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Joker's Joaquin Phoenix Curses Out Crew Member In BTS Footage

UPDATE: We had the distinct feeling that something was fishy here. Joaquin Phoenix's publicist has revealed to Entertainment Weekly that this entire thing — the outtake, Kimmel's dropping it on Phoenix by surprise, and the star's reaction — was indeed a hoax. The "outtake" was shot for a gag, and the segment was planned by Kimmel and Phoenix in advance. Seriously, Joaquin, we remember I'm Still Here very well, and you're not going to catch us slipping.

Is Joaquin Phoenix a petulant, spoiled movie star... or is he pulling our collective leg once again?

During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Phoenix was presented with an outtake from Joker in which he appears to go on a profane rant aimed at a crew member named "Larry." Much awkward joking between Phoenix and Kimmel then ensued, and we're not sure exactly what to make of this for so many reasons.

First, let's look at what went down on Kimmel's show on its surface. The two had enjoyed a long, in-depth conversation about Joker, covering Phoenix's astounding weight loss in advance of taking on the role, the reaction of Phoenix's family to the film, and more while narrowly sidestepping spoilers. Phoenix and Kimmel were engaging in easy banter, the star appeared engaged and relaxed, and everything was going fine — until Kimmel appeared to drop an unexpected wrinkle to the interview on the star.

Kimmel asked whether Phoenix had actually enjoyed making the grim and dark character study, comparing the role to co-star Robert De Niro's famously unhinged turn in Martin Scorsese's 1991 thriller Cape Fear. Phoenix insisted that he had, and that director Todd Phillips — who was previously best-known for comedies such as Old School and The Hangover — had kept the set fun and light. That's when Kimmel threw a giant monkey wrench into the proceedings.

"It's interesting that you say that, because Todd sent me an outtake reel," the host said. "And we cut it down a bit, but... well, let's take a look at that, and tell us what was happening here."

We then see Phoenix ostensibly on set, partially made up and looking gaunt and skinny, muttering as the cameras roll. There are only a few things he says that aren't bleeped out for the benefit of Kimmel's television audience, but we can ascertain a few things: that a crew member's "constant whispering" is bothering him, that he would like the gentleman — whom he addresses as Larry — to stop it, and that the star is "trying to find something real," an exercise which Larry's whispering is severely disrupting. Although it's not heard, it's implied that Larry accuses Phoenix of being a diva by way of referring to him as "Cher," which irks the star even more. "That's not even an insult," he says. "Cher? Really? Singer, actor, dancer, fashion icon, how is that a f***ing insult?" Phoenix then declares that he simply can't carry on, and stalks out of the frame.

Was Phoenix's outburst just an elaborate hoax?

When the interview resumes, Phoenix appears profoundly embarrassed, adjusting his tie and appearing to start sweating. "Yeah, look," he says, "Sometimes movies get intense, because you're a lot of people in a small space, and you're trying to find something, so you can feel intense. But, um... that was supposed to be private." He says that last somewhat jokingly, and throughout, the audience is laughing along, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

It's rather disarming and a little weird to see such a massively talented actor set completely off his axis, looking confused and mortified — unless, that is, you're familiar with the months-long piece of performance art which Phoenix staged roughly a decade ago. In October 2008, Phoenix made the surprise announcement that he was quitting acting to focus full-time on music — rap music, to be exact. He made good on his promise (or rather, threat) to become a rapper early the following year, with a debut performance in Las Vegas that was equal parts unintentionally hilarious and actually painful.

For the remainder of 2009, Phoenix publicly insisted that he was done with acting while apparently attempting to barrel forward with his rap career; he made a famously bizarre, awkward appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, and word leaked out that the star had enlisted director Casey Affleck (the younger brother of Ben) to direct a documentary following his transition from movie star to dope MC.

In 2010, the film — titled I'm Still Here — was released, and shortly thereafter, the ruse fell apart. It had all been a giant hoax, one that Phoenix had perpetrated in public with a straight face for over a year. He returned to acting in 2012 with a brilliant performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, and recently, he's stated that the whole thing was a gag between himself and Affleck that got seriously out of hand — but that, although the entire process of hoaxing the public and making the faux-documentary were "terribly humiliating," he doesn't regret it. (He shouldn't: the film is a fascinating indictment of celebrity culture, and it's safe to say that his year-long performance is one of the gutsiest by any actor in history.)

Considering the extreme lengths to which Phoenix was willing to go to put one over on his fans, the Jimmy Kimmel Live! bit seems... well, a bit suspect. Why would Phillips blindside his star by sending the talk show host such an embarrassing outtake? Why would Kimmel drop it on Phoenix without warning him in advance? These are questions that Phoenix conspicuously does not ask, and his response to the situation seems just a little scripted — particularly the last bit, which is genuinely funny.

"Let me think about this a bit more... my publicist will issue a formal statement tomorrow," Phoenix deadpans, prompting Kimmel to agree that this is probably a good idea and drawing laughs from the crowd. "I should probably publicly apologize to Larry," the star continues, before backtracking just a bit. "Larry... the thing is, though, he did..." Cue laughter from the audience. "I am sorry, but he did whisper like constantly, while we're trying to work, and sometimes it's really hard to find the emotion that you're after," he said. "So, it was wrong of me, I'm sorry, but he shouldn't have done it."

On the other hand...

Lending credence to the outtake's authenticity are the remarks of Phillips, who admitted to the New York Times that Phoenix could be a touch difficult on the set of Joker. "In the middle of the scene, he'll just walk away and walk out," the director said. "And the poor other actor thinks it's them and it was never them — it was always him, and he just wasn't feeling it." After such episodes, Phillips said, he and his star would "take a walk, and we'll come back and we'll do it."

When the Times asked De Niro if he had ever seen this side of Phoenix, the famously intense actor shot down the line of questioning. "Joaquin was very intense in what he was doing, as it should be, as he should be," De Niro said. "There's nothing to talk about, personally."

But during his own sitdown with the publication, Phoenix demonstrated early and often the prickly side which makes it a little easier to believe that he would behave like a prima donna on set. He took particular offense to a question which posited that Joker might be "the wrong movie for the moment," a film which asks its audience to identify with an angry, isolated loner who turns to violence —a character which has a few too many real-world parallels for the comfort of some.

"However you want to talk about [the movie], dude, that's on you as a journalist," Phoenix growled in response to the question. When the Times' interviewer followed up by asking if Joker might hobble filmmakers by forcing them to only field such gritty character studies through the lens of established characters, Phoenix snapped, "I don't even know what you just said."

At the end of the day, it would surprise nobody to learn that one of the most gifted actors in Hollywood can be a bit temperamental at times; that's a story as old as Tinseltown itself. But the I'm Still Here experiment proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no actors quite so willing to yank the chains of their audience as Phoenix, and we are of the opinion that even if the profane outtake screened on Jimmy Kimmel Live! was genuine, the host's "springing it" on the actor was almost certainly planned.

We've got our eye on you, Joaquin. Fool us once with an awesome faux-documentary about your horribly ill-advised fake rap career, shame on you. Fool us again with footage of a behind-the-scenes outburst that you were allegedly surprised with on national television, shame on us.