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Norman Dreyfuss, center, with Pat Rhodes, left, and John Cecchi, after a screening of "Under the Same Moon," which he produced.
Norman Dreyfuss, center, with Pat Rhodes, left, and John Cecchi, after a screening of "Under the Same Moon," which he produced. (Tony Powell - Washington Life Magazine)
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, March 13, 2009; 12:00 AM

Joaquin, Acting In His Best Interest?

Oh, Joaquin. It's been an antic few months for the Oscar nominee, who was poised on the brink of first-name-only superstardom -- before announcing he's quit acting to pursue a career as a rapper.

From there: He grew a bushy homeless-guy beard, started moping around in dark shades. Gave a weird Las Vegas performance -- brief, incoherent, before he fell off the stage. That now-infamous David Letterman interview -- halting, spacey, unresponsive. Wednesday night in Miami, he took the stage four hours late, disheveled, rapped unintelligibly -- then jumped into the crowd to confront a heckler. Security guards hustled Phoenix out.

Is Joaquin Phoenix really in a meltdown? Or is this a shtick, a gag, an ingenious publicity stunt? We consulted a panel of D.C. professionals who would know: actors.

They agree: It's an act. Here's why.

Kate Debelack (of Shakespeare Theatre's "Ion"): "It's sooo staged. It's only happening when there are video cameras present. He's got a specific way of moving that's different than what we've seen of him before -- it's very much a character. . . . He dropped character a bit: He laughed back at Letterman, then immediately went back to being sullen."

Casie Platt (of Signature Theatre's "The Little Dog Laughed"): "I noticed as [the interview] was over, Joaquin stood up with his back to the cameras, took off his glasses, and with a smirk shook Letterman's hand, and Dave seemed in on the joke. . . . This is the perfect way to market a movie long before it comes out."

Jason Linkins (of Rorschach Theatre; media writer for the Huffington Post): "I'd say Phoenix is doing an all-right job keeping this act of his airtight . . . but he's basically just walking around, acting really convincingly addled, and that's just not that hard."

Obama Takes a Break From the Gridiron

Spring break vs. a Washington institution? No contest.

President Obama is skipping the Gridiron Club dinner next week, according to members of the 124-year-old press organization; they've been told he's spending the week with his family out of town. Blame it on Sidwell Friends: His children's private school begins spring vacation on March 20, one day before the annual, off-the-record night of political skits and speeches.

Presidents have occasionally missed the event, but Obama will be the first since World War II not to attend during his first year in office. (He brought down the house as the Democratic speaker at the 2006 dinner.) Vice President Biden will take his place.

Hey, Isn't That . . . ?

-- Rob Lowe treating his sons to some dining, D.C. power-broker-style, on Wednesday -- first, at the White House mess, where they were seen lunching with an Obama staffer ("Welcome to the West Wing!" one fan of Lowe's old show stopped by to say, probably not the only one that day); and later at the Palm, with a couple other adults. Earlier in the week the star chaperoned a larger group of teens from his son's class doing the D.C. museum thing.

Love, Etc.

-- Engaged: Melody Barnes, 44, and Marland Buckner, 42. She's a senior domestic policy adviser at the White House; he's a Democratic staffer-turned-lobbyist. The two met 10 years ago (she was Ted Kennedy's chief counsel; he worked for Chuck Schumer and Harold Ford) and started dating 18 months ago. June wedding in Washington; first marriage for her, second for him.

-- Split: Jennifer Aniston, 40, and John Mayer, 31, after a year of on-off dating, reports People. Just weeks after that lovey-dovey joint appearance at the Oscars, the actress was dumped by the singer. Again. No comment from their reps.

This Just In

-- Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has a $2.5 million deal with William Morrow for two books -- a narrative of life lessons that led to his plane's safe landing on the Hudson and, reportedly, a book of inspirational poems. "There's a lot more substance to him than most people getting their 15 minutes of fame," an editor told Crain's New York Business.

© 2009 True