Love is a burning thing. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon earned widespread acclaim for their performances as Johnny Cash and June Carter, respectively, in Walk the Line.
The biopic hit theaters in November 2005, following the early life and career of the late “Ring of Fire” crooner, who died two years prior at the age of 71. With more than 90 million records sold worldwide, Cash is widely recognized as being one of the most successful artists of all time — but his path to stardom wasn’t easy.
Phoenix and Witherspoon both earned Academy Award nominations for their leading roles, with the Hello Sunshine exec taking home the win in March 2006. The film also nabbed a trophy for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes and won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album.
Ahead of his death, Cash was “thrilled” that Phoenix would be playing him on the big screen, according to the movie’s director, James Mangold. “Cash loved Gladiator,” the filmmaker told MTV in 2005 about the singer’s fondness for Phoenix’s 2000 film. “He knew all the lines.”
Mangold continued, “John was a very trusting man. He was very easygoing, a very cool guy. When you’ve got someone like Joaquin who, frankly, is very similar, a very cool actor, John knew that we were moving in the right direction.”
While promoting the film, the Inherent Vice actor reflected on meeting the late folk legend during an appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. “I was invited to dinner at his friend’s house and went over and it was an amazing experience,” Phoenix recalled. “I can’t tell you — like, no words can describe what it was [like] there. John and June were just beautiful people. And they sang this song together and looked [into] each other’s eyes. It was just beautiful [and] spiritual.”
The Oscar winner remembered saying goodbye to Cash at the end of the night, adding, “John stopped me as I was walking out. And he was a real fan of the movie Gladiator. … But he said, ‘My favorite part is when you said, “Your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross and your wife moaned like a horse.” … I love that part.’”
Scroll down to see where the cast of Walk the Line is now: