Joaquin Phoenix and David Letterman, round 2: Fresh put-ons, insults, and apologies

Joaquin Phoenix returned to  Late Show With David Letterman on Wednesday night for the first time since his February 2009 appearance. Last night, Letterman described Phoenix as “the dope in the beard” and “a side of beef in a suit.”

This time around, Phoenix was clean-shaven and trim in a sleek gray suit. “Whattaya got to say for yourself?” said Letterman in a mock-accusatory tone. Then he got down to it:

“Now, did I know anything about this?” he asked, referring to his part in the filming of the Casey Affleck-directed hoax-documentary I’m Still Here. Phoenix said, “No.”  Letterman: “Yeah. Was there a script that you and I were working with?”  “No,” Phoenix said.  Dave smiled. “Thank you very much. I was not part of it, was I?”

But then Phoenix took the tale in a different direction. “Yeah, but, I mean, I think that you’ve interviewed many, many people and I assumed that you would know the difference between a character and a real person.” So the new positions of these two are, Dave wants you to think he knew “somethin’ ain’t right” but he didn’t know it was a put-on for a movie project, and Joaquin wants you to know he assumed Dave did know it was a put-on, because Dave is such a pro, he can sniff out a phony a mile away.

“But I apologize,” said Phoenix. “I hope I didn’t offend you in any way.” “Oh, no, no, no, I was not offended,” said Letterman. ” I’m telling you, it was so much fun.  It was batting practice, you know what I mean?  Every one of them was a dinger.” Ah, so Dave did know he was being tossed softballs, as one of his writers, Bill Scheft, has said. It’s just that they didn’t have a script.

Gee, I think we witnessed two guys hustling each other, and their audiences.

Phoenix drifted into snooze-ville when he said he and Affleck had wanted to make a movie that “explored celebrity and the media and people who consume celebrity.” He said he’d gotten the idea from “watching a lot of reality shows. I was amazed people believed them… The acting was terrible.” Joaquin, let me introduce you to Media Studies 101: Reality TV is not real.

Letterman cut through all this by saying all he cared about was that “I had been made a fool of. Do I come off like a jerk?” He said Phoenix owed him “a million dollars [from] all the promotion — we want something for that.”

“Can we talk about this privately?” said Phoenix, trying to deflect the joke.

“Yeah,” Letterman shot back. “We’ll go to one of your screenings.”

A minute later, I saw an ad for I’m Still Here, available on demand Sept. 24. So it’s no blockbuster, but this fake feud and fake make-up-and-be-pals was highly amusing, in its gleefully cynical way.

What do you think?

Follow: @kentucker

Comments (107 total) Add your comment
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  • Levi

    Im just glad my favorite actor was jsut acting brillantly like I hoped. But honestly, for awhile I was fooled.

    • Lorna

      Agreed. It takes a lot of guts for a distingushed actor like him to risk such “acting”.

      • Mad Andy

        Excuse me, but in what Bizarro world can Joaquin Phoenix be considered a “distinguished actor”?? He is now such a ‘B’ list celebrity he could be considered for the next season of Dancing with the Stars.

      • Bobby F

        But he has been nominated for two oscars. How is that b list?

      • Stevex

        “In what Bizarro world can Joaquin Phoenix be considered a “distinguished actor”?” That would be the world in which you can watch “Walk the Line”. Phoenix kicked butt in that movie.

      • silverrose

        so, does this mean we will be seeing joaquin in sharktopuss 2 now?

      • wooster182

        Mad Andy, you can’t be serious. I love Bruce Campbell to death, but Joaq is not a B actor.

      • Mad Andy

        One movie does not a distinguished actor make, nor does one decent movie every 5 years. Next you’ll be saying Ben Affleck is a good actor!!

        Anyway call me when Joaquin Phoenix is in something decent again.

    • Dalla

      I agree Levi. I was fooled. I thought he’d really gone off the deep end. I’m so glad he didn’t. He is such a wonderful talent. It would be a tragedy to lose someone like that to his craft. Now I can breathe easy. Welcome back Phoenix.

    • tcc

      You honestly thought a nearly 4o year old, A-list actor would give up his career to become a rapper? Also kind of disrespectful to his brother who battled and lost his fight with drugs. It is kind of not funny.

      • Rush

        Stranger things have happened.

