The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Could a fake Joaquin Phoenix be any weirder than the real one?

September 9, 2010 |  2:01 pm

Joaquin_phoenix People have already been wondering if "I'm Still Here," Casey Affleck's new movie about Joaquin Phoenix's outlandish attempt to become a rap musician, is a real documentary or a "Borat"-style prank. The film, which opens Friday in 20 theaters across the country, has been much buzzed about because it depicts a bloated Phoenix snorting cocaine with prostitutes, fighting with his assistants and generally acting like a walking celebrity train wreck. But it's unclear how much of the film is staged, because according to people who have seen the picture, Phoenix shares a screenwriting credit on the project, while Affleck's dad, Tim, plays a person identified as Phoenix's father in a scene at the film's conclusion.

What could be weirder than Phoenix's oddball antics? According to a news release that I got Thursday, the actor has his own celebrity impersonator who has been making red-carpet appearances at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film has its official North American premiere Friday night. The release claims that "fans are being tricked and disillusioned by the fraud who arrives by limousine and is accompanied by a massive entourage of security and scantily clad female groupies." Even better, the impostor has a great opening line, saying, "It is the other Joaquin Phoenix who is the fake!"

It sounds almost too good to be true. And I suspect it is. According to the Wrap's Steve Pond, who just put up a post about the whole wacky affair, when the release was issued Friday morning, there -- ahem -- hadn't actually been any red-carpet events; the festival's first gala screening doesn't take place until Thursday night. When Pond spoke to the head of the PR firm that sent out the release (who goes by the delightful name of Diamond Darryl K.), he couldn't supply details of any red-carpet escapades.

In other words, what we could have here is a hoax on top of a hoax. It's still unclear whether the Phoenix impersonator is a prankster trying to surf the media waves rippling out from "I'm Still Here" or perhaps someone affiliated with the movie, hoping to drum up even more media play. Perhaps he's a rapper trying to launch an acting career by doing a clever Phoenix impression. Or maybe the impersonator is Phoenix himself, doing an Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton alter-ego put-on. Imagine the possibilities.

All we know for sure is that anything involving Joaquin Phoenix in the coming days is going to have the feel of a real three-ring fun-house media circus. 

Photo: Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from the film "I'm Still Here." Credit: Magnolia Pictures