In a follow-up to his earlier infamous Letterman appearance, a cleaned-up Joaquin Phoenix finally offered the host an explanation. Turns out the interview was all an act – a set-up for a mock-umentary Phoenix was making with Casey Affleck. Titled “I’m Still Here”, the movie explores the surreality of reality programming with a mock chronicle of the actor’s premature retirement from Hollywood and subsequent slide into a stumbling, somnolent shadow of the talented young man.
The notorious interview on Letterman’s show was part of a long con that lasted over a year. Phoenix’s incoherent and disheveled demeanor on that earlier episode had audiences and the entertainment industry scratching their collective heads. What had happened to the talented young actor whose searing portrayal of Johnny Cash had won him critical acclaim? What had triggered this downfall? Drugs, mental illness, the crush of early fame? Were we going to lose another member of this talented acting family, after the untimely death of Joaquin’s brother River Phoenix?
In fact, audiences weren’t alone in being fooled. According to Joaquin, even Dr. Drew Pinsky fell for the ruse, actually making a diagnosis based on the original Letterman appearance. No doubt the good doctor was eyeing Phoenix for a spot on Celebrity Rehab.
In contrast, Dave Letterman intimated on last night’s follow-up interview that he knew something was hinky all along. At the end of that mumbling interview, the seemingly catatonic Phoenix stood, turned toward Dave’s desk, and removed his dark sunglasses to shake the host’s hand. Dave claims he knew in that instant that the interview was less – or more – than it seemed.
Of course David Letterman is no stranger to celebrity put-ons. Watching Joaquin Phoenix’s earlier interview instantly reminded me of the late Andy Kaufman and his alter-ego, who would turn up from time to time on Letterman’s show, never breaking character.
Whether the movie justifies the ruse remains to be seen. Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix needed to make this second Letterman appearance as part of career damage control, after more than a year out of the Hollywood spotlight. Oh, and by the way, the infamous interview segment made its way into the movie too, adding another layer of surreal reality. And Dave wants his royalty check.