INTERVIEW: You’re Where?: Affleck talks ‘I’m Still Here’

Amidst the maelstrom of publicity and controversy surrounding the release of I’m Still Here, Casey Affleck’s documentary on the fall of Joaquin Phoenix, the director has faced repeated questions over the authenticity of the film. Last week in an interview with The New York Times, Affleck confessed that I’m Still There was all “performance”. But many questions remain unanswered. On the eve of Joaquin’s return appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, I offered Affleck a chance to set the record straight.

‘I’m Still Here’ has been labelled a hoax by many reviewers but in an interview last week, you stated that, “the idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered [your] mind”. Do you still feel that way?

Absolutely. It’s not a hoax. I never set out to make a hoax. And I think it’s misleading to call it a hoax.

So it’s a performance, then?

Some of it, definitely. It’s hard to say which parts now. A lot of it felt like a performance.

You’re referring to Phoenix?

You can see that Joaquin is performing, but it’s compelling, watchable. He’s completely believable in all his emotions. That’s what good actors do. They perform.

Even when they’re not in front of the camera?

Yes. And when they’re behind the camera.

So why did you decide to admit that the film is not real?

I’ve never said the film wasn’t real. It’s completely real. You feel for the guy. Like he says, ‘Like me or hate just don’t misunderstand me’. There’s a truth to that.

And yet people are now watching the film as if it’s a fake.

I think it makes people feel more comfortable to believe it’s not real. That none of it happened. That Joaquin is nothing like how we see him on screen. It easier because what we don’t have to invest in him as much.

Knowing that it’s not real?

Not just knowing it’s not real, but knowing that it may not be all real, or as real as we first thought.

I’m curious though. In the beginning of the film we see a shot of the Phoenix family performing. You’ve said that’s actual footage, not staged?

That’s real footage.

And yet, when we see Phoenix in interviews for ‘Walk The Line’ he says that he’s never sung or played an instrument before, that it was a foreign experience. So is he deliberately lying in those interviews?

You could read it that way.

That the supposedly ‘true’ image we had of Phoenix before ‘I’m Still Here’ was actually a lie?

Yes, I guess.

And that the Phoenix we see, which we’re thinking is a performance, is actually more truthful?

Well he spent all that time as Joaquin Phoenix. That’s pretty realistic.

Joaquin’s is entirely convincing in that role but did you also get a sense that Joaquin was also able to turn that character off?

Are you asking me if he ever turned Joaquin off?

Yes, and if so was he able to keep Joaquin off for any lengthy period of time?

Well, we were following him around for over a year. We had lots of footage of Joaquin off. By the end we’d roll cameras and he’d turn Joaquin on, I’d shout cut and the next moment he’d be Joaquin off again.

So he felt comfortable enough to keep Joaquin off away from the cameras?

Absolutely. But the shots where he’s Joaquin off we just couldn’t use. It didn’t seem right to show that in the context of what we were doing.

I want to ask you about the facial defecation scene? Was that real?

Well it’s Joaquin’s face but we used a stunt faeces.

And the drugs?

The coke we had was originally about 50% pure, but we recut it with other things so in the end, it was probably about 25% coke and 75% performance.

And the prostitutes? I think you’ve said one of them was an actress?

The other one was really a prostitute but when she turned up to the apartment and saw the cameras she refused to take part in the scene. Luckily the actress was a big fan of Joaquin’s so she really embraced her role.

What about the scene with Edward James Elmos?

That’s pure CGI.

Joaquin will be appearing on Letterman again this week. Is there any chance we’ll see a repeat of his antics from the last visit?

I can’t really say too much about that at this stage. There’s always the possibility of a sequel so I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

A comeback film? ‘I Was There’, perhaps?


Well, to borrow a phrase from a well-known late night talk show host, ‘Casey Affleck, I’m really sorry you couldn’t be here for this interview’.


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3 Responses to “INTERVIEW: You’re Where?: Affleck talks ‘I’m Still Here’”

  1. Beth says:

    I knew deep down that Joaquin had to be playing a dirty joke on us all. It just seems a bit extreme even for him.

  2. Alice says:

    Wow. I’m dazzled by his eloquence! Was that final silence awkward, perchance?

  3. Josh Nelson says:

    Well you know what they say, silence is golden. Or should that be, it’s better to be seen and not heard? In this case, I’m not sure either is true.

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