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'Walk the Line' Star Won't Campaign for Oscar

If you're wondering how the new Oscar campaign is going to play out, I have a surprising preview for you.

Joaquin Phoenix is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination, playing Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line." But he told me yesterday after a private screening of the mesmerizing movie that he won't be jumping into the fray.

"I'm not doing any Q&As, for one thing," he said.

That means none of those private sessions with groups such as the Hollywood Foreign Press or the National Board of Review. Phoenix will do the regular press when "Walk the Line" opens in November, but that will be the last of it. When awards season kicks into high gear, Phoenix will be absent.

All of this begs the question of what we can expect this winter from the Academy Awards front-runners.

Right now, Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote") are the top actors, with David Straitharn ("Good Night, and Good Luck") right behind them. They are all great actors, but none of them is a movie star. None of them are talk-show draws either.

For the remaining two spots, question marks remain. Viggo Mortensen in "A History of Violence" and Bill Murray in "Broken Flowers" come to mind. Mortensen is notoriously press-shy, so Murray could potentially be the only Best Actor nominee willing to talk to anyone. What a weird situation!

Phoenix made a rare appearance yesterday as "Walk the Line" unofficially closed the 13th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival. I say "unofficially" because apparently 20th Century Fox didn't want to let the highly touted film screen at the festival at all. But Phoenix said he'd come and show the film if someone in the Hamptons would make a significant donation to his mother's charity, The Peace Alliance.

Enter Stuart and Carol Rahr. Stuart owns Kinray, the largest private pharmaceutical distribution company in the U.S. According to reports in 2002, Kinray was then debt-free and reported $50 million in profits. The company now has 700 employees and about $2.5 billion in projected sales.

In the last five years, Rahr — who's in his mid-50s and built the business from a single Brooklyn drug store — has become incredibly philanthropic. He spent $89,625 in an auction for New York firefighters by buying a photograph by Thomas Franklin that appeared in The Bergen Record.

Rahr was not only a sponsor of the film festival, but was said to have given The Peace Alliance a "hefty" donation to secure "Walk the Line" and Phoenix. He and his wife also hosted an elegant after-screening party at their 24,000-square-foot estate in nearby Wainscott yesterday.

Among the guests — besides Phoenix himself — were the actor's mother, Heart Phoenix, motivational speaker Marianne Williamson, British actress Miranda Richardson and Hollywood favorite Dyan Cannon.

Was Rahr trying to make a point? Last summer he was unceremoniously thrown out of a Hamptons fundraiser he helped put together when one of the co-hosts, film producer Cary Woods, objected to Rahr having a picture taken of himself, Angelina Jolie and Wyclef Jean.

Rahr wanted to add it to a wall of benign celebrity pics he showed me in his finished basement last night. There were pictures of Rahr with everyone from Michael J. Fox to Gwen Stefani to Lance Armstrong.

Harmless fun. But I do think Rahr intended yesterday to show Woods and other Hamptonites that he's the real thing.

It worked like a dream. And amid the wonderful passed food, the water views and the spectacular art collection, there were guest speakers. Joaquin reluctantly thanked the crowd for coming, and was followed by his mother and then Williamson.

I've heard a lot about Heart Phoenix (real name Arlyn Dunitz) over the years. Yesterday, she was with her husband/companion of 12 years, a man closer to Joaquin's age. She raised her kids in a Florida commune and has always had an unconventional attitude toward just about everything.

But as it turns out, the diminutive, striking lady with short gray hair and blazing eyes is a Bronx Jew who throws Yiddish into her impassioned speech. She's very funny and engaging and you can see how four of her kids (Joaquin, Summer, Rain and the late River) became actors. It's in their blood.

"I started out in the Bronx, in an apartment so small that I was sleeping on a bed that rolled into an open fireplace," the 61-year old former Children of God member said. "I never thought of myself as campaigning in front of congressmen."

She told me she left the Bronx for California when she was 23. It was there she met her children's father, who now lives in Costa Rica. Williamson got her into the Peace Alliance.

As for Joaquin, this is a proud moment, whether or not he decides to "campaign" for awards. Joaquin turns 31 on Oct. 28, and is probably in the best shape of his life. A stint in rehab this year has left him completely clean and sober (he still smokes, however).

His performance as Cash is a miracle. He sang all of Cash's vocals, learning to drop his voice enough to sound like the rock/country legend but at the same time avoiding imitating or mimicking him. The result is magic.

Documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker approved of Joaquin's work. He told the actor last night, "I knew Johnny Cash, and you really got him."

Nevertheless, Joaquin is not likely to bend his limited PR rule (his publicist, the fun and feisty Sue Patricola, says she's following his directive as best she can).

"I feel funny meeting people after they've just seen my work," Joaquin told me. "And they're all very nice, but each person you meet takes at least 15 minutes and it is like campaigning for political office."

Maybe that was why, after spending as much time as he could with just a few of us, including his mom, Joaquin begged off.

"I'm going to try and catch a plane to the city," he said, "and I have to pack." We let him go.

Later, when we spotted him having a cigarette by himself on an empty terrace of the massive Rahr home, we didn't have the temerity to chat him up again. The press is going to have to learn this year to let Phoenix be an Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominee in peace.