Heroes don’t always wear capes. But sometimes, they direct really great movies. And there’s no better way to describe Walter Herzog, as the acclaimed director explained how he once rescued Joaquin Phoenix from the scene of a deadly car accident.
Herzog, who has directed some of the best movies ever made, recounted the story in 2010 as part of a moving short film by the late Sascha Ciezata. In the short animated movie, the director narrated the full story of his chance — but possibly life-saving encounter with the Joker actor.
“The car in front of me was going way, way too fast. It went out of control. I saw it, and it didn’t look good. It came down spinning; somersaulting down halfway,” he recalled. “I was the first one on the scene, and the car had landed on its roof. It was partially crushed. I saw one person upside down, deployed airbags and recognized who it was. Well, it was not so clear at the very moment, but I could recognize that it was Joaquin Phoenix.”
While Herzog was trying to work out how to get Phoenix out of the car safely, the actor responded to his accident in possibly the most Joaquin Phoenix way possible.
“I diverted my attention from him, and he picked up somehow a cigarette and tried to light the cigarette,” the Heart of Glass director continued. “And I said, ‘Relax.’ And he [Phoenix] said to me very calmly, ‘I am relaxed.’ And I said to him, ‘No, you’re not.’ Because what I had noticed, and he was not really aware of it, that gasoline was dripping throughout the car. So I confiscated the cigarette lighter.”
It was at this point Herzog was able to get Phoenix to safety, as he describes how he “crushed the rear window” to get the actor out to safety. But then, in true superhero movie fashion, Herzog vanished from the scene. “By that time, there were already people around,” Herzog said. “Apparently, he wanted to thank me, but I didn’t want to make a big fuss, so I just jumped into my car and drove off.”
Phoenix himself recounted the incident shortly after it happened in an interview with The Guardian.”There was this German voice saying ‘Just relax’,” he said. “There’s something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog’s voice. I felt completely fine and safe.”
You can see more of Phoenix’s calm and beautiful voice in new movie Joker 2 — which, in a bizarre turn of events, is set to be a musical. To find out more about his reprise (pun intended) of the Batman villain, check out our guide to the Joker 2 release date.