Mike Mills on Shooting ‘C’mon C’mon’ and Casting Joaquin Phoenix in the Middle of His ‘Joker’ Oscar Run

Variety's Awards Circuit Podcast: Also on this episode, the Roundtable makes their final Oscar pleas as nomination voting begins.

Director Mike Mills poses for a portrait to promote the film "C'mon C'mon" on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

It was a big swing for writer and director Mike Mills to cast Joaquin Phoenix in his beautiful drama “C’mon C’mon,” something he didn’t expect he would take on. “I think Joaquin is an incredibly smart and multiple layered person, who will always be surprising,” says Mills. “So if this role seems surprising, then yes, sign me up. He’s not going to do the Joker twice in a row.”

On this edition of the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, we speak with the Oscar-nominated writer and director of the black-and-white dramedy “C’mon C’mon” from A24. He discusses shooting his film during Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar run for “Joker,” as well as the magnificent additions of his co-stars Emmy nominee Gaby Hoffman and newcomer Woody Norman. Also, in this episode, the Awards Circuit Roundtable discusses the opening of Oscar voting and where the race for the Academy Awards currently stands. Listen below:

“C’mon C’mon” tells the story of Johnny (Phoenix), a radio journalist who embarks on a cross-country trip with his zealous and energetic nephew Jesse (played by newcomer Woody Norman) to help his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman). In the process, the two learn about life, love, and confronting the demons that we bury deep within us.

Mills earned a surprise Oscar nomination for “20th Century Women,” which was his follow-up to “Beginners,” a film that won the late Christopher Plummer an Academy Award for best supporting actor. He constructs one of the best screenplays of the last decade and executes a picturesque black-and-white depiction of how we communicate with each other in the world.

There’s a Hollywood and celebrity persona of the Oscar-winning actor, who many feel is one of the greatest actors of his generation. But Mills wasn’t trying to know that “idea” of Phoenix, and he was finding a connection to his soul. “I was trying to talk to that person and no one else,” says Mills. “That person is soft and a human on planet Earth.”

It’s only been two years since Phoenix won the Oscar for his menacing turn in Todd Phillips’ “Joker.” He had walked into that ceremony with three prior nominations: “Gladiator” (2000), “Walk the Line” (2005) and “The Master” (2012). “C’mon C’mon” is now comfortably near the top of his fantastic filmography. While the Oscar race for best actor is packed with talent, his work deserves to be noticed.

Norman is one of the most fabulous finds, and it isn’t easy not to be enamored by his whimsical deliveries and emotional beats. One of the great finds for British talent since Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”), he’s a true thespian, well beyond his years.

Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.