'Gladiator,' 'The Yards,' 'Quills'

Three films in 2000 put Joaquin Phoenix on the awards radar.

First out of the gate was “Gladiator,” Ridley Scott’s Roman epic in which Phoenix stars, alongside Russell Crowe and Connie Nielsen, as the wicked Emperor Commodus. Then, in fall, came James Gray’s New York-set corruption drama “The Yards,” in which the actor’s devious Willie Gutierrez terrorizes Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron.

But just when you think he’s on a baddie trip, Phoenix renders the kindly priest Abbe de Coulmier in Philip Kaufman’s Marquis de Sade costumer “Quills,” co-starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet and Michael Caine.

He’s already picked up a National Board of Review prize for his work in all three films and a Golden Globes nomination for “Gladiator.”

“It’s amazing the experience I’ve gathered over the year,” says Phoenix of the rich mix of screenplays and co-stars the roles brought him. “I couldn’t have made one movie without the other(s).”

“The Yards” was shot first and Phoenix was on the set of “Gladiator” when his mom called with the news that he got the “Quills” part.

“With ‘Gladiator’ it was a major process: a screen test and weeks of waiting,” he says. “With ‘Quills’ I got so wrapped up in ‘Gladiator’ that I had forgotten it was a possibility.”

Phoenix was particularly taken with “Quills'” screenplay.

“It’s brilliantly written, with poetic dialogue and words that you don’t see very often,” he says, calling from Germany, where he’s filming “Buffalo Soldiers.”

That makes three back-to-back pics shot in Europe: “Gladiator,” “Quills” and “Buffalo Soldiers.” And Phoenix looks to be extending his European sojourn with a role opposite Claire Danes in Thomas Vinterberg’s “It’s All About Love,” which will be shot mainly in Scandinavia.

“I’m just moving to Europe,” he jokes.

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