Would David Letterman sue Joaquin Phoenix?

Host presses actor about 'fair use' of '09 interview in doc

Joaquin Phoenix played it straight on "Late Night with David Letterman" last night, talking about his stunt performance as a bearded retired actor who was going into music.

What's interesting is that toward the end of the interview, Letterman reveals discussions with lawyers about suing producers of "I'm Still Here" for including a long five minute clip of Phoenix's prior visit to "Late Night." We'd chalk this up to yuks alone, except for Letterman's mention of "fair use" and Phoenix' squirming. It's easy to imagine that at some point, Letterman actually felt like he was used as part of the elaborate stunt and contemplated filing a lawsuit against Phoenix. Letterman's observation that a "fair use" defense to the illegitimate use of a "Late Night" clip no longer flies because the film isn't actually a documentary is rather thought-provoking.

Here's the transcript and the video.

Letterman: OK, so now I want some money...Nobody ever asked us if Dave was going to be in film. You have to license this out. Give us the license fee. And that was the last we heard. Then we went to the lawyers and the lawyers said, "Yeah, you can. If you want, you can probably sue these people." Then your attorney said, "No, it's fair use because it's a documentary." Well hoo ha, guess what? It's no documentary. It was a theatrical ruse, right?

Phoenix: OK, yes. So you are going to sue us?

Letterman: And so I'm in it. And as you mentioned here, at a pivotal moment of the film, where "Oh my god what has happened and Letterman crushes me. Oh, my life is over, my career. What have I done? What have I done??" Now you owe me a million bucks.

Phoenix (mumbles): A million bucks.

Letterman: All the promotion you got from being on here that night in your Dr. Drew 'Oh My God,' all of that is worth something. That's free publicity. So we want something for that. And my talent fee. You know, it's not my first rodeo. I'd like a little taste of this as well. So you and Casey get together with your little buddy and come up with a million. That's all I'm asking.

Phoenix: OK, we'll work it out. But, um, can we talk about it privately?

Letterman: Yeah, we'll go to one of your screenings.

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