Joaquin Phoenix is opening up about his decision to work with Woody Allen, joining the chorus of actors who have recently distanced themselves from the filmmaker amid renewed allegations of abuse by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.
Phoenix, 43, co-starred with Emma Stone in Allen’s critically panned crime drama Irrational Man, released in July 2015. The film was shot the previous summer in Newport, R.I. — months after The New York Times’ publication of Farrow’s open letter, when she accused Allen in writing of sexually assaulting her when she was 7. (The allegation, which the director has repeatedly denied, first surfaced in 1992.)
“When I worked with Woody, I knew about the stuff that had come up years ago,” Phoenix told USA TODAY during an interview Sunday evening at Sundance Film Festival. “I know his daughter ended up writing an open letter. I was not aware of that when we worked together.
“If you were a part of supporting something with someone that did, in fact, cause pain, how the (expletive) would you feel? You’d feel (expletive),” Phoenix continued. “I don’t know the specifics. I’m not a person who reads entertainment stuff at all — I avoid it completely, so a lot of times I’ll hear about things when I’m doing press and (journalists will) inform me about things. But if that is the case, then I’d feel (expletive).”
Phoenix, who stars in two films playing at Sundance this year (Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and You Were Never Really Here), says he feels “optimistic” about the change instigated so far by #MeToo.
“There are things that we have considered normal forms of behavior, and that doesn’t mean it’s OK,” Phoenix told USA TODAY. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to start addressing that, so how could you not be excited about that prospect? And certainly, just selfishly in film, we’ve obviously run out of stories, because we have to keep remaking the same stories over and over. The idea that we are going to have — at least for most people — this new perspective? How that’s going to enrich film is amazing.”
The actor also dismisses suggestions by fellow actors including Liam Neeson and Matt Damon that there is a “witch hunt” around sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood, or that there is a “spectrum” of sexual violence.
“Legally, there is a difference between when you call someone a racial epithet and punch them in the mouth,” Phoenix said. “But they come from the same place, so it is a problem. Whether it’s just a new language or a new action, it’s something that needs to be addressed.”
He believes many men are ignorant about the verbal and physical harassment women can face on a regular basis.
“Guys will go, ‘I didn’t really mean anything by it,’ but they don’t know that woman experiences (harassment) several times throughout the week, so it is compounded,” Phoenix said. “Sometimes for women, it becomes so normalized that they haven’t talked about it and how it makes them feel. They’re just like, ‘Ugh, it’s something you have to deal with.’ But now people are like, ‘No. Whether that was the normal form of behavior, that’s not how we’re going to move forward.’ And who wouldn’t be excited about that kind of change?
“It’s an exciting, radical time, but I know it’s been a very painful time, too, so I have to acknowledge that,” he added. “But I do think (the #MeToo movement is) changing things in a really amazing way.”