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‘I might be a bad dad?’: Joaquin Phoenix jokes about making his toddler watch ‘C’mon C’mon’

  • November 25, 2021

Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t like to take a compliment. 

On a recent phone call, filmmaker Mike Mills started to explain why he wanted to work with Phoenix on his new family drama “C’mon C’mon” when the actor politely but firmly cut him off. 

“OK, all right, thanks for sharing. Next question?” Phoenix interjected. “You guys are free to talk later without me around, but I can’t be a part of that.” 

Phoenix, 47, is famously uncomfortable with interviews, bristling at questions about Method acting techniques and his eclectic career choices. But that caginess is part of what makes his tender, funny performance in “C’mon C’mon” such a wonderful surprise, particularly coming off his disturbing turn in DC villain origin story “Joker,” for which he won the best actor Oscar in 2020. 

in theaters now) follows a public radio journalist named Johnny (Phoenix) who travels the country interviewing kids on their thoughts about the future. After reconnecting with his semi-estranged sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), Johnny volunteers to help care for his 9-year-old nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), who soon joins him on the road. 

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With its mix of documentary and narrative storytelling, “C’mon C’mon” explores how children are just as emotionally complex as adults. Like the director’s last two films – “Beginners” (starring Christopher Plummer), inspired by his dad, and “20th Century Women” (with Annette Bening), a tribute to his mom – Mills’ latest outing also draws from family relationships, this one with his 9-year-old child, Hopper. 

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Over the course of the movie, the single and childless Johnny learns to communicate with Jesse, who struggles to express his feelings about his absent, bipolar father (Scoot McNairy). The duo sweetly bond over books, pizza, wrestling matches and long walks, which occasionally give way to temper tantrums and deeper conversation. 

In one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments, Jesse tells his uncle that he’s worried he’ll forget about their time together as he gets older. Johnny reassures his nephew that he’ll be there to remind him. 

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As Jesse travels with his uncle from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans, Johnny interviews children and teenagers about their hopes and concerns for the planet, our future leaders and their families. The thoughtful exchanges are entirely unscripted, save for a list of prompts that Mills would give to Phoenix before shooting. 

“I felt like I was always relying on that piece of paper with the questions on it,” Phoenix recalls. “I have a lot of appreciation for what (journalists) do. I always thought it was so fun and easy, and I had the hard part (as the subject). But asking the questions is very difficult, at least for me.”

The actor admits he was “very concerned and nervous” about interviewing kids in their homes, and worked to ensure they felt comfortable. 

“We started every interview saying, ‘I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions. If there’s anything you don’t want to talk about, say (so),’ ” Phoenix says. “I thought it was going to be more difficult to get them to open up, but they were just hungry to be heard.”

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The purpose of the interviews is to introduce “a bigger spectrum of life from a young perspective,” after talking so much about the “intense specificity of being with your own kid,” Mills says. Despite some autobiographical elements, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker says Hopper is “not that interested”in watching “C’mon C’mon.”

“My kid’s very smart and understands this isn’t totally about them,” Mills says. “They know it’s just the way my work goes.”

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