Why re-make Hitchcock?  Ah, beg pardon, Gus Van Sant called it a reproduction. A bizarre (lazy!) notion of copying  –  the Psycho  script, word for word, action for action, move for move, shock for shock (except the shocks were too famous to  shock anymore). “Just shoot it in color and have, for instance, Jack Nicholson play the detective and Timothy Hutton play Norman Bates,” he suggested. “Universal wanted to rope me in, and I said:“Here’s the idea: don’t change anything! It’s never been done before. Isn’t that a great reason to try it? Not really! What had he said about re-makes? The essence is missing. You might as well make an original movie. Right!  One guy in particular has an extreme Tony Perkins qualityRobert Sean Leonard,” Van Sant told Movieline’s Stephen Rebello. “So doHenry Thomas and  Jeremy Davies.   [Indeed, Thomas was the teenage Bates  in Psycho IV: The  Beginning, 1989].  I think of MattDamon for everything I do… But he’s one of those under-30 guys who just didn’t get it. Leonardo would have been fantastic. I knew he knew that he could step into it. But I also knew he didn’t really want to do it. I seriously considered Joaquin Phoenix. He was interested but busy. So, it was either wait or forge ahead and we forged ahead. Vince was not even in my imagination But he had a really interesting quality I wasn’t expecting.”The UK’s fast-rising Christian Bale  and DiCaprio pal, Tobey Maguire, were also short-listed.

  3. Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, 1997.   Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson tries for Phoenix, Part One.  The actor was worried about playing a porn star (based on long John Holmes) and the subject of PTA’s 32-minute directing debut The Dirk Diggler Story, 1988. Now he ws exploring the 70s porno biz as a family unit  (Burt Reynolds’ film-maker and Julianne Moore’s porno star being “the parents”). As well As Phoenix, Ben Affleck, Christian Bale, Matt Damon (!), Ethan Hawke, Jason Lee also refused. Idem for, of all people, Vincent Gallo, seen iun a  hard-score fellatio scene in his Brown Bunnymovie in 2002. First Dirk choice was Leonardo DiCaprio. He loved the script but had  booked passage on the Titanicand told PTA: “You should get Mark”… who kept his prosthetic penis. Gallo plainly didn’t need one.
  4. Mark Wahlberg, The Yards, 2000.    Another US auteur,  James Gray offered the part of Leo. “Nah, I wanted to play strong and seductive and proactive, not the guy who’s just out of prison. I’d done that before. Miramax was opposed to me playing Willie. I don’t think they thought I could do it. He wouldn’t be charismatic or sexy enough, or whatever… Same thing whenI went forGladiator– you wouldn’t believe the resistance I met.”
  5. Crispin Glover, Willard, 2003.      Macauley Culkin also refused the title role. “Joaquin is complex, for reasons that we all know,” said his Quills director Philip Kaufman.“He’s hurt and bruised and has been through trauma within his own family. Yet what people don’t know is how bright and articulate he really is. It’s probably the most difficult thing for an actor to play straight and narrow and give it dimension. We have very few actors who can do that nowadays. Spencer Tracy and actors like that could do it. But today, actors want to be showy… quirky. When you look at Joaquin, you see the resonance of a Montgomery Clift and John Garfield.”
  6. Martin Henderson, Bride and Prejudice, 2004.    After Johnny Deep and Phoenix passed, director Gurinder Chadha fell for the New Zealander as Darcy as Bollywood Goes Jane Austen.
  7. Jason Lee, The Incredibles, 2004.  Phoenix passed on Buddy Pine, aka Syndrome.  Lee had impressed  the toon’s director Brad Bird in Dogma,1999.  Acting since eight, Joaquim quit until…as he explained when accepting an acting prize at the inaugural Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Gala  in  2019…  “When I was 15 or 16, my brother River came home from work and had a VHS copy of a movie called Raging Bull, and he sat me down and he made me watch it. And the next day, he woke me up and made me watch it again. And he said: ‘You’re gonna start acting again. This is what you’re gonna do.’ He didn’t ask me; he just told me. And I am indebted to him for that, because acting has given me such an incredible life.”
  8. Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain, 2004.
    Hollywood was not keen on Annie Prouix’s 1997 short story – two gay shepherds in Wyoming, get outa here!  Until directors (more than actors) queued to make it.  Ang Lee, Joel Schumacher – but first in line was Gus Van Sant (obviously). He called up Damon and Joaquin Phoenix (obviously, they’d made his Good Will Hunting and To Die For, respectively). Phoenix never knew or he would have accepted a heartbeat, Said Damon: “Gus, I did a gay movie [The Talented Mr Ripley, then a cowboy movie [All the Pretty Horses]. I can’t follow it up with a gay-cowboy movie!”  Ang Lee was considering retirement when the script “nurtured” him back to work, only to find  many actors were scared to play gay. Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Philippe and Brad Pitt all refused. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal did not. ”These two are among the best in their age group.. Jake plays the opposite of Heath and it creates a very good couple in terms of a romantic love story.”  Gyllenhaal added: “I don’t think that these two characters even know what gay is.… What ties [them] together is not just a love, but … primarily it was deep loneliness Ang Lee  told journo  Robert Ordona  that in the 60s, he’d have chosen  Paul Newman and Montgomery Clift as Ennis and Jack.

