Joaquin Phoenix Beats out Robert Downey Jr. for Lead Role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Next Movie

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Joaquin Phoenix has just won a plum role in Paul Thomas Anderson's next picture, beating out Iron Man himself for the part.

According to Anderson fan site Cigarettes and Red Vines, Joaquin Phoenix will be reuniting with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed his Oscar-nominated performance in "The Master," for their next project, "Inherent Vice," an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel in which Phoenix will play Doc Sportello, a private detective and dedicated marijuana enthusiast who tries to solve a kidnapping case in Southern California in the late 1960s.

While rumors have been circulating since January that Phoenix was all but certain to play the weed-addled detective, Robert Downey Jr. was previously in talks for the part, and in 2011, he told reporters that he was likely to be doing the picture and was excited to be working with Anderson. However, in recent interviews Downey has said while he and Anderson are still friends, it was decided he was a bit too old for the character, and now Phoenix will be getting his reefer on as Sportello. (Given Downey's current status as a recovering drug abuser, maybe it's just as well that he won't have the temptation to go method on this project.)

According to the Cigarettes and Red Vines report, Anderson has closed a deal with Warner Bros. to finance the film, and shooting is scheduled to begin sometime in May.

Anderson has already shown his gift for telling tales of life in California buoyed by a pop-music soundtrack in "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," and given its hippie-era Los Angeles setting and constant barrage of vintage rock reference points, Pynchon's "Inherent Vice" sounds like a story that's very much in his wheelhouse. And given Phoenix's willingness to immerse himself into edgy and off-kilter characters, he sounds like an ideal choice to play drifting pothead Doc Sportello, though with his quick wit and quicksilver cool, it's interesting to imagine what Downey could have brought to the role, especially as he's expressed interest in doing more roles in smaller, independent films.

So far, while Cigarettes and Red Vines are confirming Phoenix for the male lead, none of the other casting for "Inherent Vice" has been announced. It's reported that Anderson is still interviewing actors for supporting roles; Charlize Theron was in talks to play the female lead when Downey was attached to the project, but it's anyone's guess if she's still in the running.

"Inherent Vice" is also said to mark another notable reunion for Anderson. Robert Elswit had been the cinematographer on all of Anderson's films until prior commitments forced him to say no to "The Master," and Mihai Malaimare Jr. lensed the film. For "Inherent Vice," Anderson and Elswit have been able to coordinate their schedules, and the latter will be behind the cameras for the shoot. And Anderson will not be repeating his experiment of shooting in 70mm; Elswit will be photographing "Inherent Vice" on conventional 35mm stock.