Joaquin Phoenix: Say Rap Is No ‘Joke’; Quotes Jesus; Admits He Could Quit Rapping If He Can’t Hack It

Here’s the transcript of my interview with Joaquin Phoenix. We chatted on the terrace at Lavo at Palazzo Friday night, right before he did his first announced rap show, at Lavo. He quit acting to become a rapper. He went to Palazzo Friday and Saturday, and the hotel was abuzz with his presence. Read all about it in my Monday column in the RJ, here:

What you might take away from this Q&A: People threw ice at him at other clubs. He quotes Jesus. He says he was terrified making "Gladiator." He felt like other actors thought he was a joke at times. He swears he’s for real as a rapper. But he also says it’s possible he’ll quit rapping, too.

There were three remarkable things about his appearance in Vegas. 1) He was an A-lister with major news going on (quitting acting) while interacting with people in the hotel. 2) He was incredibly generous, sharing time and thoughts with the media. 3) The media was in his personal VIP section when he rapped in Lavo.

Yes, he fell off the stage/catwalk he performed on at Lavo. But he fell safely onto a couch.

The Q&A

Elfman: Why Vegas?

Phoenix: It’s a good spot. They [execs at Lavo] kind of made this offer. They came to us. We went to a couple of places. I did some smaller clubs, and gone around freestyling, and done stuff that’s really been quiet, and people don’t know about. And I just wanted to do something that was kind of, like, bigger. I mean this — still, to me — in some ways is a dress rehearsal. It’s a pretty small space. I don’t know if you saw it [the area he was to perform in], you know what I mean? So it’s not in some ways what I expected. But it’s good because it’s just an in-between point for the next thing. There’s enough excitement and enough of the energy and tension of, like, “S–t, this is real.” Going out and performing and hyping the crowd and all that. But I’m not ready to do a place that’s 2,000 [capacity]. Soon. But.

Elfman: Are you going through a lot of emotions today, like freedom and doubt and happiness?

Phoenix: I’ve experienced all of it. But that’s what I love about it. I think I got tired of knowing what the outcome was gonna be when I worked [on films], in some ways. And this is, like, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. You know what I mean? I don’t know. They might throw s–t at me. But I put myself out there. You know what I mean? I’m willing to do it. You know what I mean? I’m willing to do it.

Elfman: Right, there’s a lot of actors that won’t do that.

Phoenix: No. And for years, though, I was the actor that talked about how much I got into roles, and I’m willing to do f—–g anything. And the truth is I was hiding behind this façade and this s–t that’s created, and f—–g publicists, and agents, and all that bull–it. And it’s, like, fine, walk the walk — sorry a pun [he chuckles about the pun of his Oscar-nominated winning role in “Walk the Line”] — but you know, if you say that, you really want to experience what it is, if you do it, you know what I mean? So yeah, there are times when I go through doubt. But I went through doubt when I did ‘Gladiator.’ You know what I mean? I didn’t know I was gonna get nominated. I was terrified, you know? So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t expect to be given a Grammy tomorrow. It would be nice. But we’ll see.

Elfman: Who are your anti-influences — the people you don’t want to sound like?

Phoenix: I don’t know. I really appreciate everybody, man. You know what I mean? I think everybody has their place. I really hate it when people become haters. They put down music and stuff. It’s, like, it’s hard. You know what I mean? It’s real hard for people out there. And it’s, like, it’s been tough for me but exciting.

Elfman: A couple of people suggested to me that they didn’t think you were doing it for real, like, maybe it was something you were putting together for funsies.

Phoenix [answering in a slightly frustrated tone]: Yeah, well, I expect that. Literally I went into this club. Tell me if this is funsie. I went to this club and got thrown off by the DJ who was f—–g with me. Motherf—–s threw ice at me. So I think that I’m f—–g willing to do it. And are there people that are gonna say that it’s a joke? Yeah. Are there people that’s gonna say that I suck? Probably. I can’t control that. You know what I mean? What am I gonna do? All I can do is be who I am. I run that same f—–g risk every movie I do. I feel like the other actors are going, ‘This dude sucks. This is a f—–g joke.’ You know what I mean?

Elfman: And you gotta get that out of your head, right?

Phoenix: You can’t think about that. It’s not about you. It’s not about them. If I was thinking about other people, I never would have gone anywhere. As Jesus said: they say this and that; you don’t listen to them. It’s not about what they say. And I have to be true to myself. I don’t know. You might see me in a f—–g week, and I’ve retired from f—–g music and I can’t hack it. I don’t know, dude. [He laughs.] But I’m gonna put myself out there.

[First three photos by Michael Muller, courtesy of Lavo. That’s Phoenix’s documentarian, brother-in-law Casey Affleck, in the third-from-top photo. Bottom photo courtesy of Erik Kabik/ RETNA/]

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