Potential best actor nominee Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Johnny Cash in the upcoming “Walk the Line”,” is having a rough time with the press. And it isn’t even serious Oscar glad-handing campaign time yet.

It began at the film’s junket round-table interviews Nov. 3 at the Westwood W Hotel when a reporter asked the actor if he thought the death of his brother, River Phoenix, had helped his career. “The interview is over,” Phoenix replied, and walked out of the room.

According to Mike Szymanski, a freelance entertainment reporter, that question was simply the last straw for the actor. “The line of questioning was about his going to AA meetings to research his role in the film and it was obviously starting to piss him off,” says Szymanski.

That night on the red carpet at the AFI Fest 2005 “Walk the Line” premiere, Phoenix kidded an Associated Press reporter, saying he felt like he had a frog eating his brain. The actor, his publicist and reporters within earshot laughed. But the New York Post ran an article combining both incidents, questioning Phoenix’s mental state.

Give the guy a break. He doesn’t like doing press. Never has. He walked out of radio interviews during a 2004 junket for “Ladder 49” but at least he didn’t throw a phone a la Russell Crowe. And he’s not alone in his discomfort.

“Joaquin, like many other talented actors, including Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and Sean Penn, are just terrible at giving interviews,” says Szymanski. “He’s a really sweet guy but he hates doing interviews and it shows.”

]]>Here’s the exchange between Phoenix and the reporter in the Nov. 4 Associated Press story. Psychedelic episode? Schizophrenic split? Or just a joke? You decide.

Out of the blue, Phoenix suddenly changed the subject, asking, “Do I have a large frog in my hair?”
Reporter: “No, no.”
Phoenix: “Something’s crawling out of my scalp.”
Reporter: “No, you look great.”
Phoenix: “No, but I feel it. I’m not worried about the looks. I’m worried about the sensation of my brain being eaten — what did you ask me?”

Well, what star hasn’t felt like his brain was being devoured on the red carpet? Actors must politely field hours of lame questions from reporters, most of whom haven’t even seen the film. Many reporters ask probing, thoughtful questions such as, “What’s your favorite food, drink, vacation?” Or, “When was your first kiss?”

Worse, the questions can just be inexcusably inappropriate. I once heard a reporter ask Clint Eastwood what he thought about God. On the red carpet. Eastwood looked aghast, then smiled and replied, “What do I think about God? I’m sorry but this is not the time or the place to have that discussion.”

See? Don’t you feel a cerebellum-sucking tadpole coming at you?