Joaquin Phoenix Admits He Thought Fiancee Rooney Mara Initially Despised Him When They Worked on 'Her'

Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix
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'She’s the only girl I ever looked up on the internet.'

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara didn't hit it off right away.

In a new interview with Vanity Fair, the 44-year-old actor tells the magazine that he initially thought his now-fiancee despised him on the set of their 2013 film, Her, before realizing that she's simply shy.

"She’s the only girl I ever looked up on the internet," he says of Rooney, with whom he attended the Joker premiere earlier this week. "We were just friends, email friends. I’d never done that. Never looked up a girl online."

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In addition to his relationship with Rooney, Joaquin also opens up about his unusual upbringing in the Children of God cult, who made his parents "archbishops" of the organization when his family lived in Venezuela and Trinidad.

"My parents were never negligent," he says of living in Venezuela for a time apart from the Children of God community. "I think they were idealists, and believed that they were with a group who shared their beliefs, and their values. I think they probably were looking for safety, and family."

The family later moved to Winter Park, Florida, then to Hollywood, California, then back to the Sunshine State. During their time in Hollywood, California, the Phoenix family caught attention, largely due to Joaquin's late older brother, River's, success. It was River, though, who knew that Joaquin would go on to be a big star.

"We were in Florida, we were in the kitchen, and he said, 'You’re going to be an actor and you’re going to be more well known than I am,'" Joaquin recalls. "Me and my mom looked at each other like, 'What the f**k is he talking about?'"

"I don’t know why he said that or what he knew of me at the time. I hadn’t been acting at all," he continues. "But he also said it with a certain weight, with a knowing that seemed so absurd to me at the time, but of course now, in hindsight, you’re like, 'How the f**k did he know?'"

River's life ended tragically when he died in 1993 after a drug overdose at L.A. hot spot the Viper Room, a place, Joaquin says, that was not "typical" for his older brother to visit.

"I don’t think it’s what he would have wanted to have done with his night," Joaquin says of River. "He’d, just before that, spent time just playing me new songs that he’d written."

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While some attribute River's death to Joaquin's often dark acting roles, Joaquin relates his career choices to having "an allergy to... frivolous, meaningless kids' stuff" from "an extremely young age."

Joaquin's latest dark role is as the titular character in Joker, the controversial new film about the infamous comic book villain. In order to immerse himself into the complicated role, Joaquin opted not to communicate with his co-star, Robert DeNiro, despite calling him "my favorite American actor."

"For me, I always thought that acting should be like a documentary. That you should just feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, what you think the character is going through at that moment," he explains. "I didn’t like to talk to him on set. The first day we said good morning, and beyond that I don’t know that we talked much."

Despite the controversial nature of making a movie that's seemingly sympathetic to its villain, Joaquin finds "value" in the role.

"I was going through [the script] and I realized, I said, 'Well, why would we make something, like, where you sympathize or empathize with this villain?' It’s like, because that’s what we have to do," he says. "...We want the simple answers, we want to vilify people. It allows us to feel good if we can identify that as evil... It’s too easy for us and I felt like, yeah, we should explore this villain. This malevolent person."

"There’s no real communication and to me that’s the value of this," he continues. "I think that we are capable as an audience to see both of those things simultaneously and experience them and value them."

Rooney, Joaquin adds, also celebrated his role in the movie.

"Rooney said to me the other night, 'Do you realize how many great opportunities you’ve had? These films?'" he remembers. "I said it’s true, I’ve been so fortunate, so many movies where I was like, 'I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top this experience. The experience of making this movie.' It was incredible that I found another one."

Despite "always [having] a hard time" both personally and professionally, Joaquin is happy with his current world.

"As you get older or whatever, you’re okay. You go, 'Maybe it is going to be a bad experience' or 'Maybe I’m not going to enjoy it. And maybe I won’t have any of those connections, maybe I’ll feel just hollow afterwards,'" he says. "That’s OK. Because I know that I have meaning in other parts of my life. And that’s really what sustains me. I enjoy it. I love my life. I f**king love my life."