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Posted at 7:36 AM ET, 09/17/2010

Joaquin Phoenix: Yes, it was a hoax

By Jen Chaney

Joaquin Phoenix, in character as Joaquin Phoenix. (AP)

What we all suspected about Joaquin Phoenix for the past couple of years has turned out to be true: he was never genuinely pursuing a hip-hop career, or messed up on drugs, or suddenly incapable of forming a coherent sentence, or totally losing his mind. His behavior since late 2008 has all been an act.

Casey Affleck -- Phoenix's brother-in-law and the director of "I'm Still Here," the documentary about Phoenix's alleged new direction in life -- confirmed in a New York Times interview that nothing in the movie nor in Phoenix's off-camera antics, including that famous interview with David Letterman, was real. (See the full clip of said interview at the end of this post.)

"It's a terrific performance, it's the performance of his career," Affleck tells reporter Michael Cieply, later adding that, "We wanted to create a space ... you believe what's happening is real." The question is: how will Phoenix's fans and moviegoers feel about it?

Whatever you may think about the merits of the effort, it's hard to argue with Affleck's assertion that Phoenix delivered quite a performance. While it was fair to assume his addled, bearded weirdness was all an act, he committed so fully to it that it was just as easy to think he had genuinely fallen off the rails.

I also think there is something, for lack of a better word, brave in what Phoenix did. At a time when other celebrities are perhaps more conscious than ever before about how to cultivate an image -- not only by signing on to the right projects, but by agreeing to certain precisely airbrushed magazine shoots or by actively maintaining an often-updated, aggressively funny Twitter feed -- Phoenix willingly shredded his excellent reputation. And not just for a month or two, but for two entire years, with no guarantee he'd be able to recover.

Now, one could easily argue that, given the (so far) mediocre box office impact of "I'm Still Here," all that performance art was for naught. I am sure Affleck and Phoenix -- who is set to make his triumphant return next week to the "Late Show With David Letterman" -- are letting us all in on the joke now in the hope that, perhaps, it will make people more likely to see and understand what they were trying to do in the film.

But whether or not the movie succeeds, Phoenix and Affleck certainly proved that, as a society, we're willing to believe that anyone -- even a respected Academy Award nominee -- can completely lose his way almost overnight. Their project also demonstrates that, for better or for worse, it is entirely possible to transform one's image if a person tries hard enough.

Of course, now Phoenix has to make the effort to change that image back. As the New York Times and both the L.A. Times note, he has started to consider movie roles again. Honestly, I doubt seriously that it will be terribly hard for Phoenix to win back people's favor. In Hollywood, they'll probably be tipping their hat to his inspired insanity and using it to argue that he's the undisputed finest actor of his generation.

But how do you feel about what Phoenix and Affleck did? Vote in our poll and weigh in with a comment.

More from Celebritology:

Joaquin Phoenix's "I'm Still Here": A promotional timeline

Ben Affleck: A case study in making a comeback

The challenge of marketing the documentary "Catfish"

By Jen Chaney  | September 17, 2010; 7:36 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Movies, Pop Culture  
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Comments

A work of genius? I guess so, if he can resume his career as a well-respected actor. If he has trashed his career over this stunt, though, it will have been a work of idiocy.

Posted by: justmike | September 17, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Momma always said: "Stupid is as stupid does."

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | September 17, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

This reeked of "staged" the entire time. I am a fan of Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix in general, but from day one I called this as a lame attempt to create a "Andy Kauffman" air of confusion over the project and Joaquin's mental state. The problem was that if it had been River, we might have bought it. Joaquin, you are just TOO SANE to have pulled it off. We're still arguing to this day whether Andy K. was sane or not ;) Genius? Yes. Sane... mebbbe, mebbe not.

Posted by: stimpygato | September 17, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I don't think Joaquin's performance was all the great. It was obvious he was putting on an act....badly. It was boring and creepy but not entertaining. Let's see if anyone even remembers it in 20 years. Joaquin is no Andy Kaufman.

Posted by: ALLOST | September 17, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

So, instead of spending two years working, making movies for which he gets paid, developing worthwhile projects, he pulls this stunt to prove what a great actor he is? The jury may be out on that part, but it has definitely reached a verdict on his common sense -- none.

Posted by: epjd | September 17, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Who cares?

Posted by: HMA55 | September 17, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

This article is humorous in pretending that anything coming out of "Hollywood" is real. If anything is announced, released, promoted or simply discovered in that industry it is all fantasy, prepackaged and synthetic, and all of it is completely unworthy of note or merit.

Posted by: jaguar6cy | September 17, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

i want some of what he's on.

Posted by: earthling | September 17, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Two idiots don't make a right! They are both mediocre individuals who frankly did not attract any more of my attention post the Letterman show.

If this was all a staged performance, shouldn't he have tried to get more media coverage to showcase his act?

I think he realized that he was being an a-hole and is trying to salvage the little career he had.

