Now that he’s promoting his first film role in two years — and working the film festival/awards season circuit — Phoenix is being asked again about his “I’m Still Here” hoax, the two years he spent looking like a drug-addled member of ZZ Top hoping to hit it big in hip-hop, all for the purposes of a faux-cumentary about his non-real downfall.
In a new interview with Time’s Jessica Winter, he explains what he got out of that bizarre experiment in terms that may finally make sense to those who never got on board with his freaky fake-out.
When Winter asks what he took away from the “I’m Still Here” experience, Phoenix says, “Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously. I want it to be so good that I get in my own way ... Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating.”
He adds: “I’d see child actors and I’d get so jealous, because they’re just completely wide open. If you could convince them that something frightening was going to happen, they would actually feel terror. I wanted to feel that so badly. I’d just been acting too long, and it had kind of been ruined for me. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would feel brand-new and hopefully inspire a new way of approaching acting. It did do that for me.”
Given the reviews so far of his performance in “The Master,” it worked. By the way, do yourself a favor and read Winter’s entire interview. Phoenix’s admissions that when he saw “The Master” with no score he thought it was a comedy, and that he enjoyed being treated like Anderson’s pet monkey, make it worth your while.