Hard Rock Times 20th Anniversary 1971-1991

Celebrity Spotlight: RIVER PHOENIX

Where some actors can only fake that burning intensity which makes a great screen persona, River Phoenix exudes it. Since his screen debut in 1985's Explorers, Phoenix's star has risen quickly. In subsequent roles in Stand By Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mosquito Coast fixed his reputation as the type of performer who had a future as well as a pretty face.
Fittingly, the first act of his acting career came to a close with his appearance in 1989's Running On Empty; as the son of '60's radicals on the lam, 19-year-old Phoenix received an Academy Award nomination. Now at the ripe old age of 21, his film career barely six years old, the actor's second act is just beginning.
Although he is in the enviable position of having earned the freedom to pick and choose what he wants to do, off-camera, Phoenix is as un-Hollywood as they come. He lives with his parents, one brother, and two sisters in Gainesville, Florida, and only shows his face in tinsel-town when a good cause is attached, like PETA – the animal rights group, which sponsored the compilation LP Phoenix and his band Aleka's Attic appeared on this spring. The band, which includes Phoenix's younger sister Rainbow, is now in the studio preparing demos for their first album.
Phoenix's taste for new challenges is reflected in his upcoming film, director Gus Van Sant's (Drugstore Cowboy) My Own Private Idaho, in which Phoenix (along with pal Keanu Reeves) plays the gritty role of a male prostitute adrift on the streets and in search of his mother – already, word out on his performance is glowing. But Phoenix doesn't let such things go to his head. Still more teenager than "serious actor", Phoenix likes to goof on his celebrity, bristles at any questions about his fame, and has remained overall humble, soft-spoken and unaffected.

When people come to see your band, Aleka's Attic, does it bother you to get an audience of people who come to see your band because of your reputation as an actor?
It's difficult because I don't want there to be any preconceptions of the music based on who I am as an actor. It's a huge jinx on all of us in the band, and it really hurts. I was debating on whether or not I should just change my name for the band. Although it did help us get into the clubs in the first place, I don't think any of the clubs took us back because of that. When you see our show I think people realize it's just a good band playing good music.

Do you think My Own Private Idaho will be perceived as shocking?
I spent quite a few hours on the streets in Portland (where the movie was filmed) between the hours of 8 pm and 4 am researching the role by hanging out with male hustlers. It was really depressing. It doesn't seem so shocking to me, really. I think if it was about female prostitution it wouldn't be so shocking. Society accepts that. The movie turns the tables on the audience in that sense, but it all comes back to the same thing; mankind. Man is the customer, the consumer, the exploiter…it's seedy out there, man.

success changed the way you plan your acting career or your personal life?
Fame doesn't affect my relationships with people much because I've got my head on straight, but there is some sort of undertone that has a weird effect when you're trying to walk through life – I'm not interested in seeing "the media" manifest itself in my life. I don't even like to call acting a career. I prefer to think of it as a project, or else I'd start worrying about things like money. We like contributing to causes, people and the world around us. Just kind of sharing it all, that's what's important.

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