Joaquin Phoenix Prefers An Organic Approach To Learning His Lines

In my younger days, I did a little bit of acting, both in school and some community theater. Whenever I got a part, the very first thing I wanted to do was learn my lines. I wanted to be able to walk into a rehearsal room and know everything I needed to say backwards and forwards. That was just the way I was accustomed to working. I liked having the safety blanket of the words to guide me even if I felt myself not properly in a scene. If the dialogue was second nature, that left me to be a freer on stage, not having to worry about if I was getting the lines wrong.

A lot of people find learning lines to be a daunting task. They look at a script and see pages and pages of words. How could they possibly all stay in your head? People have enough trouble remembering phone numbers and birthdays, let alone a monologue. It's a muscle you have to work out time and time again, and eventually, you figure out a process that works best for you on how to keep it all stored up in that brain.

Some of the most accomplished and celebrated actors still struggle with memorizing lines. For some, it could be a learning disability like dyslexia that makes it tough. For others, it could just be finding the process of learning lines to be too mechanical for how they like to approach acting. One such actor who feels this way is Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix. If you have seen any of Phoenix's work, you can tell his style of performing comes from a place of wanting to be as in the moment and fluid as possible. But knowing there are specific words he needs to say makes that a bit of a challenge.

'Being open to your unconscious'

In a post-Marlon Brando, post-Method world, spontaneity has been valued almost more than anything when it comes to acting, particularly on film. The "acting like you're not acting" approach to performing. Spontaneity is nigh impossible if every word you are saying has been written down previously. To combat this, some actors, like Joaquin Phoenix, have developed a learn-as-you-go approach to remembering lines. Instead of just memorizing everything all at the onset, you learn as much as you need to for a particular scene on a particular day, not giving yourself time to rehearse things with the dialogue to limit your options while performing the scene. In an interview with The Guardian during the press tour for "Inherent Vice," Phoenix explained why he is not to keen on memorizing lines for a predetermined outcome:

"I just like to discover things as they go along. I try more and more to be receptive to what's happening in the moment as opposed to creating these ideas and trying to impose them on the shoot. The best feeling is when you don't think you're saying the lines. You think you've f***ed it up and you've just been talking. And you go, oh, did I get that wrong? And they say no, everything was there."

He sees this way of working as a way of "being open to your unconscious" because he thinks "sometimes it knows better than you." In that respect, he is not entirely wrong. If you perform from a purely instinctual place, the unconscious is what is going to be driving the bus that is your performance. Clearly, this approach has worked for Joaquin Phoenix, who has consistently delivered captivating performances. Sometimes his unconscious turns him into a bit of a ham sandwich, but can you fault someone who is instinctually a ham sandwich? Just in his nature.

Personally, I find the rehearsal process invaluable, truly honing a scene before getting it up in front of a camera or an audience. A lot of film actors find rehearsal to be a killer, but I wonder if that is a more because of the circumstances of movies not being able to allot time and money for rehearsals has led actors to feeling that way. Regardless, every actor has their method of working, and as long as that method is not a burden on anyone they are working with, do what you have to do. Joaquin, if you want to keep on learning your lines in this organic, unconscious way, go for it, man.