"I begged for the role tooth and nail," actress Ginnifer Goodwin recalled.
Goodwin, 27, was talking about playing the part of Vivian Liberto in "Walk the Line," James Mangold's biographical portrait of Johnny Cash, starring Joaquin Phoenix. Vivian was the first wife of the Man in Black. During their 13-year marriage, she stayed at home and cared for their four daughters as her husband abused drugs and fell in love with singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). The movie opens Nov. 18.
"I'll never tell Joaquin this -- and he won't read this article, and that's fine because he's very humble -- but he was the top person I wanted to act with. I have been a fan since [1986's] 'SpaceCamp,' " said the Memphis-born actress, who trained at Stratford-upon-Avon's Shakespeare Institute, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Aware of her admiration for Phoenix, her agent sent her the script for "Walk the Line." Goodwin quickly pursued an audition, but she knew it would be an uphill battle because of the name actresses who were also in contention.
"I would have cast them first," she said with a laugh. Still, Goodwin found herself in the first round of actresses reading for the part. After working closely with Mangold during the lengthy audition process, Goodwin finally received the good news. "I literally screamed up and down when I got it," she recalled.
" 'Mona Lisa Smile' was my first movie, and I was like, 'Wow, it only goes downhill from here.' But 'Walk the Line' was the greatest acting experience in my life."
During production, Goodwin called on Phoenix for acting guidance. "I knew he would make me better as an actor," she said. "In most of my scenes I was completely floored by what he was channeling."
Over the years, Goodwin said, Vivian has been seen as an obstacle between "the artistic genius which was Johnny and June Carter. The truth was, she was a woman utterly wronged. All she knew, he was doing drugs and the world was in love with the idea that Johnny was with this other woman. How could you not feel complete sympathy for this woman?"
Goodwin never met Vivian Cash -- who died this year at 71 -- or her children, one of whom is singer Rosanne Cash. "But I did get ... the greatest compliment I could have gotten. Jim Mangold called me and said that one of her daughters said that we had clearly gone out of the way to be kind to her mother and her mother's worst fears were proven wrong."