Posted by: KohiNahi | September 17, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Fabulous. Phoenix is an actor and this is the ultimate act -- making an audience (the entire nation) believe in something that is merely a fantasy. That's what actors do on stage, on the screen, and occasionally, in real life and when they do it well, they get an academy award. I don't think Phoenix and company can win an Oscar for this, but there certainly should be an award for it! Nobody was hurt, no damage was done, and it's all grand theatre. It's just not about publicizing his film either -- the film is just an important prop in the play. Bravos to Affleck and Phoenix for taking us all on a little drama journey they cooked up. Encore, Encore!!!

Posted by: ralph8 | September 17, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Your reader poll leaves out another, more obviouus choice...I am in awe of anybody who cares about Phoenix or the really bad movies he makes.

Posted by: hughesbob19 | September 17, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Two years? Heck, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante pulled off something similar for over ten.

Posted by: staxowax | September 17, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

nobody cares if he was high on LSD and finally recovered his mind or not, when is it available on netflix so we can watch it

Posted by: granite1 | September 17, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I agree with a lot of the comments in that you left a very good option out of the poll.

Who cares.

Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, Pheonix. They are all easily replaced. Let the gossip magazines run this crap and report some news.

Posted by: MeesterRip | September 17, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

So.... I guess Lindsay Lohan is also faking all this for her career, like Linda Lovelace movies!

Posted by: wthoms2000 | September 17, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse


this seemed like such obvious schtick to me at the time, i'm surprised anyone fell for it at all... and my only surprise is that they kept it going for so long.

i always figured it was something to do with a movie he was working on -- i just didn't know what the movie was or who else was associated with it.

i still enjoy seeing the replays of his letterman appearance and it still makes me laugh. not sure if i'll go see the movie, but there's always netflix.

it's only entertainment, people.

Posted by: potomacfever00 | September 17, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

"nothing in the movie nor in Phoenix's off-camera antics, including that famous interview with David Letterman, was real."

Well, the same New York Times article said a very tiny bit of it was true. "At least one element in the film was genuine, Mr. Affleck said. That was a snippet of a home movie that showed Mr. Phoenix and his very young siblings performing, Jackson Five style, on the streets of Los Angeles."

I guess I'm sorta OCD when it comes to accuracy in print. :-D

Posted by: kingpigeon | September 17, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

How about a 5th choice: I don't care either way about the "hoax," and I don't care whether he ever makes another movie. His future activities are not worth the time or effort it would take to be concerned about them.

Posted by: oldguy2 | September 17, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

My choice was not in the line up. No, it was not art. It was not convincing. It was not interesting. It was conniving and lame and a fraud really. They think they are cute for calling something a documentary when it was a mockumentary? Go away.

Posted by: SarahBB | September 17, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I never understood why growing a mountain man beard would benefit his supposed hip hop career.

Posted by: buffysummers | September 17, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Come on back, Phoenix! All is forgiven!

But shave for cripes' sake!

Posted by: WonderfulWorld | September 17, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

It was obvious this was all fake from the instant Letterman got Phoenix to break character. Congratulations, Dave!

Posted by: rw-c | September 17, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Why is everybody falling for this now? It's a hoaxing to say it's been a hoax. Phoenix turned himself in a dirty slovenly inarticulate lump of stupid to indulge himself evidently in self hatred and now wants back out of it. Or Affleck wants back out of it. Now if Phoenix turns himself into a healthy human being, I might be impressed. We might think we are pretending and then get lost in there. It's just his way of social rebellion. How he flips the bird to the industry that pays his rent.

Posted by: GaiasChild | September 17, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Why is everybody falling for this now? It's a hoaxing to say it's been a hoax. Phoenix turned himself in a dirty slovenly inarticulate lump of stupid to indulge himself evidently in self hatred and now wants back out of it. Or Affleck wants back out of it. Now if Phoenix turns himself into a healthy human being, I might be impressed. We might think we are pretending and then get lost in there. It's just his way of social rebellion. How he flips the bird to the industry that pays his rent.

Posted by: GaiasChild | September 17, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Why is everybody falling for this now? It's a hoaxing to say it's been a hoax. Phoenix turned himself in a dirty slovenly inarticulate lump of stupid to indulge himself evidently in self hatred and now wants back out of it. Or Affleck wants back out of it. Now if Phoenix turns himself into a healthy human being, I might be impressed. We might think we are pretending and then get lost in there. It's just his way of social rebellion. How he flips the bird to the industry that pays his rent.

Posted by: GaiasChild | September 17, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

like MJ going white and noseless

Posted by: mloaks | September 17, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

What about an option for:

It was ridiculous, I didn't fall for it, and this has made me question any respect I had for him as an actor.

It has the whiff of desperation from a person who could have just focused on his work instead of this immature nonsense.

Posted by: auntiemare | September 17, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I think it is great. People seem to think it is dumb if it kills his career, but really what does it matter he has made his money already.