  9. Adrien Brody, Hollywoodland, 2005.     As the private eye hired investigatingthe curious demise – suicide or murder? – of the first TV Superman, GeorgeReeves, 1914-1959. Second time the two have auditioned for the same role; previously, Phoenix won The Village, 2004, from Brody.
  10. Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood, 2006.   Auteur Paul Thomas Anderson tries for Phoenix, Part Two.He backed off from the Elmer Gantryesque preacher man…- but third time lucky for PTA, Phoenix joined (and stole)The Master, 2011. Idem for their Inherent Vice, 2014.

  11. Russell Crowe, American Gangster, 2007.    Terry George was once set todirect Don Cheadle and Phoenix – as the New York drug lord and his cop nemesis. Ridley Scott did it with Denzel Washington and Crowe.
  12. Patrick Wilson, Watchmen, 2008.  Not so much “Who watches the watchmen?” as jiuvenal asked, but who them playeth?  And in the 20 years it took fto film Alan Moore’s DComic-book, directors came and went – Darren Aronofsky, Michael Bay, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and  Paul  Greengrass to, ultimately, the lesser  Zack Snyder.  So did their choices for Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl:  Phoenix, Kevin Costner, John Cusack, Nathan Fillon, Richard Gere.
  13. Billy Crudup, Watchmen, 2008.   Just as Nathan Fillon was also shortlisted for Edward Morgan Blake aka The Comedian)… Phoenix was also offered a second role: Jon Osterman, aka the blue Dr Manhattan. As were Rutger Hauer, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger… even Keanu Reeve
  14. Hugo Weaving, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2010.    Phoenix passed on the Nazi villain, Red Skull.  Weaving simply supremed… When Joaquin went comic-strip  in 2018 it was for DC not Marvel (he’d also refused Doctor Strange)  and he collected  an Oscar forJoker… fast becoming the Hollywood Hamlet! 
  15. John Cusack, The Raven, 2011.   Tracking a serial killer… Phoenix passed Edgar Allen Poe to Ewan McGrgeor- who passed to Cusack – as Jeremy Renner quit as Inspector Fields to join (and succeed?) Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise.
  16. Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 2011. Still hedging about any comeback movie, Phoenix turned away frombeing Henry Sturgess, mentor to the most astonishing vampire hunter of all.
  17. Joel Edgerton, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, 2011.   Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg were short-listed for Timothy’s father before the Iowa auteur Peter Hedgesmet the Australian star of The Thing prequel.
  18. Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, 2011.    Once the last movie’s Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton, was dropped, the Phoenix name, intomeltdown at the time,was rung up the Marvel and Disneyflagpoles.Ruffalo was seen as less of a problem – forthe first actor to portray both Bruce Banner and,viaperformance-capture effects, his angry alter-ego, the Hulk.   
  19. Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange, 2015.    Probably too strange! Like Johnny Depp… Discussed, planned, written, re-spun since 1986, always dropped despite scripts from Alex Cox, Wes Craven, Bob Gale, etc, until chosen as the portal into the supernatural side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phoenix took two months to pass. Among those flown up Marvel’s 21st Century flagpole were Phoenix (too strange!), TV doctor Patrick Dempsey, Colin Farrell, Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Hamm, Ethan Hawke, Jack Huston, Oscar Isaac, Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey, Ewan McGregor, Vincent Price (in 1986), even zeroes Keanu Reeves (listed but never approached – how wise) and Justin Theroux. Finally, the production waited until after Cumberbatch’s Hamlet stage triumph in London. If Iron Man is Mick Jagger, Strange is Jim Morrison… and should head the MCU when Robert Downey paweds his ironmongery.
