Joaquin Phoenix has said that he once “just started screaming” on the set of Beau Is Afraid to prepare for a specific scene.
Directed by Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), the black comedy horror film follows mild-mannered but paranoid-ridden Beau Wasserman (Phoenix) who embarks on a surreal odyssey to return home to his mother.
Speaking during an A24 podcast interview (via Variety), Phoenix said he was left “spinning in a panic” because Aster wanted to shoot an intense scene where Beau takes a bath in a single take. In order to feel “free” while filming the scene, the actor resorted to screaming to “fully humiliate” himself beforehand.
“I’m a little reluctant to say this, because it sounds so fucking stupid and just like actor shit, but I remember… what I did before was I did the scene, but I wasn’t really volatile,” Phoenix recalled.
“I was still nervous. I was still… In some way, I was controlling a little bit. I was controlling what people thought about me. I didn’t want to let people down. And it was like new crew were early on set. And I remember just realising I had to do something that was fucking stupid, and I just didn’t want to do it, but I just knew.”
He added: “I just started screaming, just the most intense guttural pain scream that I could before we were shooting, sitting there, because I had to just fully humiliate myself. And then just go like, OK, well once that’s happened, you can’t look any more stupid than you do now.
“And it just let go of everything, right? I don’t know why, but I was just overcome with this need to do that. And I think it probably made you [Aster] uncomfortable. We weren’t in the same room. You were on the monitor, but I have a feeling that you got very uncomfortable.”
In response, Aster said he remembered “knowing” why the screaming was necessary: “It felt to me like you were kind of trying to scream yourself out of the state you were in. It didn’t actually feel like even a take. It somehow felt like you were trying to break out of something.
“It was shocking in a way that was exciting, I think, because it did jar everybody. And I felt like it was good because the energy in the room did suddenly become both alert and disturbed.”
Alongside Phoenix, the film stars Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Zoe Lister-Jones, Richard Kind and Michael Gandolfini.
Beau Is Afraid is released in UK cinemas on May 19, 2023.