You’d think we would’ve learned that you can’t take any Joaquin Phoenix appearance at face value after the actor’s bizarre 2009 interview with David Letterman, which turned out to be part of an elaborate hoax for the fake documentary I’m Still Here. Phoenix later apologized to Letterman and the late-night host threatened (probably jokingly) to sue over use of the footage, but other reports suggest Letterman was actually in on Phoenix’s behavior the whole time.
Phoenix pulled a similar if less extreme stunt on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Tuesday while promoting Joker. Earlier this month, director Todd Phillips told the New York Times that Phoenix would disrupt filming by storming off the set, and during Phoenix’s interview, Kimmel aired an “outtake” that shows the actor doing exactly that while ranting at the movie’s cinematographer Lawrence Sher:
The constant whispering, just shut the [bleep] up dude. I’m trying to like find something real. [bleep], dude. Sorry, [bleep]. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal. Yeah, it kinda is. [bleep]. I know you started the [bleep] Cher thing, Larry, [bleep] making fun of me. Like I’m a [bleep] diva. It’s not even an insult. Cher, really? Singer, actor, dancer, fashion icon, how’s that a [bleep] insult? [bleep]. I can’t do this, man.
Phoenix seemed stunned by the footage, telling the audience “this is so embarrassing,” explaining that filming movies can get intense, and noting that the footage was supposed to be private before apologizing for the outburst.
The entire exchange stinks of a setup: Even if the substance of the rant didn’t tip you off, late-night appearances are carefully planned and the very idea that the studio would give Kimmel embarrassing behind-the-scenes footage from an upcoming movie—without preparing the star in advance—is far-fetched. Phillips even teased such a stunt in the Times, saying that, “If [Phoenix] goes on Jimmy Kimmel and walks off after two minutes, I’d be like, ‘That’s my boy.’”
Sure enough, Entertainment Weekly confirmed with Phoenix’s publicist that the clip was “a joke outtake.” The gag calls into question how much of the often-uncomfortable interview that preceded it, with Phoenix giving evasive answers, was genuine. Late-night television and the media play a major role in Joker, particularly in how they can influence public perception, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if the entire press junket—including Phoenix walking out of a different interview—is being planned ahead or at least encouraged by the filmmakers to play up that aspect.