How One C’mon C’mon Star Made Joaquin Phoenix Uncomfortable In Their Scenes

Joaquin Phoenix was once a child actor, and now the Academy Award-winner finds himself mentoring an up-and-coming young star in 12-year-old Woody Norman. The two worked together in their new film C’mon C’mon, and Norman had a secret trick to help create the most authentic uncle/nephew dynamic possible: an active effort to make Joaquin Phoenix feel uncomfortable. 

In the new film from A24, Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny, who has no children, reconnects with his young nephew Jesse during an extended stay at Johnny’s home in New York. We watch Johnny struggle to fall into the unfamiliar position of being a guardian, and experience all of the frustration and annoyances that come with that role. When we asked Woody Norman if he exhibits those childish behaviors in real life, he told us this:

I'll be honest, me and Jesse are mostly opposite, except for like, a handful of things. So I was in a lot of scenes where I was trying to, when I was trying to play annoying, I was trying to annoy myself. And I think I succeeded in that. Like the whole orphan thing was so alien to me, and that was fun because I could tell I was making Joaquin uncomfortable. That was amazing. He's not here right now, so I could say anything about him and he wouldn’t know.

So according to Woody Norman, he’s not quite as much of a handful as his character Jesse. As for the “orphan thing,” throughout the film, Jesse pretends to be an orphan who shows up at the doorstep of a family that had lost their own children. Yes, it is a bizarre little game the character likes to play, and Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny thinks so too. Thus, in order to help Phoenix embody a character who's put in such a strange situation, Norman felt it best to make Phoenix truly feel the discomfort of his character. 

There was a huge emphasis on making the performances in C’mon C’mon feel as real as possible, so much so that a large number of pivotal scenes were unscripted. So it makes sense that Woody Norman would try to annoy Joaquin Phoenix when his character was being annoying, and make Phoenix feel uncomfortable when his character was putting him in uncomfortable situations. The young actor went on to say this about the importance of pushing Phoenix to truly feel these emotions on set for the sake of authenticity:

It was always to get Johnny to be real. With all acting, it's always to get to be real or you're just talking in front of a camera. If you are faking it, which isn't acting for me, that's just reading lines.

Despite the struggles the two characters face, it’s worth noting that C'mon C'mon has a lot of heartwarming family moments as well. Woody Norman also mentioned that he and Joaquin Phoenix grew to be very close during filming, thus making it easier for them to create a convincing family dynamic. To this day, they are still good friends, and the young actor is learning a lot from the notorious dedication of his very experienced co-star.

Given the fact that Joaquin Phoenix has spent his career portraying plenty of characters that are hard to watch, it’s only fitting for someone to make him uncomfortable for a change. The actor has plenty of projects in the works, and we’ll certainly keep you updated on all things Joaquin.

Jeff McCobb
Senior Video Producer

Jeff is a film buff who is ridden with gratitude that he gets to spout opinions about them for a living. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he spends his time complaining about Los Angeles.