They may be Hollywood heavyweights, but Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara prefer to keep their personal life out of the spotlight. That being said, it didn’t take long for the news to break that they’d welcomed their first child. And with that came a moving revelation about their newborn baby.
Phoenix and Mara’s love story first began after they became acquainted with one another on the set of Her in 2012. They actually starred together in the movie, with the latter playing the former’s ex-wife. It seems that even at this early stage both parties were interested in one another. Though at this point, Phoenix mistakenly believed that his co-star didn’t like him.
Even so, Phoenix and Mara struck up a friendship over email at first. Yet fate would soon bring the pair back together in real life. Yes, the actors reunited in 2016 when making Mary Magdalene. In the film – which eventually came out a few years later – Mara played the title role, while Phoenix starred as Jesus.
In 2017 Phoenix and Mara appeared to make their romance official as they were seen holding hands at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Since then, the couple’s relationship seems to have gone from strength-to-strength. They got engaged in secret in 2019, and there was yet more happy news in September the following year. Yes, that month the stars revealed they had welcomed their first child together.
So the happy couple are enjoying a fruitful relationship together, but what about their careers? Well, both Phoenix and Mara were on the path to success long before their stars aligned. The former’s first movie role actually came way back in 1986 when he landed the part of a wannabe astronaut in SpaceCamp. But Phoenix’s breakout role arguably came in 1989 when he starred in the Ron Howard film Parenthood.
But Phoenix decided to forgo building on this early career promise. Not one to play by the rules, the star instead embarked on a solo trip around Latin America at the age of just 15. He would later return to Hollywood in the mid-1990s – enjoying stints in a number of movies that had varying degrees of success. But it wasn’t until 2000 that Phoenix gained another standout role.
That part came courtesy of Ridley Scott’s Roman epic Gladiator. Phoenix performed opposite Russell Crowe as the villainous Emperor Commodus in the blockbuster movie. And the role earned Phoenix a number of award nominations – including an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
But it would take another three attempts at an Oscar before Phoenix finally bagged the prestigious award. He was nominated in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role category for his performances in 2005’s Walk the Line and The Master seven years later. But it wasn’t until 2019 – when Phoenix was up for the award once more for his role in Joker – that he eventually won.
Naturally, there was one particularly special person there to celebrate Phoenix’s first Oscar win with him. And that was, of course, Mara. Following the glitzy award ceremony, the pair were photographed enjoying vegan burgers at the Los Angeles restaurant Monty’s Good Burger. In the picture, the pair look relaxed as they perch on the floor in their gladrags, with Phoenix’s newly-received golden statuette standing between them.
As you may know, Mara is no stranger to the Oscars herself. She had started her acting career on television and in indie films like 2009’s Tanner Hall. But the talent’s first prominent role came a year later when she appeared in the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network.
Mara then won further acclaim in 2011 when she starred in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The role earned the star her first Oscar nomination – in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role category. She would also go up for the Actress in a Supporting Role gong in 2015 thanks to her performance on Carol.
But did you know that Phoenix and Mara have more in common than just their acting credentials? This may come as a surprise, because their backgrounds were very different. He was raised by Children of God missionaries, while her maternal and paternal families each founded the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants respectively.
Yet the eagle-eyed among you will know that there are certain aspects of Phoenix and Mara’s lives that share common themes. For instance, both of them have famous acting siblings. Phoenix is of course the younger brother of the late River, while Mara’s older sister Kate stars in the Netflix drama House of Cards.
Another thing that Phoenix and Mara have in common is their passion for animal rights. They are both vegan and often attend demonstrations, vigils and rescues to advance their cause. What’s more, Mara co-created the vegan and cruelty free fashion line Hiraeth alongside her best friend Sara Schloat.
Given the things they have in common, you’d think Phoenix and Mara would have hit it off right away when they first met on the set of Her. But that was seemingly not the case. Phoenix told Vanity Fair in 2019 that he mistakenly believed that Mara really didn’t like him, when in fact, she was merely shy.
Despite Mara’s apparent disinterest in her co-star, Phoenix was clearly intrigued. In his interview with the magazine, the actor said of Mara, “She’s the only girl I ever looked up on the internet.” But at that time, there was nothing romantic between the pair. Phoenix explained, “We were just friends, email friends. I’d never done that. [I had] never looked up a girl online.”
Phoenix and Mara would then go on to work together on two more occasions. First, they starred alongside each other in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot before appearing together in Mary Magdalene. And it seems that romance sparked between the two stars this time around.
In 2017 Phoenix and Mara went public with their relationship as they attended the closing ceremonies of the Cannes Film Festival together. The couple sat next to each other and were seen holding hands – leaving us with no doubt that they were now definitely more than friends. If that wasn’t enough, the two also shared an embrace when Phoenix won a best actor award for his performance in You Were Never Really Here.
Following their amorous display at Cannes, in 2017 an apparent eyewitness told People, “They were talking to one another nonstop. Small talk between them. Then they went for their car and he’s holding her hand like it was unconscious. Like it fits. They seem a totally natural and easy couple.”
Fans of the pair will likely know that they prefer to keep their relationship out of the public spotlight. But Phoenix made a rare reference to Mara in an interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Yes, in the 2017 write-up it was revealed that the actors were living together in the Hollywood Hills alongside their dogs Soda and Oskar.
