The facade of I’m Still Here‘s legitimacy keeps on crumbling. Following an admittance by director Casey Affleck that the “documentary” was staged and Joaquin Phoenix was acting for the whole thing, it has now been revealed that Phoenix’s appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman was a put-on, too.
The Hollywood Reporter found out through Bill Scheft, one of David Letterman‘s writers, that Dave was in on the joke.
Dave knew about it and Dave loved it because he could play along. It was great television. But I will take credit for the line, ‘I think I owe Farrah Fawcett an apology.’ That line was mine. I gave that to him during the break. I’ve told people that [everyone was in on the joke], and not only don’t people believe me, they tell me that I’m wrong and that [Phoenix] is a schizophrenic and he needs help and he’s going to end up like his brother [River, who died of a drug overdose in 1993]. I said no. I saw the segment notes. It’s an act. I saw Ben Affleck’s brother taping the whole thing from offstage.
Knowing that Phoenix was acting the whole time is sure to cast the film in a different light, but I doubt that alone will diminish the film of its value. Much in the same way that I don’t mind Sacha Baron Cohen pretending to be Borat or Bruno, I also don’t mind knowing that Joaquin Phoenix was playing a character in I’m Still Here. However, I’m less enthused about seeing the film after finding out that others were in on the joke as well, such as those involved in the film’s “more troubling moments”. What makes projects like these compelling (and frequently hilarious) is seeing the genuine reactions from unsuspecting people who are at a loss at how to respond. If we’re to find out that appearances by Ben Stiller and P Diddy were also staged, that’d be unfortunate.
Letterman though, I’m not so worked up over. As you can see by rewatching the below video (assuming you’ve already seen it), the segment plays like a self-aware comedic bit by Phoenix and Letterman, reminiscent somewhat of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. I probably would’ve been more surprised to find out that it wasn’t staged.