Joaquin Phoenix Recites Late Brother River's Song Lyrics in Emotional Oscars Speech for Joker
"I think that's when we're at our best, when we support each other," Phoenix told the crowd while accepting his award
On Sunday night, Phoenix took home the coveted Best Actor prize — his first-time-ever claiming the award — for his role in Joker.
He was up against fellow nominees Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory, Adam Driver for Marriage Story, Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes and Leonardo DiCaprio for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood for the honor.
While accepting his award on stage, Phoenix, 45, emotionally touched on the “distressing issues” that the world is facing, but said that he sees them as more of a unifying factor than a dividing one, and urged everyone to live with love and compassion.
To make his point, Phoenix recited a lyric written by his late brother, River, who died from a drug overdose at 23 years old in October of 1993 outside of the iconic Viper Room in Los Angeles.
“I’ve been a scoundrel all my life. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance,” he told the audience. “And I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other towards redemption. That is the best of humanity.”
“When he was when he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric,” he went on. “He said, ‘Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.'”
Phoenix previously paid tribute to his brother River this awards season in September. While being honored with the TIFF Tribute Actor Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the actor credited his brother for persuading him to return to acting.
At another point in his speech on Sunday, Phoenix told the crowd that acting has allowed him and many others in the room to “use our voice for the voiceless.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively,” he said. “And I think at times we feel or were made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality, or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.”
“I think that when we use love and compassion, as our guiding principles we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment,” he added.
The win on Sunday marks Phoenix’s first Oscar and fourth nomination. The actor was previously nominated in the Best Actor category for The Master and Walk the Line in 2013 and 2006, respectively, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Gladiator in 2001.
Phoenix’s Oscar win caps off a successful awards season for the Joker star, who also won a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Critics’ Choice Award and a Golden Globe Award last month. In the comic book origin story, Phoenix portrayed a mentally ill comedian named Arthur Fleck who turns to violence and crime, eventually becoming the Batman villain Joker.
Phoenix told reporters backstage at the Globes that getting into character “was a long process.”
“I think the way I worked on this was quite erratic,” Phoenix said. “I didn’t attack it linearly. I was most curious about the medication that he was taking and the effects and side effects of the medication. That led us to realize that we had to have this fluctuation of weight.”
“I dug into understanding medication and the side effects of what he was taking, so that was the beginning,” he continued. “I read several books about political assassins that share a similar personality type.”
The 92nd Annual Academy Awards aired live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.