You can never be fully certain how someone feels about you — unless you ask them. That’s a lesson Joaquin Phoenix learned first-hand after meeting Rooney Mara on the set of 2013’s Her. While the pair are now engaged and welcomed their first child in September 2020, when they first met, the Oscar-winning actor was convinced that his co-star didn’t like him all that much. Luckily, the truth (that Mara was equally smitten) eventually came out.

Here’s what we can learn from Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara’s relationship:

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara might never have met if Carey Mulligan (who was originally cast to play Phoenix’s ex-wife in Her) had not been forced to drop out of the Spike Jonze project due to scheduling conflicts. Rooney was then cast in the role, which brought her face-to-face with her future partner, but their connection was far from instant.

In fact, as Joaquin admitted to Vanity Fair in 2019, he was (very wrongly) convinced that the actress wasn’t into him. In fact, he thought she “despised” him. The Joker star eventually learned a valuable lesson: Never assume you know someone’s true feelings towards you. Luckily, Phoenix eventually learned that Rooney “was just shy and actually liked him too,” the magazine reported.

Friendship can blossom into romance 

Once Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara figured out that they did like each other, they began to build a friendship. As the Oscar-winning actor told Vanity Fair, “We were just friends, email friends,” but there was something special about Rooney. So much so that it pushed him to do a little digging.

She’s the only girl I ever looked up on the internet. I’d never done that. Never looked up a girl online.

The pair remained friendly and were eventually reunited on the set of 2018’s Mary Magdalene. As Joaquin told the New York Times in 2017, he decided to take on the role of Jesus opposite Rooney’s Mary Magdalene because he was “looking for something meaningful. I was looking for an experience,” he said, but there was also another driving force behind his decision. “I was friends with Rooney,” he added. 

Filming took place in October 2016 and, unlike their first instance working together, the timing was now right for a love connection. As People confirmed, it was on the set of Mary Magdalene that their friendship turned into something more.

In May 2017, Phoenix and Mara made their awards show debut, attending the 70th Annual Cannes Film Festival’s Closing Awards Ceremony as a couple. While they had yet to confirm they were dating, the attraction was clear to onlookers. A source told People, “They were talking to one another nonstop […] then they went for their car and he’s holding her hand like it was unconscious. Like it fits,” the insider noted. “They seem a totally natural and easy couple.”

They’re happiest when they’re together

When Joaquin Phoenix isn’t busy working, his life is the opposite of what you might expect it to be. As he told the New York Times in 2017, he likes being home with his partner. Confirming that the two had moved in together into a house in the Hollywood Hills, Joaquin revealed that he spends his free time doing things like meditating, reading scripts, playing with his dog — and watching Netflix with Rooney, just like any other couple. In fact, he had just finished streaming The Staircase because, as the mag put it, “Mara wanted to.” 

While the pair has remained mostly tight-lipped about their relationship, it seems they’re happiest when they’re together, away from prying eyes. As one source told Us Weekly, “They don’t really like to go out. They mainly just like to be with each other as the two of them. They’re in their own bubble,” the insider said. Another friend told Page Six, “They’re meant for each other. Both [are] shy homebodies, both loathe press.”

They have a beautiful deep bond

In addition to bonding over their dislike of Hollywood, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara also share a sense of humor and a deep love of family. In July 2019, they got engaged and, while accepting the TIFF Tribute Actor Award at the Toronto International Film Festival that September, Phoenix made a rare profession of his love — in his own cheeky way. “One last thing — somewhere here, I don’t know where, is a filthy dragon, and I want to rip its wings off and fasten a blanket and sleep with it forever,” he gushed, proclaiming, “I love you. Thank you.” 

Jump to September 2020 and the talented actors took their relationship to the next level, growing their family with the arrival of their first child, a son named River. Staying true to their secretive nature, they didn’t share details about the birth, rather, it was Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky who broke the news during the 2020 Zurich Film Festival. Asked about working with Joaquin (who executive-produced his documentary, Gunda), Kossakovsky revealed that “he just got a baby, by the way. A beautiful son called River.”

The moniker is a touching tribute to Joaquin’s late older brother, actor River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose in 1993 at the age of 23. Joaquin was with him at the time of his passing and the loss has shadowed him throughout his life. As he told 60 Minutes in 2020, “I feel like in virtually every movie that I made, there was a connection to River in some way. And I think that we’ve all felt his presence and guidance in our lives in numerous ways,” he revealed. The couple’s decision to name their son after River is not only a beautiful choice, it also shows just how deep and genuine their bond is.

When you first meet someone, you can never be sure how your relationship will evolve. What is certain is that you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice by assuming you know how the other person feels about you. Sometimes, things like shyness, fear, or self-doubt can cause people to act in a way that doesn’t truly reflect their feelings. Just look at Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara: If Phoenix had hung on to his preconceived notion that his co-star hated him, he would have never experienced the genuine love and beautiful family he has today.

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