Joaquin Phoenix was seemingly walking a tenuous line between sanity and madness over the past two years as he attempted to transition from being an Oscar-nominated movie actor to a hard-core rapper.
Casey Affleck, the director of the documentary the chronicled that transformation, now admits it was all an elaborate con job, reminiscent of the heists he pulled with George Clooney and his merry band of thieves in the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies.
“It’s a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career,” Affleck told the New York Times in an interview about the film, “I’m Still Here.” As Affleck tells it, Phoenix decided he wanted to try his hand at “gonzo filmmaking” in the tradition of the journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
“I never intended to trick anybody,” the 35-year-old Affleck said. “The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind.”
Phoenix stunned the public and late-night TV host Dave Letterman in an appearance on the funnyman’s show in February 2009, showing up onstage seemingly incoherent, with a heavy beard and sunglasses.
After the shocking performance, Letterman famously quipped, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”
Since that time, Affleck, who is married to Phoenix’s sister, kept a low profile while assembling footage for the movie. “I’m Still Here” was released last week to highly mixed reception.
“The reviews were so angry,” Affleck said in response to critics’ questions about what was real and what was not in the film.
Apparently their concerns were justified as Affleck told the Times that virtually all of the movie was bogus, from the opening credits that portrayed a young Phoenix frolicking with his siblings, to some of the more risqué scenes showing the "Gladiator" star using drugs and consorting with hookers.
Affleck explained that certain filmmaking techniques he employed were supposed to clue viewers in to the movie’s actual intention, but he admitted that he never fully showed his cards.
“There was no wink,” he said.
For his part, Phoenix is going to appear on Letterman’s show again September 22, but as his actual self, not the character he’s lived in for the last two years. He’s also, according to the Los Angeles Times, starting to consider new movie roles again.