In 1994, Joaquin excelled as Jimmy Emmett in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For alongside Nicole Kidman. Joaquin played the lust filled, tongue tied adolescent who agrees to murder in return for sexual favours, to perfection. During the press conferences for To Die For, at the director’s suggestion, Joaquin handled all questions as if in character. This did not go down well and Joaquin later said it was a mistake!
Joaquin’s love life, always rather secretive had been dating a girl from New York called Acacia. However, his next film in 1997 would bring him together with Liv Tyler, daughter of Stephen Tyler (Aerosmith) and Bebe Buell. The film was Inventing The Abbotts, a bitter-sweet coming-of-age tale set in the 1950s, where Joaquin and older brother Billy Crudup engage with the three daughters of the town bigwig, the girls being played by Tyler, Jennifer Connelly and Joanna Going. Joaquin and Liv were to date for several years. Later Joaquin claimed that she was the first woman he’d ever approached for a date.
The same year, 1997, Joaquin would play alongside Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thornton and Jennifer Lopez in U-Turn. Liv Tyler having a small cameo role. Joaquin burns up the screen as Toby N Tucker whilst Ring of Fire is playing on the Jukebox, an odd coincidence as years later; Joaquin played Johnny Cash and had to sing that song! It was clear by then Joaquin, still in his early twenties, was intent not upon purely stardom but upon developing his skills as a serious actor. He moved on to Return To Paradise with Vince Vaughn where Joaquin’s performance as a do-gooder unjustly interned in a Malaysian prison was widely praised. He then teamed up again with Vince Vaughn for Clay Pigeons. In 1998 Joaquin split with Liv Tyler but to date says they have remained friends.
Released in early 1999 was the disappointing Joel Schumacher thriller 8MM, which teamed him with Nicholas Cage.
After 8MM, Director Ridley Scott lined Joaquin up for a role in Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. Joaquin played the incestuous obsessive young emperor Commodus. Joaquin clearly made more of the part that was initially offered to him:
QUOTE from GALAXIE magazine after filming Gladiator:
JP- It was on of those films…really, there’s no reason not to do this film. It was an exceptional cast, and the opportunity to work with Ridley, but certainly the script… the first time I read through a script, I look at the character and see if there’s anything there. So I read the script and it seemed that certainly there was the opportunity to create something interesting and unique with this character and to avoid the clich?d villain. There were certainly indications in the script: the scene between Richard Harris’s character – he plays my father, Marcus Aurelius – and I, that certainly was powerful and emotional. I was interested in what would lead a character to such acts of tyranny as Commodus. A lot of historians would just concentrate on his malevolent nature. But in some that I read, like Gibbon and the Rise and Fall Of The Roman Empire, he describes Commodus’s nature as ‘not being born with a tiger’s thirst for human blood” and there were a number of events that led to his tyranny. I thought that was fascinating. You have such little time to try and establish that, but throughout the course of the film, we would endlessly pore over the script and the scenes and tweak it and just look for those moments, things that can be said without words, in order to express his fear and insecurity and paranoia.
Gladiator was a huge success and Joaquin was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe as best supporting actor for his role as the evil Commodus.
Meanwhile, other projects, The Yards with director James Gray and Quills as The Abbe du Coulmier were released in the year 2000.