Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Walk the Line) and Josh Brolin (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, No Country for Old Men) star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelic detective drama Inherent Vice, which opens in limited release on December 12th, and wide release on January 9th.
Set in the waning days of the sixties, Joaquin portrays private eye Doc Sportello whose ex-lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) turns up out the blue to spin a yarn about a plot to kidnap her current billionaire boyfriend and put him in the loony bin. Trying to track down the truth leads Doc into the world of dopers, rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD detectives, including Lt. Det. Christian F ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) and Deputy Los Angeles D.A. Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon).
I spoke with Joaquin and Josh at the press day for Inherent Vice.
Did you go back and read the book to learn more about Doc there, or was everything already in the script?
Joaquin: Paul gave me the book first and then I read the script. I set out to read the book a second time, and halfway through I just thought, ‘I don’t want to know this too well. I want to be confused by what’s going on.’ I still haven’t figured it out.
How would you describe ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen?
Josh: There are so many things going on with Bigfoot. I saw him as this guy who is kind of stuck in a gray flannel ’50s world, a guy who would have wanted to be a ‘Right Stuff’ kind of guy if things had worked that way.
But there are all these dichotomous things going on with him. When you see him with his wife, he’s just getting screamed at like a child. So he presents himself one way, but what’s really going on is something else.
The only intelligence that you see with him is when he plays a bully. He stretches that out because it’s the only power that he can find. And any time he can find power he takes full advantage of it. He just doesn’t know how to do that very well, because he’s too much of a child.
Joaquin, I think you are in every scene of this film. Did you feel the weight of that on you, or was it a joy to be that involved?
Joaquin: I like working all the time. I dread having days off. The weekends are the hardest thing to get through. Paul and I would always talk that we wished that we could just keep shooting straight [through the weekends].
I would marvel at some of the actors that would work for a couple of days and be off for a week. I need to be there every day and I find it really difficult to have breaks.
Have you always felt that way?
Joaquin: Sometimes I didn’t have a choice. I remember doing Gladiator, and I worked the first couple of weeks and then I was off for three weeks, and it was very difficult for me to get back into it.
You and Joaquin had a great rapport on screen, was that there from the beginning?
Josh: It was nice. It’s not always great. You show up and everybody has their own thing, and there are little tantrums and stuff like that. I didn’t have that with him. I found it very seamless.
I don’t know if it was based on what we were doing, but it didn’t seem like there were a lot boundaries, and I like that kind of behavioral danger while you’re doing scenes, because there is always electricity there.
So even if you’re doing nothing there’s something being felt and that’s really wonderful. You don’t know if it’s working all the time, but it’s wonderful to be around.
What was it like working with Reese Witherspoon again in this?
Joaquin: I love working with Reese. She is a great actor. It had been 10 years (since they had done Walk the Line together), but it was like nothing had changed.
We did the first scene and she was like, ‘So that’s how you’re going to do it? Alright, well, I’ll have to save this again.’ She made the movie last time and she’s great in this.