Joaquin Phoenix: ‘The Master’ Star Says Rap Hoax Saved His Career

Joaquin Phoenix spent the better part of two years looking like he was on the edge of homelessness, with a long beard, aspirations to become a hip-hop star, and bizarre appearances that left many fans wondering if he was on drugs.

He says the hoax of his spiral into madness was actually what saved his career. The new persona was created for a documentary by Joaquin Phoenix’s friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck, I’m Not Here.

Though it confused the public and brought him some criticism — especially after a bizarre interview with David Letterman — Phoenix said the hoax helped him take a step back from the rigors of acting.

“Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously,” Joaquin Phoenix told Time. “I want it to be so good that I get in my own way … Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating.”

He added:

“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.”

The resurgence of his career in the release of the Paul Thomas Anderson film The Master proves that Joaquin Phoenix may have been on to something, the Washington Post noted.

The Master was given a limited release Friday and will open more widely next week. Critics are lauding Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in the movie that is loosely based on the early days of Scientology, and the movie itself had a successful turn at the film festival circuit.

The Masterwon big at the Venice Film Festival, with Anderson winning the Silver Lion for director and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoneix splitting the best actor award. The film lost out on the top prize due to a technicality — it had won too many other awards already.

It’s still not exactly clear how genuine Joaquin Phoenix’s has been. During a press conference for The Master, Phoenix displayed some bizarre behavior, lighting up a cigarette on stage and later cutting off his photo session after a few seconds.