Première (France) december 1993
(this is a re-translation from the French version published in the French edition of Première, back to english. If anyone knows of an edition in english of that interview, please let me know at

River Phoenix: His Last Interview

by Jean-Paul Chaillet.

A few days before his death, on October 31, in L.A., the American actor had received "Première" on the filming of his last movie, "Dark Blood", in Utah. He was 23 years old...

He was called River. Like a river. Child of a couple of flower children, pure product of the 70es, he loved nature, animals and rock'n'roll. A teenager become a star, in 1986, with Rob Reiner's "Stand by Me", he showed his blond hair, hollow cheeks and pale face in half a dozen of striking movies. Nominated at 17 for an Academy Award for "Running on Empty", by Sidney Lumet, he would be Harrison Ford's eldest son in Peter Weir's "Mosquito Coast, then young Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", by Steven Spielberg. Ecologist with a mystique, he also liked difficult parts and unsettling movies. Drugged-out, prostitute and homosexual in Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho", he'd then be a hacker in "Sneakers" with Robert Redford. His last movies, Sam Shepard's "Silent Tongue" and Peter Bogdanovich's "The thing called love", are still unreleased. He was set to join Tom Cruise in "Interview with the vampire". And was achieving, when we met him, south from Salt Lake City, in Utah, an obsessional love story between three characters, with Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis: "Dark Blood", directed by George Sluizer. River Phoenix has gone at 23. Foolishly. The 90es lose a good-hearted rebel.

Première : Your movies often contain an important social or political message. Is it a deliberate choice from yours?
River Phoenix : What inspires me first is the quality of the written word and script, and not some strategy. At the time of "Mosquito Coast", I didn't choose my parts yet. I went to a casting and I had the chance to join in such a movie.

P : Most young actors seem to make more commercial choices than you, is it right?
RP : Maybe some of my movies would have been successful if I hadn't played in... These commercial stuff, I consider them as a pollution of mind. I don't want to contaminate my work or my convictions with things that won't contribute to my growth or to the development of my art.

P : Generally, how do you deal with a part?
RP : Usually, I write the detailed biography of the character. For me it's the only possible way. To play a sad scene, many will only for example think of their mother's death. I consider it's a mistake for an actor to cross the boundary that separates him from his character. Because then you impose him your own references. That's why I need to have landmarks that only belong to my character. For example, for "My Own Private Idaho" I wrote a lot. And once the movie was done, I burned it all.

P : Why?
RP : Everything was on the screen.

P : Was this also not to use it again?
RP : That's right, even if, as an actor, I'm growing richer and learning with each character. And a new character will then be able to raise from this compilation of parts.

P : What kind of character are you in "Dark Blood"? RP : Boy is someone in search for absolute, looking for solace in wide spaces. Someone surviving by eating rodents and snakes, drinking from rain and the blood of the animals he killed.

P : You're vegan?
RP : I'm not eating any animal flesh and I don't feel having the right to take the soul of any living creature. But the movie character, on his side, belongs to the natural food chain, like Native Americans or Inuit. He's entitled to live on earth's natural resources.

P : How do you like to work with your partners?
RP : I adjust myself very easily and I never hold any prejudice about them. I try to keep my mind as opne as possible towards them. But I prefer to communicate through my character.

P : Could you describe what you enjoy as an actor?
RP: When you look at the movie history, you realize that there are gaps and missing links. My ultimate goal is to try to give in a competent way a voice to characters who haven't had the chance to talk yet, those who never expressed themselves so far. Even if I've not always been able to do so. For me, the ideal recompense, what really fulfills me, is to create something new. Not only to be original at any cost or to be the first one to do it, but because these blanks need to be filled. Besides, I could play the same character again and again, in a different way each time. As many times as I have atoms in my body.

P : Is it important for a young actor needing to compose with the Hollywood system, to plan his career?
RP : Of course, there is pressure, people who'd like to build career's plan for you. But I'm not looking for their opinion. I don't mind because I'm not here to complete my career of fill my bank account. I don't care about my image.

P : You started very early in this career. Do you feel like you've lost your naivety faster than others?
RP : It wasn't really naivety but more ignorance like any beginner.

P : Are you satisfied with what you've achieved at this point in your career?
RP : Honestly, I don't think this way. I never think of me as an actor. I see all of this as new experiences each time, like as many different lives. As many reincarnations. So when I watch my last movie, I'm unable to judge or to be critical. For me, it's past, and I don't feel any connection to it anymore, like if it was somebody else than me that I'm not responsible for. I immersed myself in another life that the character appropriated. He expressed himself through me, not the other way around.
P : It sounds like you've always taken care to separate your private life from your actor's work...
RP : Absolutely. Quite often, when actors have such a strong charisma in real life, eventually it has to affect the characters they play. For myself I'm not charismatic in that way. I'm not a "performer". Ideally I would stay mute as River. That's the reason why, for a long time, I've said the opposite of what I really thought. In interviews, I've also played characters that I wasn't. I've lied and often contradicted myself to dumbfound people. It's all over now, because I have nothing left to hide. Eventually, I'm quite an ordinary person.

The text on this page © 1993 Première (France).

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