Posted by: flonzy1 | September 17, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe it was a hoax. I think he's burnt. And I actually don't much care one way or the other. Now, maybe we can get back to the real world instead of dithering about an alleged celebrity's state of mind. And why am I bothering to post this? I guess because this dude really annoys me.

Posted by: barbietart | September 17, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

He fell off his rails when he did that awful M. Night Shaboobyman flick.

Posted by: ozpunk | September 17, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

AWESOME....Boy there sure are alot haters that come to this site everyday,,,geez get a life ...you know who you are...mirror mirror on the wall....

Posted by: janetmramos | September 17, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Meh. When the whole thing broke I thought, hmm, it sounds like a hoax, but who knows and who cares. I kind of used to like Joaquin Phoenix but I think a little less of him for this dumb stunt.

Posted by: csdiego | September 17, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I also wish that you had included a "Who Cares" option on your vote list. So, does he have so little to do with his time that he must cook up lame and completely self-focused ways of spending it? The poverty level is rising, people are losing their homes and desperate for jobs and we are supposed to care what's happening with another Hollywood ego-case? Honestly Phoenix, find something constructive and elevating to do with yourself. You've accomplished just as little as a Lindsay Lohan. Congratulations.

Posted by: pjg1 | September 17, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

First, I'm not convinced it was a hoax. Second, even if it was a hoax, it was a dumb one.

Posted by: themegnapkin | September 17, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Phoenix will not suffer much for this. He's a brilliant actor and Hollywood may chastise him for pulling this stunt; but they'll have scripts to him before the next week is out.

Posted by: JenAZ | September 17, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

A two year act? Naw, he simply went off the deep end.

Posted by: reiley | September 17, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

if he was in character he should get a new profession terribly boring and not in the least believable.

Posted by: jlbliemeister | September 17, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Please tell me you did not use the word "brave" to describe a Hollywood actor doing "performance art". I know nobody would be *that* stupid, right??

Posted by: kp11 | September 17, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I think that Joaquin is amazing. . NONE of us could have faked that confusion act on Letterman without breaking out laughing every other second. He did a FANTASTIC job playing a doped up, confused person...and WE are all suckers for believing it... Perhaps the people who are putting him down for this are embarrassed that they fell for it. They feel like idiots for believing it and now, instead of admitting Joanquin's brilliant acting, they are putting the whole thing down. SHAME ON YOU GUYS! Joaquin has proven what an amazing actor he is. The media ALLOWS him to f with us...For example, when he was on the red carpet, asking if there was a frog on his head. The media, who chase people around all day bothering them, were the butt of his joke...They thought that they could force him to talk and HE showed them that he doesn't have to do a darn thing that they ask him to do! So GOOD for you, Joaquin!

He is talented, handsome and interesting... and seems to be an amazing man. So, Joanquin, if you see this know that once the smoke blows over from people feeling like fools for believing that you "lost it", it is THEN that you will get the deserved credit for your excellent performance. And one last thought...Those idiots will be too embarrassed to see your movie in the theaters, so you will find that millions will be RENTING it via Netflix, etc...and THEN you will see that the country IS very interested in this brilliant work that you did.

Wish you the best! ~ Alisa Chagnon of Methuen MA

Posted by: AlisaC | September 17, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but Cheney has him beat, all those years in the bunker, he was really hiding from the CIA...

Posted by: Wildthing1 | September 17, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

This just goes to prove that Hollywood will believe any thing bad, regardless of how ridiculous, about Joaquin Phoenix. Way to go, Joaquin!!

Posted by: MSteele1 | September 17, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Hoax? What hoax? Who's Joaquin Phoenix?

Posted by: c0lnag0 | September 17, 2010 11:06 PM | Report abuse

If it makes you think I suppose that's good, even if it's only "WTF?"

Posted by: politbureau | September 17, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Can you name one other thing Casey Affleck has done besides be Ben's brother and, evidently, Phoenix's brother in law?

Oh, can you name one thing Joaquin accomplished before River passed? Didn't think so.

Why was the word genius ever used in this article? At the very best, it might have been interesting, but genius? Yes, he is on the same level as Mozart, Tesla, Beethoven, Louis Pasteur, Einstein. Sorry for the lack of wit here, but these two clowns don't call for it. Affleck and Phoenix are about as genius as a steaming pile of crap.

Posted by: spaceman2 | September 17, 2010 11:52 PM | Report abuse

One thing for sure, Casey has gone from barely known to known only for his incredibility.

One thing people forget when they're trying to be clever: if your movie sux, it will do so whether or not it's fiction or a documentary.

Posted by: strukhoff | September 18, 2010 4:40 AM | Report abuse

The most hilarious part is all the people who take the time to read the blog and comment only to say "who cares." Well, apparently you do, if you are reading and commenting.

Posted by: esmerelda123 | September 21, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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