FOLSOM, Calif. -- Joaquin Phoenix, whose portrayal of Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" has made him an early Oscar front-runner, returned Tuesday to the scene of one of the musician's most famous concerts -- Folsom State Prison.
Cash's Jan. 13, 1968, performance in a prison yard cemented his image as working-class hero and became a popular live album. About 54 inmates watched the movie in the Sacramento suburb as the actor and his entourage, including musician Shooter Jennings, son of Waylon Jennings, and a host of prison officials toured the facility.
Phoenix was also expected to perform several songs for the inmates.
The event was organized by Prison Fellowship, a group that runs Bible studies and other educational programs in prisons. Fellowship spokesman Joe Avila said the movie's message would be good for inmates because Cash's "whole life was a message of redemption."
"The movie is about how he screwed it up really bad, and he turned to Jesus Christ to help him change," Avila said.
Phoenix has been considered a likely Academy Awards nominee for best actor for his role as Cash, who died in 2003 soon after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash.
Known for brooding roles, Phoenix brilliantly captures the dark corners of Cash, who was haunted by the death of his brother when they were boys and struggled with a long addiction to pills. Yet Phoenix also showed a sunnier side, embodying Cash's joyous nature in both his music and his pursuit of Carter.
An Oscar win by Phoenix would make it the second-straight year the best-actor honor went to a performer playing a beloved, recently deceased American singer. The 2004 Oscar went to Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of Ray Charles in "Ray."
Unlike Foxx, who lip-synched to Charles' music, Phoenix handled his own singing in "Walk the Line," ably re-creating the resonant bass voice of Cash. Phoenix also intensively studied guitar, learning to emulate the freight-train rhythms of Cash's finger-picking.