(Credit: Harald Krichel)

Old School Archives

The moment Joaquin Phoenix 'quit acting' to become a rapper

The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, perhaps the music world’s only true iconoclast, once told the BBC’s Culture Show that “actors forming their own groups should be banned” and, whilst difficult legislation to enforce, it would hardly be a lamentable law if it did transpire beyond Smith’s fantasy.

Movie stars dipping their toes in the recording studio is a surprisingly frequent practice, but not always one that proves fruitful in any which way. Fortunately, for both the sake of the studio and screen, when Joaquin Phoenix declared that he was shunning the camera in favour of a rap career it was done in jest.

For a while though, or maybe to those less familiar with Phoenix’s inscrutably dry humour, it seemed like a leading light of the movie world was about to blow it all and try his hand at music.

When Joaquin Phoenix appeared on Letterman in February 2009 to promote the James Gray directed romantic drama, Two Lovers, he cut a very dishevelled presence. Sporting a long beard, lank hair, black wayfarer shades and a curmudgeonly persona he certainly looked the part for the prank, so much so that Letterman hilariously joked, “So, what can you tell us about your days with the Unabomber?”

From the outside looking in, it all seemed like method acting preparation for his Joker role years in advance until the mask slightly slips as he laughs at Letterman quipping, “And Joaquin I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”

In truth, the prank may well have been long premature for the Joker role he would go on to excel in, but it was indeed for another on-screen project. I’m Still Here was a mockumentary directed by fellow actor and friend Casey Affleck released in 2010, which ‘documented’ Phoenix’s transition from the acting world to an aspiring rapper. Written by the Affleck and Phoenix, it starred icons from the rap world like Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, who plays it straight as a producer annoyed with a pretentious actor’s insincere commitment to rap.

The mockumentary may not have landed outside of a minor cult following, but his appearance on Letterman to covertly promote it certainly caused a stir. If anyone was in any doubt about the extent of Phoenix’s commitment to a role then this strange talk show performance to promote a minor b-movie concocted with a buddy proves it beyond doubt.

There have been many great bits played off on Letterman over the years, but this one was right up there.