Summertime: The Last Phoenix Takes Flight

The Phoenix family is the gift that keeps on giving. Now Summer Phoenix, the younger sister of actors Joaquin, Rain and the late River, comes into her own. This month the 24-year-old appears in three films: “Esther Kahn,” Showtime’s “The Believer” and MTV’s “Wasted.” NEWSWEEK’s Marc Peyser caught up with the last of the line.
“Wasted” is about heroin deaths at a high school. Did River’s overdose have anything to do with your decision to be in the film?
Honestly, I didn’t even think about it. I could see how people would wonder about that, but this movie was so much more about, one, working with friends and, number two, about a problem that’s really apparent and that has no prejudice and sees no status or color. It’s become an epidemic. And it’s sad for the people that are, you know, the parents of these children and the friends of these kids that are left behind wondering.

So it would be wrong to think that this has become a cause for you. That would be very wrong. I’m not taking up any causes.

What was your childhood like?
I did every ’80s sitcom, like “Growing Pains.” I did a lot of pilots that were spinoffs of “Family Ties.” I did a spinoff when Nick had his own show. I played his niece.
Were you in school?
No, I was in school for part of it. I graduated elementary school and then went down to Central America, and I traveled and I worked in a restaurant and I—
How old were you?
Well, I went when I was 12, and when I was 13 or 14 my sister and I started a vegan restaurant in Costa Rica. Yeah, we were crazy. I was sous-chef and prep, and my sister was head chef. I took my GED when I was 14.
Were there times when you wanted to have a normal name like Susan?    Yeah. When we played house when we were kids, [my sister] Liberty and I were always like Stacy and Tiffany—those were our names. When you’re a kid, you don’t recognize the beauty in difference and being unique and special. Yeah, we were odd and different, but everybody sort of wanted to know why, and what made us that way and could they have some of my blue corn chips.
Have the names become appropriate? Are you bright and happy?
No, my parents really should have named me Winter.