Reese Witherspoon Wins Oscar for Portayal of June Carter Cash
Nashville Native's Trophy Was Walk the Line's Only Academy Award
Reese Witherspoon's inspired performance as June Carter Cash won her an Oscar at the 78th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles. However, Witherspoon's win as best performance by an actress in a leading role was the only victory for the film, Walk the Line, which had been nominated in five categories.
"Oh, my goodness I never thought I'd be here in my whole life, growing up in Tennessee," said Witherspoon, a Nashville native, in accepting the award during Sunday night's (March 5) broadcast. "People used to ask June how she was doing, and she would say, 'I'm just trying to matter.' I know what she means." It was Witherspoon's first Academy Award nomination.
Joaquin Phoenix, who played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, was nominated for best performance by an actor in a leading role, but that honor went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his portrayal of author Truman Capote in another biopic, Capote. In the technical categories, Walk the Line was bested by three films -- Memoirs of a Geisha in the costume design field, King Kong in the sound mixing division and Crash in the film editing field category.
During the awards show, Dolly Parton performed "Travelin' Thru," her contribution to the Transamerica soundtrack. Parton's composition was nominated for best original song -- an award that went to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," a track from the Hustle & Flow soundtrack. It was performed by Memphis-based rap group Three 6 Mafia, and the Oscar went to its writers -- group members Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard.
In the major award categories, best picture honors went to Crash, a film with a large ensemble cast that chronicles a 36-hour period in Los Angeles. Ang Lee won the director's Oscar for Brokeback Mountain.
The Oscar-nominated movie Walk the Line will be released on DVD on Feb. 28 in three versions. Options include a single-disc widescreen edition, a single-disc full-screen edition and a two-disc version with extended musical sequences, three featurettes and collectible postcards. Each of the three versions will include commentary by director James Mangold and 10 deleted scenes. The Oscars will be presented in Hollywood on March 5. Joaquin Phoenix is nominated for best actor for his portrayal of Johnny Cash. Reese Witherspoon is nominated for best actress for her role as June Carter
Can Order the DVD At The Official Johnny Cash Site
Winners At The 63rd Annual Golden Globes
Picture, Musical or Comedy: "Walk the Line"
Actress, Musical or Comedy: Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line"
Actor, Musical or Comedy: Joaquin Phoenix, "Walk the Line"
SKYLINE: Walk the Line Hits the Mark
CMT NOVEMBER 13TH 2005
Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon Shine as Johnny and June
Walk the Line works so well as a movie because it does not try to be a music epic. Instead, it's a drama about a man who happened to be a musical artist. Of all the music biopics I recall, this joins the two other really good, solid films that have been made about music artists in recent years: The Buddy Holly Story and Ray. Although those were hardly perfect, they worked because they reduced music legends to human scale, warts and all.
Ray had many imperfections I could quibble with, but no major ones. The big flaw of The Buddy Holly Story was its slanted portrayal of producer Owen Bradley and his Nashville sessions with Holly.
It's ironic that Cash's only real jail time -- an overnight stay for being busted for buying speed in Mexico -- becomes a central focus of Walk the Line and is portrayed as a major news scandal at the time, which it was not. It melds into a prison/jail metaphor for Cash, which was, though, a very real theme of his career, and thus his life. In a very convincing scene, Cash (Phoenix) tries to justify his pills to his beleaguered first wife Vivian (played by Gennifer Goodwin) by telling her they're "prescription pills" and that he was busted only because he bought them in Mexico without a prescription.
A common thread running through all three movies is the very careful --and ultimately skillful and successful -- casting of the lead actor. Gary Busey totally inhabited Buddy Holly's character and life, as did Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Joaquin Phoenix does the same with Johnny Cash, at least the Cash of this particular part of his life, which is a very narrow slice of his whole life and career. But Phoenix carries that brooding intensity of the young Cash, the explosive nature, the total unpredictability of this emerging forceful star.
