Joaquin Phoenix Has Post-Accident Brush With Famous-Enough Director

Today's LAT has the strange, only-in-LA! story of the aftermath of Joaquin Phoenix's Thursday afternoon car wreck in Laurel Canyon. The stage was set for Hollyweirdness, with Phoenix—an Oscar nominee, you will recall—sitting in the overturned car, dazed and trying to decide if the whiteness before his eyes was the welcoming glow of the afterlife or simply a deployed airbag, when he heard a strange voice:

Phoenix said he was thrown into the passenger seat when his vehicle rolled onto its roof. In the aftermath, the actor said he felt "a bit confused."


"I remember this knocking on the passenger window," said Phoenix. "There was this German voice saying, 'Just relax.' There's the air bag, I can't see and I'm saying, 'I'm fine. I am relaxed.'

"Finally, I rolled down the window and this head pops inside. And he said, 'No, you're not.' And suddenly I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog!' There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice. I felt completely fine and safe. I climbed out."

Herzog, 63, the temperamental auteur responsible for such strange but fascinating films as "Fitzcarraldo" and "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" — who won best documentary for 2005's "Grizzly Man" at the Directors Guild Awards on Jan. 28 — has a home near the accident scene. [...]

"I got out of the car and I said, 'Thank you,' " Phoenix said. "And he was gone."

In a town where we mere mortals walk, shop, and sip expensive espresso beverages in too-close proximity to so many Hollywood immortals every day, it seems a statistical certainty that a "somebody" would pass by Phoenix's accident, so we can't help but feel that the true oddity of the story is not that the actor enjoyed a post-trauma visit from a noted German filmmaker, but that Fate's Casting Office didn't dispatch someone more famous to the site. A more satisfying story would have legendary director Steven Spielberg descending down a rope ladder dangling from a hovering helicopter moments after Phoenix's car rolled onto the hillside, offering a decidedly A-list brand of roadside assistance:

"Joaquin? Joaquin! Are you OK?"
"Who's there? [Coughs] There's dirt everywhere. What's going on? Am I dead?"
"It's me, Joaquin. Steven Spielberg. Sorry about the dirt, the chopper's kicking it up. [Laughs.] Oh, and no, you're not dead. You're going to be fine."
"Mr. Spielberg? That's really you?"
"It is."
"Trippy."
"Not really. I usually circle the canyon before rush hour, just to clear my head. Brakes went out, huh?"
"Um...yeah. The brakes."
"Happens to the best of us, Joaquin."
"Is anyone else hurt?"
"No, I don't think so. Hey, congratulations on your Oscar nomination."
"Wait...what? The nominations aren't until Tuesday morning. My God, how long have I been blacked out? [starting to panic] Mr. Spielberg...? "
"No, no, you're fine. They won't be announced for days. [conspiratorially] Let's just say I have some friends in high places."
"Wow...that's great."
"Aren't you going to ask me about my movie?"
"Ugh...where are my manners? Hard to concentrate with an airbag in my face, I'm sorry."
"It's alright, Joaquin. You'll be happy to know Munich received 5 nominations, including best picture and director."
"That's great... Wasn't the buzz that you weren't going to get those?"
"[whispering] Friends in high places, Joaquin. Shhhh."
"Oh, right."
"Well, I guess I'll go call 911 for you now, They should be right along."
"Mr. Spielberg, wait!"
"You'll be fine, Joaquin. The ambulance will be here in minutes, I promise."
"No, I know...tell me—did Walk the Line get a Best Picture nomination?"
"I'm sorry, Joaquin, but someone had to make the sacrifice for me. I made an important film."
"I see. [beat] Well, thank you for waiting with me."
"My pleasure. And, Joaquin? If you tell anyone about this conversation, I'm going to take you for a ride in my helicopter, then drop your lifeless body onto some tourists at CityWalk. Their vacation will be ruined. We don't want that, do we? They came all the way from Omaha for a taste of Hollywood."
"No, we don't want that."
"Good, I'm glad we understand each other, Joaquin. Take care. Someone less famous than I am will be by soon."
"Goodbye, Mr. Spielberg, and congratulations."
"See you at the ceremony."