Partway through Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Tuesday night, the host played a behind-the-scenes clip from Joker in which Phoenix cusses out the movie's cinematographer, telling him, among other things, to "shut the fuck up." It was a bizarre piece of footage, and Phoenix—who claimed he had no idea it was coming—apologized for it, telling the audience he was embarrassed they'd seen it.
Phoenix's publicist told Entertainment Weekly the clip was "a joke outtake"; the actor's surprise at having it sprung on him was staged. And of course it was: As Slate points out, everything that goes into an appearance on late night shows is carefully planned; there's no way Kimmel would just play some embarrassing clip out of nowhere without Phoenix knowing about it. Also, who would ever earnestly say something like:
“I know you started the [expletive] Cher thing, Larry. [Expletive] making fun of me. Like I’m a [expletive] diva. It’s not even an insult. Cher, really? Singer, actor, dancer, fashion icon—how’s that a [expletive] insult?”
It seems like Phoenix's entire shtick on Jimmy Kimmel—being visibly uncomfortable, and giving the host an objectively terrible interview—was just a painfully awkward publicity stunt. And looking back at other minor "scandals" from Phoenix's press tour to promote the movie, you have to wonder if it's the only one.
Earlier this month, director Todd Phillips told the New York Times Phoenix would suddenly walk off the set during filming, adding that "if he goes on Jimmy Kimmel and walks off after two minutes, I’d be like, 'That’s my boy'"—potentially outing the on-the-low fact that he and Phoenix had already planned the stunt. A few weeks later, the Telegraph reported that Phoenix stood up and walked out of an interview, another move that now seems suspect.
Knowing that the Kimmel bit was a hoax, it's hard not to speculate that maybe Phoenix's entire closed-off, extremely sensitive, difficult-to-work-with thing is actually fabricated—a carefully crafted PR ploy to gin up press around Joker. If that's the case, it's certainly working: The movie has generated a massive number of headlines in the past few weeks.
It wouldn't be off-brand for Phoenix, who famously gave David Letterman that awful, uncomfortable 2010 interview before announcing he was retiring from acting (and then, y'know, I'm Still Here happened). He's seemingly a master at deceiving people into believing he's more unhinged than he actually is, but his entire career is built off of his unbelievable self-control. He regularly loses tons of weight for his roles, a method actor so committed to his craft, he once fooled the entire country into believing he was ditching Hollywood to start a career as a rapper.
Maybe all the news about Phoenix's terrible temper on set and his painfully awkward interviews is the real deal. But maybe—and more probably, with this revelation—the entire thing is a sham. It's looking increasingly likely that that's the case—that, just as he did a decade ago with I'm Still Here, Phoenix has managed to pull a fast one on us yet again.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.