    • Anthony Mantelli

      What I don’t understand is how can we believe that this was a hoax right from the beginning, what proof do we have. all i’m saying is where is the undisputable evidence that proves this was a fake from the vary start?

  • ps in seattle

    I thought Phoenix’s original appearance on Letterman was just weird and awkward, not particularly entertaining. I still don’t “get” it, regardless of whether or not Dave was in on it.

    • SimmFan

      It’s awful when a show makes you think, instead of just carrying you off to la la land. Watch Leno.

    • wooster182

      They weren’t trying to be entertaining at the time, although I thought it was. It was for a scene in the movie, which from what I hear is supposed to be dramatic, not funny.

  • Todd Toronto

    Letterman made Phoenix feel really uncomfortable tonight. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose.

  • MCS

    I’m still not sure what all of this has achieved. Sure, he has acting skill, but was that it? It seems like a lot of effort, especially seeing everyone already considered him a great actor. If anything, he would have lost fans by the people he annoyed. So what came out of it? As far as I can see, nothing.

    • A-K87

      I haven’t seen the doc but doesn’t it prove how fickle the media all are? A couple of weeks ago he was a loop who had thrown it all the way, and this week he is a genius.

      • MCS

        If that is indeed the ‘comment’ it makes, that seems like a huge gamble for what I see as very little pay off. I mean really? Thats it. Either way, Im not really impressed.

      • me

        I think you are the only one calling him a genius. You must ride the short bus.

      • Vince from NYC

        Genius or not he is definatly an artist. His accomplishment in all this was a piece of art that he and Afflect dreamed up and created.

      • thin

        There are obviously going to be people (including him) who think he was making some kind of profound statement about celebrity and reality or whatever, but it’s really neither deep nor profound, and it’s certainly not original.

      • wooster182

        He never said it was profound. He doesn’t care about the finished product. He loves the process. He was bored and he wanted to try something different. Aren’t we all getting bored by tearing the man down? I know I am.

    • me

      Agree! I really don’t see what this achieves–or what’s particularly “brilliant” about it.

    • Mad Skills

      What did he achieve? Dude just made a movie. If you don’t like it, don’t watch and shut up.

      I love how the Internet now breeds billions of stupid movie critics, posting dumb comments and over analyzing everything.

      The dude just made a different movie. If there was a message, and you missed it – whatever man. He created this character based on himself, but mocking himself, and that’s it.

  • Keith

    I’m just glad it’s over. Now Joaquin and Casey, get back to work and stop acting like a couple college dropouts with a trust fund to spend on a hairbrained idea hatched in a fog of pot smoking.

    • ShayS

      Ok Keith, you probably summed this up better than anyone! Well done! I think Joaquin is mentally ill, but I would prefer to think that your theory is closer to the truth!

    • shel

      Agreed! And this analogy is perfection.

      • chattypatra

        True. The thing is, mental illness is not funny at all and I really think there is something wrong with him. It’s one thing to do a segment in this vein, but to spend so many months behaving this way? I don’t know…it disturbs me.

      • wooster182

        So spending several months acting like Johnny Cash or Truman Capote or a gay cowboy is normal? It’s called ACTING. Watch the interview. He’s not crazy.

    • R Call

      The “in” crowd didn’t accept you did they? Now take your Prozac and stay away from the “haze”, dope.

  • tuppy

    I don’t understand why you say, “Joaquin, let me introduce you to Media Studies 101: Reality TV is not real.” That’s exactly what he was saying: Reality TV is not real, it’s largely contrived/semi-scripted/acted — but, since it’s not acted well, he wonders why anyone WOULD think it’s real. He thinks everyone should know the lesson of Media Studies 101 and is surprised that more people don’t.

    • Boop

      I thought the same thing.

    • Chris B

      Exactly the point I was going to make, thank you. I also think it’s sad and telling that he says that’s the point in the interview when Joaquin “drifted into snoozeville.” It’s one of the few moments in the interview that had actual content! By implying that the only interesting part of the interview is the verbal sparring (read: sensationalism), I think Tucker is helping make Affleck’s and Phoenix’s point about the media with regard to celebrities. “Let’s see if Dave rips Joaquin a new one again! Oh, he’s talking about ‘art’ and ‘making a film’. BORING!” Please.

