Beau is Afraid, the latest movie from Hereditary and Midsommar director Ari Aster, may feature a talented ensemble of supporting actors, but it's very much the Joaquin Phoenix show. Phoenix plays titular character Beau, an anxious, paranoid man who sets out on a surreal odyssey to travel back home to his overbearing mother.
"He's an actor that I've always wanted to work with, so he made immediate sense for this," Aster tells the Inside Total Film podcast. "The idea was, 'Let's offer it to Joaquin, and then when he turns it down, let's figure out who we go to next.'
"But, happily, he took to the script and we started talking, and that turned into a courtship where he was feeling me out and feeling about the project. That had less to do with the nature of the film itself than just the fact that he commits himself, body and soul, to whatever he does. He really takes a long time to decide whether he can do that because he's never going to do anything half-heartedly."
When Aster says he's always wanted to work with Phoenix, he means it. "I've dreamed of working with him since I first saw To Die For," the director continues, referring to Gus van Sant's 1995 satirical comedy, co-starring Nicole Kidman. "But when I was thinking about this film, I was thinking a lot about his performance in [Casey Affleck's 2010 mockumentary] I'm Still Here, not only because I think it's one of the great comic performances, but because what he does with his name in that film struck me as kind of a suicidal gesture, but a heroic one. Or, rather, it felt like the gesture of a true artist and one without any vanity at all."
For more from the full conversation with Aster, check out the latest episode of the Inside Total Film podcast, available on:
Beau is Afraid arrives in UK cinemas on May 19. For more viewing inspiration, check out our guide to the rest of the most exciting movie release dates coming our way in 2023.