Walk the Line of Idiocy: A Sorry State in Media Relations

Last week, the multiple Oscar-nominated actor (now turned rapper????) Joaquin Phoenix made an appearance on The David Letterman Show that should go down in broadcast infamy as one of the worst (or best—depending on your point of view) interviews ever captured on television. The very hirsute and nearly unrecognizable Phoenix was presumably on the late-night gabfest to plug his just-opened film, Two Lovers, co-starring Oscar winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by James Gray (who had directed Phoenix in two other films, among them, We Own the Night).

Looking sullen and stoned, his eyes obscured by shades and his voice (when he deigned to offer Letterman more than monosyllabic replies) an inaudible croak, Phoenix made a sorry spectacle of himself; he also let down the members of the Two Lovers team that worked so hard on the film. (And yes, I’ll make a confession: I do know someone who worked on this project closely with the director so I have an extra-added emotional annoyance here).

Rumors/stories are afoot that Phoenix’s bff and brother-in-law Casey Affleck is currently filming a “mockumentary” documenting Phoenix’s dubious career trajectory from film actor to inept rap singer and that everything Phoenix is doing, including his stint on Letterman, is a put-up job, reminiscent of the shtick the late comedian Andy Kaufman used to do a generation ago.  But that’s irrelevant because he had a film to promote and judging by his appearance on the late night talk show, he didn’t do that.

Watching the Phoenix debacle unfold on TV made me wonder the following: Who is his publicist? How can he or she allow Phoenix in his current mental and physical condition (whether it’s concocted or not) to get on national TV looking and behaving like that? Seriously, if your client was Phoenix, would you allow him to get on a major broadcast outlet looking like the Unabomber? Are some entertainment/celebrity publicists so blinded by fame they forget their responsibilities and act like fawning sycophants, yessing these obviously troubled personalities to death, even if that entails the ruination of a career or a film? Honestly, I’m baffled as to HOW any true publicist could have allowed Phoenix to get on the Letterman show when he or she knew his prior state and how he would most likely behave. What do you think?

By Iris Dorbian

  • http://www.iheartpr.wordpress.com matthew

    What I find ironic about the situation is that I don’t think Joaquin did detriment to the film. He didn’t go on to Letterman and behave like he should have and promote the film traditionally and get the traditional results. What he did was create a spectacle that went beyond the movie and now he has created “Heath Ledger” buzz. Is it selfish? I think so. But was it effective in promoting the movie in a non-traditional way? Absolutely. I think Two Lovers will benefit from Joaquin’s wackyness. Although, I can understand why people are upset about his actions but I have a feeling this film is going to outperform its original expectations. Great Post!

  • Stefanie Phillips

    I think it’s kind of ingenious by Joaquin and probably his whole publicist team. I do believe it is a mock-umentary and I think the purpose is to show society just HOW media can impact celebrities’ lives, and so often detrimentally (Brittany Spears, for example). I think when we see Casey Affleck’s film, Joaquin will come out normal again and talk about how this was all an experiment to see how much bandwagoning bad publicity he could get, how gossip shows, tabliods etc. would quickly forget his acclaim and skill as an actor and make him out to be a big joke. Well the joke will be on the media in the end. And I think this is a GREAT PR STUNT.

  • http://www.carltonprmarketing.com Bobbie Carlton

    This is a case where I think only the PR team can know for sure — are they close enough to Joaquin to be involved in a strategic discussion of the goals and strategies involved in both this project and his longer term career objectives or are they simply tasked with things at a tactical level — get Actor X on Big Show Y? All too often we see PR being done in a vacuum – let’s hope this isn’t the case and that the PR team is making informed decisions. If they are, well then we can have a conversation about whether it was a good or bad idea.

  • Robert Smith

    It was an Andy Kaufman moment, just like the one on Letterman 25 years ago when he was “assaulted” by pro wrestler Jerry Lawler to the astonishment of the studio and television audiences. Years later, Lawler admitted it was a put-up job. Nice work, Joaquin.

  • Iris Dorbian

    Well, whether it was a put-up job or not, apparently Phoenix’s stunt on Letterman (and overall odd behavior) might have been a boon rather than bane to the marketing and reception of “Two Lovers.” I just heard this morning from the person I know who worked closely on the project with the film’s director that the film has not only “improved Gray’s standing in the U.S.” giving him a lot of leverage and clout when it comes to developing his next films but apparently he (and my friend) are talking about developing some sort of starring vehicle for…Brad Pitt.

    Joaquin who?