      • Nondescript

        Agreed, Chris!

      • wooster182

        Yes, thank you! I was completely interested by his concept of the movie and would have liked to heard more about it. What a shame Dave controlled the conversation. I assumed the idea was to focus on the media, celebrity, and consumer reaction but I had never considered the idea that he was making a reality show. I thought that was very interesting and quite fresh.

    • Casey

      I was wondering why Tucker said that too.

  • Irene

    I’m so glad it was just an act. What a waste of a hunk and actor it would be!

    • G.R.

      I wondered early on if he might have been just trying to pull an Andy Kaufman or a ‘Borat’ or something — for the sake of his physical and mental health, I’m relieved to know for sure that his “meltdown” was indeed a put-on.

  • audreyclaire

    ohhhhh, he looks yummy! The Joqauin I know and love….welcome back.

    • G.R.

      Oh yes. He is so much cuter without the beard! :)

  • ShayS

    Are you kidding me?? So now it is fun to pretend to be mentally ill and then say “it was just a social experiment!” Completely wrong in every way. Yes, J has had trauma in his life and is clearly undiagnosed with who knows what ailment… but it is completely sad to see someone with such talent, disintegrate right before our eyes. This serious lapse in judgement indicates something far more serious than what he is trying to pass this off as. Get well, Joaquin. Hope you find a good therapist and that you take Casey Affleck with you (likely he is just stupid or immature, which will pass with age).

    • JB

      Not every project undertaken by an actor is for your benefit. Sometimes art is done for art’s sake.

    • Nondescript

      So the guy who goes out of his way and does something unconventional to show how sick we are as consumers of entertainment and spectacle is the sick one? How about the fact that people wait until it’s too late to intervene and help is the point (albeit, not the only point of the stunt). Watch that first appearance on Letterman again. The audience is laughing like he’s popping zingers left and right ( Joaquin even asks if Dave gases them). No one stopped that 11min. interview. They let the spectacle run it’s course.

      • Mad Skills

        Ha, so many people in this comment section taking this movie personally, like it’s some sort of attack.

        It’s a movie dude. A MOVIE.

        He was playing a CHARACTER. Do you know what that is? It’s a fictional person made up for the sake of a movie.

        Wow, can’t believe people get so bent out of shape on this. Was it cuz you were fooled? Or did you not even watch it?

        I watched it with an open mind – hadn’t read any reviews. After reading about it, I was impressed – they really created an alternate reality, something few movies fail to do. You know almost every movie you see is fake – but what about the ones that appear real? Rare gems.

  • Tye-Grr

    Na na na na na na, jokes on you!

    I love Casey Affleck, think Phoenix is alright, and I look forward to seeing this.

  • MrsDolly

    Joaquin Phoenix is a fantastic actor. I was totally taken in by his performance.

  • RSW666

    As Dave would say; He’s a dope, a clod, a nimrod. It’s just another stupid media hoax and I will never pay to see him in anything ever again. Dave should have sprayed him with an extinguisher when he was first on.

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  • Per

    “We’ll go to one of your screenings.” :D :D :D :D :D
    Dave’s a genius.

    • RMW

      Yeah, that was funny as hell.

  • Nan

    “He said he’d gotten the idea from ‘watching a lot of reality shows. I was amazed people believed them… The acting was terrible.’ Joaquin, let me introduce you to Media Studies 101: Reality TV is not real.”

    Reread the comment made by Phoenix, he was talking exactly about how Reality TV isn’t real. In fact he says he can’t believe that people actually buy that garbage, because it’s so fake.

    **Sorry, didn’t realize Tuppy had touched on this.

    • Mike

      No, don’t be sorry. I feel we should whack Ken Tucker over the head a thousand times with this. I have frequently seen posters rail on Tucker for seemingly missing details big and small in the shows he reviews and/or comments on, and I’m finally coming over to their side: Tucker isn’t smart enough for his job.


    This was great. Why? Well, he has explored the boundaries of ‘character’. After all, western thinkers, back to the Greeks, suggested that all of us are ‘actors’ on the ‘stage’ of life (only the actors change). So, maybe Joachim isn’t even sure in what way he was ‘acting’. That, to me, would be the most interesting scenario–and the most courageous.

    • Artie

      I feel so much happier now I udrnsetand all this. Thanks!

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