In the article, we were treated to a glimpse into the couple’s usually off-limits private life. Phoenix revealed his day usually consisted of meditating, answering emails, reading scripts, karate, eating and hanging out with his dog. But he did confess that he watches Netflix and revealed that he and Mara had recently binged on true-crime documentary The Staircase.
After moving in together, the next step for Phoenix and Mara was getting engaged. Rumors that the couple had made this progression started to surface in 2019, when Mara had been spotted sporting a hefty diamond ring while out and about in Los Angeles. But our questions were finally answered when the news was confirmed to the celebrity magazine Us Weekly.
And the good news just kept coming for the happy couple. In September 2020 it was confirmed that Phoenix and Mara had welcomed their first child together. The news was broken at the Zurich Film Festival by the Russian director Victor Kossakovsky. He also revealed the actors had given their baby a very special name.
Following a screening of his documentary Gunda at the Zurich Film Festival, Kossakovsky explained why Phoenix – who stars in the movie – couldn’t be there. The director told reporters, “He just got a baby, by the way, his name was… a beautiful son called River, so he cannot promote it now.”
It seemed that the new parents had named their baby in honor of Phoenix’s late brother, River. He sadly died at the age of just 23 following a drug overdose. Phoenix had been with his older sibling at the Hollywood nightclub the Viper Room when the actor had fallen ill. In fact, it was he who’d dialled 911 after River collapsed.
Phoenix did his best to get help for his brother, but nothing could be done to save him. River was later pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center during the early morning of October 31, 1993. A coroner’s report later revealed that the hugely talented actor had fatal amounts of morphine and cocaine in his system, and that he died of “acute multiple drug intoxication.”
As you could imagine, the death of his older brother had a profound effect on Phoenix. Yet, at the time of River’s passing, the star claimed that he and his family hadn’t been able to grieve fully. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was huge media interest in the tragic event, and those closest to the late actor bore the brunt of it.
For instance, the frantic call that Phoenix made to 911 on the night of River’s death was obtained by the press. The harrowing recording was played repeatedly in the wake of the actor’s passing. And Phoenix would later state that the repetition of this tragic moment made his grief worse.
Phoenix would go on to open up about his brother’s tragic passing and the media reaction to it during an interview on 60 Minutes in January 2020. And as you might imagine, the actor lamented the media reaction to the event. He said, “…During that time in which you’re most vulnerable, there are helicopters flying over. There are people that are trying to sneak on to your land. Certainly, for me, it felt like it impeded on the mourning process.”
Apparently, it wasn’t until River’s death that Phoenix and his family realized just how famous he’d been. The Joker star admitted, “River was a really substantial actor and movie star, and we didn’t really know it.” He said of the wider Phoenix clan that they “were so removed from kind of the entertainment world.”
Prior to his death, River had indeed been making a name for himself in Hollywood. The actor received his breakout role in 1986 when he appeared in the film adaptation of the Stephen King novella Stand by Me. Yes, his role in the coming-of-age drama would win River critical acclaim and set him on the path to stardom.
Fresh off the back of his Stand by Me success, River went on to star as the son of Harrison Ford’s character in The Mosquito Coast that same year. In 1988 he appeared in three films – the most successful of which was Running on Empty. And River’s performance in the Sydney Lumet directed movie would earn him his only Oscar nomination in a short but illustrious career.
Another memorable role of River’s was in the 1989 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The young actor starred alongside Ford once more – playing the Young Indy. He also got to work with the esteemed director Steven Spielberg, who was at the helm of the film.
Unfortunately though, River’s promising career was cut all too short by his untimely death in 1993. But his legacy lives on in the form of younger brother Joaquin, who has followed in his footsteps to become a Hollywood star in his own right. In fact, it was seemingly River who inspired him to get into acting.
So, what exactly had River done to change his brother’s view on acting? Phoenix revealed in his 60 Minutes interview that the older sibling had shown him the film Raging Bull. Describing the effect the movie had on him, the actor revealed, “I think it just… awakened something in me. And I could suddenly see it through [River’s] eyes.”
Given the influence his brother had on him from an early age, Phoenix felt that he’d carried River with him throughout his career. The star explained, “I feel like in virtually every movie that I made, there was a connection to River in some way… and I think that we’ve all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways.”
Given that Phoenix still felt connected to his brother in the years after his death, he was sure to pay tribute to River when he won his Oscar in February 2020. Accepting his award on stage, the actor said, “When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said, ‘Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.’”
Phoenix had also previously honored his late brother at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, where he won the TIFF Tribute Actor Award. In his acceptance speech, he revealed how his sibling had convinced him to get back into acting after a six-year break from the limelight.
Variety reported that Phoenix had said, “When I was 15 or 16, my brother River came home from work and he had a VHS copy of a movie called Raging Bull and he sat me down and made me watch it. And the next day he woke me up and he made me watch it again. And he said, ‘You’re going to start acting again, this is what you’re going to do.’”
Recalling River’s conviction, Phoenix added, “He didn’t ask me, he told me. And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life.” So as we’ve seen, it’s clear that Phoenix thinks a lot of his brother. And by naming his child after him, it seems he’s finally found the perfect way to honor River.