The fact that Phoenix sings as Cash at first seems startling. But the fact that all three lead actors in Holly, Ray and Walk the Line sang the music of their characters also became the key in their credibility in convincing audiences they could actually become their characters.
As Busey did for Holly and Foxx for Charles, Phoenix very graphically inhabits the very spark and spirit of Cash. The film opens with a triumphant concert at Folsom Prison. The story line pretty much carries Johnny Cash from his childhood (presented through flashbacks) on a farm in Arkansas up through the stormy early years of his career, leading up to June Carter finally accepting his offer of marriage. The early moments of the film establish the two lifelong bête noires of Cash's life: his domination by his abusive father, Ray, (acerbically played by the forceful Robert Patrick) and the accidental sawmill death of his older brother, Jack. The latter was intended to be the star of the family, and Ray Cash never let his son forget about that until he, the father, died. Cash in turn felt guilty about Jack's death his whole life. Phoenix begins almost tentatively with his own early Johnny Cash but quickly grows in the role until he seems to fill the screen every time he appears.
Musical clichés include Cash getting a standing ovation the very first time he told an audience, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." And in a standard star-is-born moment, Sun Records' Sam Phillips initially seems resistant to Cash. But he almost instantly recognizes his genius, practically saying, "Oh, you're Johnny Cash. Sure! You're OK!" And, although the movie shows June Carter writing "Ring of Fire" all by herself, we know that in real life, Merle Kilgore was credited as co-writer. The full story of how that song came about may never be known. But that would be hard to show onscreen.
Reese Witherspoon's performance here is a delightful surprise. She totally captures the deceptively-complicated June Carter persona and is totally believable as Cash's longtime obsession and the ultimate foundation of his life. And she very credibly sings Carter's songs.
Together Witherspoon and Phoenix deliver a glowing performance as country music's most compelling couple.
Are Phoenix and Witherspoon great singers? No. Does that really matter? No. It works in the movie. I doubt their voices would stand up well on a CD, so I will probably not listen to the soundtrack album. Keep the magic on the screen, where it belongs.
standing in for Wheeling, W.Va., in film about country singer
To The Movie
This old river town will stand in
for another river city in a movie being made about the life of country
music legend Johnny Cash, an Arkansas native.Film crews for 20th Century
Fox were in Helena this week to shoot scenes for "Walk the
Line." The footage shot here will be used for a portion of the film
set in Wheeling, W.Va., a city on the Ohio River.Most of the movie about
Cash, born at Kingsland in 1932, is being filmed at Memphis, Tenn.The
film, directed by James Mangold, is projected for release in the spring or
summer of 2005.Joaquin Phoenix stars as Cash, while Reese Witherspoon
plays June Carter, who became Cash's wife.According to Susan Levin, a
publicist for the production company, the film begins in the late 1930s
when Cash was 6 or 7 and ends when he proposes marriage to Carter in
1964.The scenes filmed here are set during the time from 1957 to
1964."Everything was perfect," Levin said. "They (were)
looking for a town that depicted the era between 1957 and 1964. It matched
perfectly. It almost looks like a back lot of a major motion picture
company."That city (Wheeling) is on one of the tours that Cash was
on," Levin said. "The scenes depict him coming into town and
performing in an auditorium. What we're shooting here are montage scenes.
It's not one scene. It's snippets of different scenes. In the film, it
will be shown as a montage."She said the street in Helena used for
the filming was an excellent choice, "and then our art department was
able to dress the street to portray this period."She said the film
had been in the works for years, "but it takes a while to get a
project off the ground." Cash's death last September was not a
factor, she said.Local residents used as extras in the background of the
scenes shot here worked out well, Levin said."I've seen them with
their wardrobe, hair and makeup and they were just wonderful. I think they
were enjoying their day," she said.
