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Can Joaquin Phoenix's Career Be Saved? Watch Letterman Tonight!

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 22, 2010 at 4:16AM

Suddenly, after two years of retirement, we are seeing photos of a clean shaven, slim, Joaquin Phoenix amid reports of movie deals in the offing. Will he join Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood's Hoover as FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover's love interest Clyde Tolson? (UPDATE: The answer is no, as producer Rob Lorenz denies that Eastwood has expressed any interest in Phoenix for the role.) Or land a role opposite Jennifer Garner in Disney's The Odd Life of Timothy Green? Or play a foot fetishist in Steve Shainberg's latest off-beat narrative? His appearance on David Letterman tonight will be crucial to removing his recent druggy natty-haired image.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Suddenly, after two years of retirement, we are seeing photos of a clean shaven, slim, Joaquin Phoenix amid reports of movie deals in the offing. Will he join Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood's Hoover as FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover's love interest Clyde Tolson? (UPDATE: The answer is no, as producer Rob Lorenz denies that Eastwood has expressed any interest in Phoenix for the role.) Or land a role opposite Jennifer Garner in Disney's The Odd Life of Timothy Green? Or play a foot fetishist in Steve Shainberg's latest off-beat narrative? His appearance on David Letterman tonight will be crucial to removing his recent druggy natty-haired image.

Here's a taste of the my latest Career Watch:

After impulsively declaring his retirement from acting in the fall of 2008 after wrapping the film 'Two Lovers,' Joaquin Phoenix gained a natty beard and a paunch, chased a new career as a hip hop artist and looked depressed and druggy on a February 2009 appearance on the 'Late Show With David Letterman' that was widely viewed on the Internet. Now that the world at large sees the 35-year-old actor as a basket case, Phoenix will need to do some serious repair work to reemerge from this two-year career hiatus. (The fact that his gifted, troubled older brother River died of a drug overdose does not help his case.)

Latest Misfire: Phoenix's life in retirement is the focus of the bizarre Casey Affleck mockumentary, 'I'm Still Here,' which tracked the ex-actor's pursuit of record producer P. Diddy, his increasingly debauched lifestyle and his musings about celebrity and acting. "I'm stuck in a ridiculous self-imposed prison of characterization," Phoenix explains in the film, seeking to escape being branded as "emotional, intense and complicated." He no longer wants to play "the character of Joaquin Phoenix." This documentary was his way of "doing something that represents me ... to bring what is inside me out."

The film debuted at the Venice Film Fest and moved on to Toronto, as Affleck deflected and misdirected the media, and the clean-shaven and slim Phoenix stayed behind the scenes to maintain the mystery. The movie was about "friendship, ambition and the dreams of an artist," Affleck said. Reviews were nasty and audiences stayed away in droves.

This article is related to: Genres, Career Watch, Documentaries


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.