Joaquin Phoenix has created quite a stir with his bizzare appearance on the David Letterman Show last week. Was this real? Is he really quitting acting to pursue a career as a rapper, or might this be an elaborate hoax?
Chris Willman offers some interesting observations about Phoenix and the rumored hoax.
What to make, then, of the grainy video footage of this erstwhile perfectionist stumbling around on stage in Las Vegas, kicking off his supposed new career as a rapper? Of the announcement that he was retiring from movies to achieve new levels of excellence in his true calling, hip-hop? The documentary cameras tracking his every suddenly awkward move? Even if Phoenix never previously seemed like Mr. Levity, it seemed easy enough — to me, anyway — to write off his intentions to be the new Eminem (or Everlast) as a very elaborate gag. But after his appearance as a heavily bearded, disheveled catatonic on Letterman Wednesday night, which ended with the host invoking Farrah Fawcett as a comparatively more lucid guest, the stakes suddenly got higher. Columnists and bloggers predicted the end of Phoenix’s career, even if he should abandon hippity-hop and come crawling back to movies. Fans and detractors lamented his transformation from the potential Brando of his generation into the poster child for “just say no” (to drugs, Vanilla Ice, or both). Half the viewers thought the standoff with Dave was hilarious, and half deeply sad, but in either case, most figured the laughs or tears were on Phoenix.
Which makes this potentially one of the greatest performances any modern actor has ever given — or at least one of the most baldly courageous. The closest comparison would have to be Andy Kaufman’s utter commitment to his obnoxious Tony Clifton persona, but Phoenix is going Kaufman one braver here, by not slapping a fake name on the alter ego bur rather inviting the audience to mistake his damaged doppelganger for himself, over an indeterminate length of time that could leave his “real” career hanging in limbo. There is an end in sight: Phoenix’s pal Casey Affleck is shooting all this for what insiders presume is a mockumentary about the breakdown of a burned-out actor. The risk, of course, is how lame it might turn out to be if Phoenix and Affleck remove the masks and say “just kidding” when it’s time for their film to finally come out. My hunch is that if they’re taking it this far — and watching Letterman, it was clear that Phoenix is in deep, deep, deep cover — they might take it all the way into and past the premiere and continue insisting that Phoenix’s actorly dissolution was legit.
The entire article is worth a read.