Joaquin Phoenix channels the spirit of Crispin Glover on Letterman

The actor turned bearded hip-hop star must be pulling our leg, because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about

It's hard not to laugh at Joaquin Phoenix, when he's falling off the stage while performing shambolic, mumbled "hip-hop" to confused fans at a Vegas nightclub, and especially when he turns up on David Letterman, as he did last night, looking like one of the Doobie Brothers and trainwrecking furiously while his host asked questions such as: "Can you tell us about your days with the Unabomber?"

Last month our colleagues over at the music site revealed how Phoenix's associates were claiming his recent decision to quit acting for a music career as some sort of hoax. The actor's brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, has been filming many of Phoenix's musical performances, and it's been suggested that the pair are cooking up a sort of Spinal Tap-style mockumentary about a famous actor who makes a foolish decision to give it all up.

If Phoenix is having a laugh at our expense, the Letterman show is the place to do it. The actor might almost be channelling the spirit of Back to the Future star Crispin Glover, who famously tried to kick the talkshow host in the head while sporting four-inch platforms and a natty wig during a gloriously unhinged performance in the late 80s.

Last night, Phoenix seemed unable to remember the name of his co-star Gwyneth Paltrow in Two Lovers – supposedly the last film we will ever see him in – and offered a series of dead-eyed answers to Letterman's increasingly sarcastic enquiries. And yet there is at least one moment in the interview in which Phoenix is sharp enough to banter with his host.

A photo of the actor sporting "good" and "bye" knuckle tattoos at the Two Lovers premiere, at which he professed to be astonished at all the fuss made over his departure from the thespian ranks, also looks just a little too ridiculous to be real. And while it's vaguely conceivable that Phoenix himself might really have lost the plot, the idea that Affleck has also been pulled into the delusion, like some horrid parody of Mark Wahlberg and John C Reilly's cokehead "musicians" in Boogie Nights, just seems a stretch too far.

With luck, this just might be the performance of Phoenix's life. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about, because if the actor is that misguided, it really is no laughing matter.


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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