Movie Talk

Joaquin Phoenix studied captive animals for ‘The Master’ toilet-smashing scene

Movie Talk

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Phoenix in 'The Master' (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Our own Thelma Adams may have said it best when she called Joaquin Phoenix "bat-guano insane as Freddie Quell" in his new film "The Master," which premiered over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Already pegged as a sure bet for a best actor Oscar nomination, Phoenix is so insane in the film, he spontaneously destroyed part of the set while shooting a rage-filled scene.

Let me explain.

Festival goers are buzzing about Phoenix's intense performance as wild, drunken WWII sailor who follows a charismatic guru (Philip Seymour Hoffman) espousing a new religion and his wife (Amy Adams). Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "There Will Be Blood"), the film was initially rumored to be an indictment on Scientology, but, according to the New York Times -- which recently published an interview with Phoenix about his passionate toilet-smashing scene -- the subject of the origins of the religion is a mere backdrop of a film that is more about "man's animal nature and civilization and its discontents."

[Related: Joaquin Phoenix a no-show as Paul Thomas Anderson jokes at 'The Master' press conference]

And yes, "The Master" gets pretty carnal [via the NYT]:

For a scene in which Freddie [Phoenix] and Lancaster [Hoffman] are thrown into neighboring prison cells — sending Freddie into a head-banging, toilet-smashing rage — Mr. Phoenix studied online videos of wild animals in captivity. "You can see that their brains don't seem to be functioning anymore," he said. "It's pure reaction, and you see the muscles going. I knew that's what I wanted to capture — they're hurting themselves, and they don't even know that, but something inside is saying get out, get out."

That scene was not supposed to end with Mr. Phoenix stomping on the commode.

"I didn't intend to break the thing," Mr. Phoenix said. "I didn't know that was possible."

Phoenix was so deep into character, Anderson says he actually hurt himself in several physical scenes, though not too badly [via The Huffington Post]:  "There were a number of opportunities for him to hurt himself, and I think he did, you know? But that's kind of what you want, hopefully within reason. He'll get over it. [Laughs.]"

Come Oscar time, if Phoenix wins, I wonder if he'll thank that toilet in his acceptance speech. Hmm.

"The Master" opens in limited release on Friday.

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