- WALK THE LINE
1. Get Rhythm - Joaquin Phoenix
2. I Walk The Line - Joaquin Phoenix
3. Wildwood Flower - Reese Witherspoon
4. Lewis Boogie - Waylon Payne
5. Ring Of Fire - Joaquin Phoenix
6. You're My Baby - Joaquin Phoenix
7. Cry Cry Cry - Joaquin Phoenix
8. Folsom Prison Blues - Joaquin Phoenix
9. That's All Right - Tyler Hilton
10. Juke Box Blues - Reese Witherspoon
11. It Ain't Me Babe - Joaquin Phoenix/Reese Witherspoon
12. Home Of The Blues - Joaquin Phoenix
13. Milk Cow Blues - Tyler Hilton
14. I'm A Long Way From Home - Shooter Jennings
15. Cocaine Blues - Joaquin Phoenix
16. Jackson - Joaquin Phoenix/Reese Witherspoon
Stars As Johnny Cash
In I Walk The Line
As an interview subject, Joaquin Phoenix is like a 1940s high school
basketball team: after a few minutes, he gives up trying to score and
starts running out the clock. Phoenix is most comfortable discussing
his approach to acting--a tortuous, self-invented method that involves
avoiding people or things that remind him he is not the character he is
trying to play. Eventually, having exhausted his favorite subject and
parried the introduction of any other, he announces that time's up. The
defensive victory is his. At least he's a good sport. During a moment
alone with the tape recorder, knowing he will not be heard until later,
Phoenix leans in and whispers, "Boring you to death. I know it. My
The truth is that Phoenix is warm, polite and, yes, quite dull--perhaps
even willfully so. Unlike other aspiring leading men, Phoenix, 31, is
intent on being a nonentity off-screen. He does not talk about whom he
might be dating, walk red carpets or volunteer dilettantish political
opinions. His brother was River Phoenix, the icon of lost potential,
but he refuses to discuss any feelings he has about River's 1993 death
from a drug overdose. Joaquin is humble and self-deprecating, although
not comically so, and when pressed to reveal anything about himself, he
often retreats into incoherence. At the end of a bewildering interview
on The Tonight Show a few years ago, Jay Leno asked if Phoenix might
"be here in person next time."
The price of failing to come up with an acceptable public persona--one
that emits a few rays of personality while keeping a semblance of
privacy--is that Phoenix is rarely anyone's first choice as a leading
man. (The studio logic is that if you can't open up for five minutes on
a talk-show couch, you probably can't open a movie.) He accepts that
without anger. "I never wanted to be a salesman," Phoenix says. "It's
not what I do." Luckily for him, there are directors who recognize the
difference between an interesting interview and an interesting actor.
Gus Van Sant (To Die For), Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and M. Night
Shyamalan (Signs, The Village) all fought to cast him in crucial
supporting roles, and on Nov. 18, Phoenix will finally get to show what
he can do with a movie on his shoulders. In Walk the Line, he plays and
sings the life story of the late Johnny Cash opposite Reese Witherspoon
as June Carter Cash. "I should have a good answer for why I wanted to
play him," says Phoenix. "An answer about his life and the impact he
had on American music, but, uh ..."
Phoenix tries hard to be a blank slate, but his actual biography is
quite juicy. He was born (with that distinctive scar over his lip) in
Puerto Rico to parents who were missionaries for the religious cult
Children of God. By the time he was 8 years old, the family had moved
to Los Angeles, where his mother was a secretary in the office of an
NBC casting director, paving the way for Joaquin's debut on the series
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Phoenix worked consistently until his
early teens but quit acting after appearing in Ron Howard's Parenthood.
"Movies like that are few and far between, and I knew there wouldn't be
anything else worthwhile for an actor my age," says Phoenix. He was
offered, for instance, a cross-generational buddy movie with Married
with Children's Ed O'Neill, "but there was a lot of bananas in
tailpipes and things like that. It didn't ring true, and I had a sense
of wanting to explore true stories and true emotions. Even when I quit,
I'd make up characters and scenarios and practice them alone. I knew
that I would act again."
