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Further Phoenix
at Rio's Attic:

Hollywood

Heart Phoenix

Iris Burton

Jonathan Pryce

George Sluizer

Dark Blood

Running on Empty

Interview With The Vampire

Judy Davis

New Line Cinema

Sidney Lumet

Neil Jordan

Christian Slater

Academy Awards

Malibu

New Orleans

Australia

Spain

The Egos Have Landed

Angus Finney

Nik Powell

Stephen Woolley

Scala Productions

Palace Group

JoAnne Sellar

Salt Lake City

Amsterdam

Earth Save

Earth Trust
Rio's Attic: Celebrating the Life and Times of a Dearly Missed River Phoenix
American EnglishEn Français

The Egos Have Landed

by Angus Finney.
First published in 1996.


ISBN 0-7493-1946-1 (Hardback, 366 Pages)

A biography about two relatively unknown members of the British movie industry is hardly the place to expect to find any reference to River much less discover some of the most powerful and moving passages ever written about him.

Nik Powell and Steve Woolley created Scala Productions following the collapse of their previous film empire, the Palace Group of Companies. The rise of a new company so soon after a previous one goes into receivership is often referred to by administrators as "The Phoenix Effect" and chapter fifteen of this book is given that title. It is a title with very much a double significance.

During the late autumn of 1993, the two new co-chairmen of Scala Productions encountered a serious twist of misfortune. Dark Blood, produced by JoAnne Sellar, was proving a horrendous shoot, stuck 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah, and being steadily poisoned by a feud between its director and star. Tempers had grown so heated between the Dutch-born director Sluizer and Australian actress Judy Davis that Powell had to fly out. He called a meeting between Sellar, Sluizer, Davis, Jonathan Pryce and River Phoenix on his arrival in an attempt to calm things down.

"It was basically a clash between two control freaks and the people caught in the middle were Pryce, River, the producers and the crew," Powell explained. "It was an abrasive meeting, and all of us probably wanted to dive under the table. River was very good in it, wise beyond his years...." However, the meeting solved nothing and the atmosphere remained as rancid as before.

The following night, after rehearsals, Powell and the twenty-three-year-old Phoenix, who had dyed his hair black for the part, drove back to the local bar. Phoenix, who had already completed thirteen feature films and picked up an Oscar nomination for Sidney Lumet's Running On Empty nearly five years previously, was well practiced at film-shoot fall-out. He too was finding the location filming difficult, but the young star appeared calm and collected about the problems. Over a beer, Powell told Phoenix in a fatherly fashion, "Don't ever lose that wisdom, whatever happens, River."

Six weeks later, Sellar called Powell in Spain on a Sunday afternoon: "Nik, hold on to your seat." On hearing those words, Powell immediately thought that an earthquake had erupted, and then made the more likely assumption that either Davis had flown back to Australia or Sluizer had returned to Amsterdam. He was bored of hearing about personal politics on the set of Dark Blood, but Sellar continued, "River died last night."

The book goes on to relate the known facts of Halloween 1993 but then, more interestingly, discusses the Dark Blood cast and crew meeting that was immediately called as a result. Highlighted in this section are some of the options that all those involved with the movie were considering, such as recasting River's character - an option that the American distributors of the movie, New Line, thankfully rejected outright.

Scala Productions' other director also received a similar telephone call whilst he was on location with another production that the company was involved in - Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire.

Woolley was on Interview's Orleans shoot on 1 November 1993 when Karlsen rang him at seven a.m., explaining that she had seen the news and River Phoenix had died.
"That's crazy.... it's a mistake," Wolley stammered.
"No, Stephen, it's on the television. Turn your TV on."
Within the hour, the phone calls started to deluge Woolley's hotel room. Sellar rang; Phoenix's agent rang; the actor's mother called him. Then the faxes started. Virtually all Hollywood's agents were sending their condolences in a couple of lines, while some - doing their clients no good at all - were even sending a list for consideration as the new Interviewer. "River wasn't even cold, you know," Woolley said. "He was still warm. That was very odd, very nasty." The producers soon replaced Phoenix with Christian Slater. Slater donated his entire fee to two of Phoenix's favorite charities, Earth Save in Santa Cruz, and Earth Trust in Malibu.


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