Joaquin Phoenix's Role In 'The Master' Might Not Have Happened Without 'I'm Still Here'

  on

Joaquin Phoenix must be feeling pretty proud of himself right about now. His latest film -- "The Master," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson -- broke box-office records for a limited-release movie and made its debut to rave reviews.

In a Q-and-A format interview with Time, however, Phoenix said that without his critically panned mockumentary "I'm Still Here," his much-praised participation in "The Master" might never have happened.

Phoenix said that, in many ways, his bizarre turn as an overweight, bearded rapper in "I'm Still Here" saved his acting career.

In the film, shot as an alleged documentary, Phoenix took a break from acting to focus on an incredibly off-putting rap career. While filming the movie, Phoenix made countless appearances in character, even performing intentionally terrible raps on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

So how did such a bizarre film save Phoenix's career? In part, it inspired him to love acting again.

"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," Phoenix told Time. "Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating."

He continued: "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."

In the same interview, Phoenix also explained the impetus behind the film.

"It was like, Well, what if we could just do the hardest-core version of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'?" Phoenix said. "'Seinfeld,' 'The Sarah Silverman Program,' 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' -- everybody plays themselves. ... But it's not them; it's a distorted version of them. There was something so exciting about saying, 'This is me, but now I get to make me whatever I want it to be.'"

When asked about "The Master," Phoenix said he loves the film, but that he may have misinterpreted its tone while watching a rough cut. Apparently, Phoenix originally believed "The Master" was a comedy.

"I've seen a rough version, with no score. I thought it was a comedy. I did! I laughed the entire time I was watching it," Phoenix said. "I was sitting with Paul, and I said to him, 'This is hilarious.' I have this horrible sense of humor where I think discomfort is funny -- partly because I experience discomfort a lot, and it's a way of laughing at it and getting a release."

"The Master" opened in limited release on Friday and will expand into wide release next week.

Join the Discussion