Phoenix dropped out of school after ninth grade and finished his teens
traveling in Latin America. When he returned to acting five years
later, he earned raves as the mumbling killer in To Die For and an
Oscar nod for his weaselly turn as Commodus in Gladiator. Walk the Line
director James Mangold says both performances were seared into his
memory. He noted that Phoenix looked like the young Johnny Cash, but he
was more intrigued by another resemblance. "That incredible
vulnerability and masculinity that James Dean had," says Mangold, "Joaq
has the same thing. His face is complicated, and it's hard to find
someone who can communicate complication."
Mangold, who worked extensively with Cash on the Walk the Line script
(see box), could not imagine doing the movie without Phoenix. The
actor, in turn, could not imagine passing on the role. "I had been
desperate to disappear into a character completely," he says. Mangold
believed that for the film to be authentic, the actors needed to play
and sing, not rely on looped music. "With all due respect, I don't
think of Natalie Wood's performance in West Side Story as one of the
hallmarks of musical cinema," says Mangold. (As for Ray, 2004's biopic
about a drug-addicted music legend from the South, which used looping,
Mangold says, "I don't think I want to go there.") Phoenix, who had no
musical background, figured he would learn to play the same way Cash
did, without formal lessons. He bought a guitar and asked a friend to
teach him some chords
It was not quite that simple. Cash was 6 ft. 2 in. and held his guitar
like a long rifle, with his strumming arm draped around the bottom of
the body. Phoenix is 5 ft. 8 in. When music supervisor T-Bone Burnett
told him his basic mastery was all right but his strumming was all
wrong, it took weeks to relearn how to play. There was also the matter
of singing. Phoenix has a warbling, slightly nasal voice that needed
extensive training to hit Cash's rumbling lows. "He was pretty horrible
when he started," says Dan John Miller, leader of the indie band
Blanche, who plays Cash's lead guitarist, Luther Perkins. Phoenix spent
months rehearsing by himself, even writing his own songs to "see what
it felt like to make something from nothing." When he arrived in
Memphis three weeks before shooting began, he brought only a few white
T shirts and borrowed the rest of his clothes from wardrobe. Then he
shut out anyone and everything that reminded him that he was Joaquin
Phoenix. "He came around the corner for this concert scene," recalls
Miller, "and he just had the swagger and confidence. He was Johnny
Cash--badass. For an amateur like me, it was suddenly clear what real
Every time he finishes a movie, Phoenix says, he has a difficult time
readjusting to life. "You relinquish all these things that are familiar
to you and start living according to the character, and then all of a
sudden it ends," he says. "There's months of 'What the f__ do I do
now?'" After Walk the Line, Phoenix checked into an
alcohol-rehabilitation center amid reports that playing Cash, who was
haunted by the loss of a much-loved brother as an adolescent, had
stirred up unresolved feelings about his own brother. Phoenix finds
that laughable, although he doesn't laugh. "There was a lot made of my
going to rehab, and it seems very dramatic, but it wasn't like that. I
just became aware of my drinking as a tool to relax when I don't work.
I basically went to a country club where they didn't serve alcohol." As
for the notion that he overempathized with Cash's loss, he says,
"That's simplistic. I never think about my similarities to a
In two hours of conversation, Phoenix tells one story that is
personally revealing. As it happened, Phoenix was invited to a dinner
party with Johnny Cash long before he knew he might one day play him.
Cash and June sang Far Side Banks of Jordan, and then, Phoenix recalls,
the Man in Black cornered him and said, "'I really like that film you
did, Gladiator. I love the part where you said'--and he did a better
reading than me--'Your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to
the cross, and your wife moaned like a whore when they ravaged her
again and again and again!' Within minutes of looking into his wife's
eyes and singing like an angel, he turned into this ogre. We all have
those two sides, but it was just so cool that he wasn't ashamed of it."
Pausing to think back on the moment, Phoenix continues, "I don't feel
like I knew him well after that dinner, but it was cool to say that I
knew a little bit about him." That's all most people ever ask.