"So what do you have to say for yourself?"
That was as good a question as any for Joaquin Phoenix, who on Wednesday made his first appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman since February 2009, when his widely regarded "nonappearance" heralded the arrival of weirdo Joaquin, which turned out to be an elaborate piece of performance art for the mockumentary I'm Still Here.
But it turns out that Dave, being the comedic professional that he is, rather enjoyed making lemonade out of strange, listless lemons.
"You know, I've always liked you," Letterman began, going on to describe some of Phoenix's more notable achievements in film.
"And then,a year-and-a-half ago, you come out and, honestly, it's like you slipped and hit your head in the tub," the Late Show host, who was not initially in on the joke, continued. "And I knew immediately when you sat down, something ain't right, because if you're really the way you appeared to be...you don't go out."
"Right," agreed the now clean-shaven and alert actor.
"Yeah. So what do you have to say for yourself?" Letterman demanded.
"Well, thank you for letting me come on the show last time," Phoenix replied.
As for the ruse the Walk the Line star created along with I'm Still Here director Casey Affleck about abandoning acting to try his hand at hip-hop, Letterman says he didn't buy it for a minute.
"I, frankly, when I heard about it later, was surprised that anybody had believed it," he told the two-time Oscar nominee. "And then after seeing you here... First of all, really all I care about is me in this.
"Now, did I know anything about this?"
"No," Phoenix acknowledged. Affleck said on The Tonight Show yesterday that they told Late Show bandleader Paul Shaffer that something was up, but not Dave.
But, the actor added, "I think that you've interviewed many, many people and I assumed that you would know the difference between a character and a real person, so...But I apologize...I hope I didn't offend you in any way."
"Oh, no, no, no," Letterman said contentedly. "I was not offended. I'm telling you, it was so much fun. It was batting practice, you know what I mean? Every one of them was a dinger."
"Well, we'd hoped to come on a talk show," Phoenix said, "and I was looking for a beat down, and I got one…I want to thank you for that."
Anytime. Oh, and one more thing...
"Now I want some money," Letterman deadpanned, to which Phoenix offered, "We've made 75 cents on this movie."
"That's not my problem," Dave concluded.
(Originally published Sept. 22, 2010, at 5:20 p.m. PT)
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