  20. Vince Vaughn, True Detective (Season 2), 2015. The second season could never match the impact and huge viewership – 11.9m – of the first HBO season. They were both written by exec producer Nic Pizzolatti and even if the second show was better, no one would say so as the first had long since entered the pantheon alongside The Sopranos, Oz, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Locale changed from Southern to West Coast noir, still owing everything to Elmore Leonard. Last time, two cop guys; this time, guy and gal. They were considered a flop. Phoenjx, Josh Brolin, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt were in the frame for the career criminal whose partner’s corpse is found tortured and mutIilated on a highway.
  21. James McAvoy, Split, 2015
    When Joaquin Phoenix could not reach a deal, auteur M Night Shyamalan met McAvoy by chance at a Comic-Con. The Scottish actor agreed to play the Billy Milligan (19552014), diagnosed with 24 multiple personalities (ten desirables,13 no), including two women and a girl of three.  Charged with raping three women in 1977, Milligan was acquitted when his defence argued that the crimes were committed, not by Milligan, but by one of his alternate personalities. Hitchcock created a masterpiece using the same subject matter to create Psycho, noted critic Dennis Schwarz,but Shyamalan is only a so-so director and just comes up with an unpleasant and pointless kidnapping thriller.”  David Fincher and Joel Schumacher were previously attached to another version, The Crowded Room, with such potential Milligans as Jim Carey, John Cusack, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio (producing his version), Matthew McConaughey, Sean Penn and  Brad Pitt for the producer called Leo.

  22. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals, 2015.  There was five years difference between Tom Ford’s ideas for Ray Marcus.  Phoenix solved thje problem by quitting  And Aaron signed on. Well, Ford, the fashion designer-turned-auteur (for the second time) is a friend of both Aaron and his Forty Shades of Grey director wife, Sam. 
  23. Benicio Del Torr, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2016.  
  24. Jesse Eisenberg,  Justice League, 2016. 
  25. James McAvoy, Split, 2016. Talks with Phoenix fell through, allowing McAvoy to reprise his Glass class act of a guy with 23 personalities and dangerous 24th around the corner. His then co-star, Samuel  L Jackson,  praised McAvoy’s  astonishing work in their earlier M Night Shyamalan movie. “As good as I like to think I am or what I do and how I do it, watching somebody transform characters in front of your eyes and have an argument with four different people is pretty amazing.” 
  26. Michael B Jordan, Tom Clancy’s Remorse, 2019.  The 1993 book was about John Kelly who became John Clark in the Jack Ryan franchise, played by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger, 1993, Liev Schreiber in The Sum of All Fears, 2001.  Preferring  his John Wick franchise,  Keanu Reeves passed on $7m for a ’94 Clark solo trip. Gary Sinise was due in ‘ 95, Tom, Hardy in 2012 and finally Jordan – already  Adonis Creed, Erik Killmonger, Guy Montag, Johnny Storm –  had a new hero to embody.




 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  26