Other than in the world of professional sports, Hollywood is the one place in the world where you can retire by the age of 35, and still get people to applaud you for your long, successful career.
Joaquin Phoenix officially announced on Saturday that his latest film, Two Lovers, is his last. Having caught the musical bug while learning to sing and play the guitar for his role as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, Phoenix has decided to end his acting career in order to focus on his new passion.
Surely, this seems like a strange move for an actor who seemed to just be entering the prime of his career. At the young age of 34, he's already been nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Supporting Actor for Gladiator in 2000, and one for Best Actor in 2005 for Walk the Line. He's worked with big-name directors like Ridley Scott, M. Night Shyamalan, and Gus van Sant. If he'd continued on his career course of picking intense, introspective, often dark roles, he probably would've one day turned in a performance that could claimed that Oscar gold.
Phoenix's surprise move demonstrates the same commitment to artistic expression he displayed throughout his acting career. Even when he was starring in mega-hits like Gladiator or dating starlets like Liv Tyler, he eschewed the celebrity lifestyle in favor of focusing on his craft. For his role in Walk the Line, that meant taking on intense vocal and guitar training in order to fully embody the Man in Black. The fact that this musical training unearthed a passion in him big enough to spark a drastic career change lends another layer of emotional honesty to his engaging , multi-dimensional performance. I bet Johnny Cash (who gave his public support for Phoenix's casting before his death) would be honored to see the role left such a mark on him.
Seeing as how Phoenix has always sought creative challenges in his acting rather than fame, I believe that his move into the music world is truly an artistic choice rather than a vanity project. If he brings the same intensity and passion to his records that he always brought to his movie, the movie fans' loss will become the music fans' gain.
So long, Joaquin. You creeped me out in Gladiator. You moved me in Walk the Line. Good luck to you, and enjoy your retirement.