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Posted at 1:16 AM ET, 09/23/2010

Joaquin Phoenix on 'Letterman': What we learned

By Jen Chaney

On Wednesday night, Joaquin Phoenix made his first public appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" -- and by first public appearance, I mean his first as a clean-shaven, articulate, relatively normal human being since his interview on Letterman's show in 2009.

During the conversation between the talk show host and the "I'm Still Here" star -- who appeared on this very same show more than a year ago and acted as though he were on the verge of sinking into a drug-induced coma -- we learned a few things, assuming that at this point, we can take anything on television at face value.

And those lessons are...

1. David Letterman had no idea that Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix planned to convince America that Phoenix really had turned into a screwed-up, aspiring hip-hop star.

"I am Dumbbell Dave. I was not in on it," Letterman told the audience before Phoenix came on stage. Of course, other reports -- as well as Affleck's Tuesday interview on "The Tonight Show" -- indicate that some of Letterman's people were in on it. Which suggests that Letterman probably had gotten the memo as well. But whatever.

2. Phoenix and Affleck really did want to express themselves more broadly, via a social experiment that commented on the relationship between American culture and celebrity.

Even though Affleck characterized on "The Tonight Show" what he and Phoenix did as just a movie, Phoenix implies that "I'm Still Here" was more than that. "We wanted to do a film that explored celebrity and explored the relationship between the media and the consumers and the celebrities themselves," Phoenix told Letterman. "And we wanted something that would feel really authentic."

3. Joaquin Phoenix apparently thinks he has no prospects.

"I'm not sure I have much of a career right now," Phoenix admitted during the interview. Which can't be true. If Clint Eastwood really wants him to play the lover of J. Edgar Hoover in a juicy biopic, then Phoenix is doing just fine.

4. Letterman thinks Phoenix and co. owe him $1 million.

Letterman noted that reps from Magnolia Pictures, distributors of "I'm Still Here," told him they planned to use footage from Phoenix's appearance on "The Late Show" as part of the movie, but weren't planning to compensate the "Late Show" host for said material. "Now you owe me a million bucks," Letterman noted. Phoenix just laughed ... and pointed out that he doesn't have a million bucks.

5. Letterman looks on the bright side.

Even though "I'm Still Here" hasn't earned much money, Letterman still manages to see the positive in the whole experiment. "People have found this more or less fascinating for a year and a half. I guess that's something, isn't it?" Letterman asked Phoenix.

"Yes, it is," Phoenix said.

We couldn't agree more.

More Joaquin Phoenix coverage:
Yes, it was a hoax
A few words from director Casey Affleck
Movie review: "I'm Still Here"
The Joaquin Phoenix film, 'I'm Still Here,' promotional timeline

By Jen Chaney  | September 23, 2010; 1:16 AM ET
Categories:  TV  
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Next: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows': The new trailer


I think you have a typo: "We couldn't agree more" should be spelled "We couldn't care less."

Posted by: MStreet1 | September 23, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

Unfunny and absurd, just like Andy Kaufman's 'schtick'.


Posted by: Smarg | September 23, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

A well planned Hollywood hoax that most people bought as reality, including Letterman.It was funny and entertaining.With that kind of talent and ability imagine the news and Government hoax's we hear everyday and we all believe.

Posted by: ForestMan1 | September 23, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

I'll never trust celebrities again.

Heck, if the Letterman show could be involved in something like this, how can we even be sure that IT's not faked? Maybe Dave's been stringing us along for years.

Maybe even Larry "Bud" Melman was just an act!

I feel so... used.

Posted by: byoolin1 | September 23, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

@MStreet1: And yet here you are reading and commenting.

Posted by: Handsome_John_Pruitt | September 23, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

In general, my reaction is Meh, too, but honestly, Joaquin is a GOOD-lookin' man. I'm really glad we can see his face again. That is all.

Posted by: Lizka | September 23, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

So self-indulgent and boooooring!

Posted by: themegnapkin | September 23, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

@MStreet1: And yet here you are reading and commenting.

Posted by: Handsome_John_Pruitt | September 23, 2010 8:42 AM

Yeah, I've been here commenting for more than 3 or 4 years. What's your point?

I guess you must not have understood my comment, which is my reaction to Joaquin, not to Jen or her story. His "hoax" was probably one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood, as very few people actually considered it to be real.

Now go get your shine box and take your postings to a Tea Party story.

Posted by: MStreet1 | September 23, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

No one believed this for more then a few minutes. Lettermen was in on the joke. Pheonix is a self consumed star with too much free time on his hands.

Posted by: ALLOST | September 23, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I saw the show last night. To me, the whole stunt seems to me to have been an interesting concept that got a little out of hand. They are both (Phoenix and Affleck) still young and talented enough that their carreers should recover nicely. Joaquin seemed a little embarassed by the whole thing, and he and Dave seemed to be having a good time. Of course, I say "seemed" because maybe they're all still messin' with us.

Posted by: justmike | September 23, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

The combined work of Phoenix and Affleck will never make it into the annals of film history. These two are members of the lowest common denominator of Hollywood. Greatness and Hollywood icon status will always elude them. The most that they can hope for is being on the covers of great magazines such as US, People, and eventually Where Are They Now?. These guys are so smart that they are stupid.

Posted by: bobbo2 | September 23, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

What surprised me (I haven't watched in a while) is how old Letterman looked. And creepy, sort of with that leering, drooling DOM mannerism.

Posted by: ganpat | September 23, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I guess I'm in the minority here. I love Affleck and Phoenix and think this is brave and funny. Go guys!!!

Posted by: Clio1 | September 23, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I feel . . . entertained!

Posted by: seaduck2001 | September 23, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I just want to know what they thought they would find and how much it cost them to 'explore celebrity'. I won't be funding that exploration by seeing the movie!

Posted by: privacy1 | September 23, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

The instrument hasn't yet been invented that could measure my interest in Joaquim Phoenix. Well, maybe the electron microscope. No, not even that.

-Snarky Squirrel

Posted by: 7900rmc | September 23, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

There are a lot of immature people responding to this--taking it like they were personally punked. Grow up! I don't care who or how many were in on it--it was fun and funny and also gutsy for Phoenix to put his career on hold for more than a year. A mantra for you distainers: "enjoy life; enjoy life; enjoy life...."

Posted by: jillstar1 | September 23, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I seriously doubt that it was performance art. I'd call the present story damage control. It'll take them years of straight behavior before they can convince me otherwise, if ever.

Posted by: reiley | September 23, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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