Actor Joaquin Phoenix returned to David Letterman's "Late Show" on Wednesday to apologize for his wacky appearance last year that turned out to be an elaborate piece of performance art.
"You've interviewed many, many people and I assumed that you would know the difference between a character and a real person, so — but I apologize," Phoenix said. "I hope I didn't offend you in any way."
No offense taken, Letterman replied. The chance to lob jokes at Phoenix was like batting practice, he said.
"Every one of them was a dinger," he said.
Phoenix was clean-cut and shaven Wednesday, without the shaggy beard, unruly hair and sunglasses he wore on Feb. 11, 2009, when he told a befuddled Letterman that he was giving up acting for a rap career. Describing that appearance on Wednesday, Letterman said it was "like you slipped and hit your head in the tub."
Instead, Phoenix was playing a role for filmmaker friend Casey Affleck. The fake documentary on Phoenix's "career change," called "I'm Still Here," just hit theaters.
At Letterman's urging, Phoenix made clear that the talk-show host was not in on the joke.
Phoenix, who said the experience of making the movie was "really gratifying," revealed that Affleck was angry with him for briefly taking off his sunglasses at the end of the appearance as he was shaking Letterman's hand.
"I was eager to thank you for the opportunity and I was really eager to get off the show," he said.
Affleck, who appeared with Jay Leno on the "Tonight" show Tuesday, said no one from Hollywood called to express concern about Phoenix when he was acting strangely.
"Afterward, the movie comes out, the critics like to say 'this is crazy, this is disturbing, this is sick,'" he said. "But while it's happening, people were happy just to mock him and make fun of him."
Letterman, who became a key part of the movie, said that "somehow I get the sense that I had been made fun of." He told Phoenix that "now I want some money" and demanded $1 million dollars for his role in the ruse.
"We've made 75 cents on this movie," Phoenix protested.
"That's not my problem," Letterman said.
Phoenix promised to "work it out" and asked to talk about it privately.
"We'll go to one of your screenings," Letterman shot back.
Maybe the demand for money was Letterman's own version of performance art. Or maybe not.