Phoenix tries to ex­plain it all

Los Angeles Times - - Movies - Steven Zeitchik

Af­ter con­fess­ing to Amer­ica that his break­down was a put-on, Joaquin Phoenix went on late-night tele­vi­sion to ex­plain why he did it.

Phoenix and “I’m Still Here” di­rec­tor Casey Af­fleck made sep­a­rate late-night ap­pear­ances this week to come clean about the elab­o­rate prank that had the Os­car nom­i­nee leav­ing be­hind act­ing for hip-hop. That move re­sulted in Phoenix mak­ing a bizarre, zoned-out ap­pear­ance on “Late Show With David Let­ter­man” in Fe­bru­ary 2009 as well as in the re­cently re­leased faux-doc­u­men­tary “I’m Still Here,” which chron­i­cles the al­leged break­down.

“We wanted to do a film that ex­plored celebrity and ex­plored the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the me­dia and the con­sumers and the celebri­ties them­selves,” a well-scrubbed and def­er­en­tial Phoenix told Let­ter­man on Wed­nes­day night, his first visit to the show since the in­fa­mous YouTube-wor­thy ap­pear­ance more than a year and a half ago.

Ap­pear­ing on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Tues­day, Af­fleck said that the in­tent of “I’m Still Here” was to por­tray the arc of a fic­tional char­ac­ter. “It’s a movie about an ac­tor who’s been do­ing this for his whole life, and he de­cides he wants to try some­thing else.”

Even though Af­fleck and Phoenix let dan­gle the pos­si­bil­ity that this was the ac­tor’s real life, Af­fleck told Leno he was flum­moxed by the pub­lic re­sponse that this might be real. “It doesn’t seem like it would cause that much con­fu­sion, but it did.” He added, “I wanted [the au­di­ence] to think it was real while they were watch­ing it. But I as­sumed when it was over they would un­der­stand it wasn’t real.”

The movie had re­sulted in some eye­brow-rais­ing among Hollywood in­sid­ers and the gen­eral pub­lic, first about Phoenix’s well-be­ing and then, once Af­fleck ad­mit­ted last week that it was all an act, about the wis­dom of the stunt. The movie, mean­while, has not gal­va­nized the view­ing pub­lic — it has grossed $259,000 in the first 10 days of its rel­a­tively limited re­lease.

On Wed­nes­day, Phoenix apol­o­gized to Let­ter­man for be­hav­ior that had him play­ing a char­ac­ter on the host’s pro­gram in hopes he could get a “beat­down” and then in­clude the seg­ment in his film. Let­ter­man, who main­tained he did not know the ap­pear­ance last year was a joke, replied that he didn’t take um­brage.

“I’m telling you, it was so much fun. It was bat­ting prac­tice,” the host said.

Rat­ings for the “Late Show” episode were up 14% over the pro­gram’s sea­son av­er­age last year.

Jef­frey R. Staab

CO­HER­ENT: Joaquin Phoenix, left, was con­trite, and David Let­ter­man told him, “It was so much fun.”

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