Entertainment & Arts

Joaquin Phoenix credits his late brother River for his career in an emotional speech

Joaquin Phoenix Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Phoenix joked he had no idea who his award from - or why he was getting it

Joaquin Phoenix paid tribute to his late brother, River Phoenix, as he accepted an acting award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In an emotional speech, he said River helped him rediscover his love of acting after early experiences as a child actor left him disillusioned.

"He said: 'You're going to start acting again,'" recalled the 44-year-old.

"He didn't ask me, he told me. And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life."

The star, who is generating Oscar buzz for his menacing, psychologically dark portrayal of comic book character The Joker, was speaking after being presented with the TIFF Tribute Actor Award.

He described how, when he was 15, River "made me watch" a VHS copy of the Martin Scorsese / Robert DeNiro classic Raging Bull in an attempt to rekindle his love of acting.

"And the next day he woke me up, and he made me watch it again. And he said, 'You're going to start acting again, this is what you're going to do'.

River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993, aged 23.

The brothers had acted together when Joaquin was eight years old, in a TV adaptation of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption River Phoenix was regarded as one of his generations's most talented young stars

Phoenix accepted his award from fellow actor Willem Dafoe, joking he had no idea what it was for.

"My publicist said, 'Someone wants to give you an award' and I said, 'I'm in'."

After being shown a montage of clips from his career, the actor - who has been Oscar-nominated for previous roles in Walk The Line, The Master and Gladiator - paid tribute to his family's impact on his career.

"I feel overwhelmed with emotion, because I'm just thinking about all the people that had such a profound influence on me," he said.

Image copyright Warner Bros
Image caption Phoenix dons clown make-up to play struggling performer Arthur Fleck

"When I was watching those clips, I thought about my family. My sisters Rain and Liberty and Summer, who are still my best friends."

He joked: "I don't talk to them or see them".

Phoenix closed his speech with an oblique reference to his girlfriend, actress Rooney Mara, who starred in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who was present for the ceremony.

"One last thing," he said, "Somewhere here, I don't know where, is a filthy dragon, and I want to rip its wings off and fasten a blanket and sleep with it forever. I love you. Thank you."

Over the years, the actor has cultivated a reputation for the unexpected, most notably his bizarre interview with David Letterman in 2009, where he appeared heavily bearded, dishevelled and replied to the host in monosyllables.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Phoenix's appearance on the Late Show was widely mocked.

"We're having fun," chided Letterman, "I'll come to your house and chew gum."

It transpired Phoenix was working on a mockumentary called I'm Still Here about his supposed retirement from acting and aspirations to become a hip-hop artist.

He appeared on the show again to apologise for, and explain, his strange behaviour a year later.

Letterman appeared to get back at Phoenix by telling him his network's lawyers had confirmed he could sue for using the show's footage in the film

"You and Casey (director Casey Affleck) get together and come up with a million, that's all I'm asking."

"Can we talk about it privately," said Phoenix.

"Yeah, we'll go to one of your screenings," replied the veteran host.

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