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Voluble, Shaven, Apologetic: Actor Joaquin Phoenix Returns To 'The Late Show'

Joaquin Phoenix

hide captionFrom The Ashes: Acting, says Joaquin Phoenix, is like being a puppet. And even when he's not in front of the camera, he tells documentarian Casey Affleck, he's still (and always) playing a character named "Joaquin Phoenix."

Magnolia Pictures

Almost a year and a half ago, Joaquin Phoenix appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, with a long beard, wearing a black suit and tie, and dark sunglasses. The interview was awkward, to say the least. Phoenix seemed despondent — out of his mind, even.

Last night, he returned to the show — to plug the release of I'm Still Here, which The New York Observer calls "mostly a half-hearted hoax about Mr. Phoenix trying to launch a rap career," and to make amends with Letterman.

In The New York Times last week, reporter Michael Cieply wrote about the film. This was his article's lede:

Casey Affleck wants to come clean.

His new movie, "I'm Still Here," was performance. Almost every bit of it. Including Joaquin Phoenix’sdisturbing appearance on David Letterman’s late-night show in 2009, Mr. Affleck said in a candid interview at a cafe here on Thursday morning.

"It's a terrific performance, it's the performance of his career," Mr. Affleck said. He was speaking of Mr. Phoenix’s two-year portrayal of himself — on screen and off — as a bearded, drug-addled aspiring rap star, who, as Mr. Affleck tells it, put his professional life on the line to star in a bit of "gonzo filmmaking" modeled on the reality-bending journalism of Hunter S. Thompson.

Last night, Letterman asked Phoenix: "So, what do you have to say for yourself?"

"We wanted to do a film that explored celebrity and explored the relationship between the media and the consumers and the celebrities themselves," he replied.

Letterman cut to the chase. He said no one asked him if he wanted to be in the film. When his lawyers inquired about a suit, attorneys for Phoenix and Affleck apparently said Letterman had no choice. Because they were making a documentary, it was allowed under fair-use laws.

"Well, hoo-ha," Letterman said. "It's no documentary. It was a theatrical ruse, right? Well, now you owe me a million bucks."

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