River’s Last Interview by Jean-Paul Chaillet for Premiere, October 1993.
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.
Première: Most young actors seem to make more commercial choices than you, is it right?
River Phoenix: 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.
Première: Generally, how do you deal with a part?
River Phoenix: 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.
River Phoenix: Everything was on the screen.
Première: Was this also not to use it again?
River Phoenix: 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.