Kate Ward
April 13, 2011 AT 02:28 PM EDT

Technically, Joaquin Phoenix was playing a role while filming the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here: a battered-down, drug-fueled, extremely sad, fictionalized version of himself. (Interestingly, IMDB now lists his infamous appearance on David Letterman under the “actor” category.) But after audiences and critics spent almost two years wondering whether Phoenix had really burned out, A lot of people were angered by the revelation that the actor was merely playing a role, duping the public (or trying to, anyway) into thinking he really had melted down, and leading us to fear for his general well being. Why did we worry for nothing? Was the joke on us? Or was it simply one of the finest acting feats any star had ever accomplished?

So after that stunt/performance, it will be interesting to see how will audiences and critics react when Phoenix returns to the big screen as someone other than “Joaquin Phoenix”: As reported last night on EW, the actor is now in talks to star in a religious drama, loosely based on the founding of Scientology, directed by There Will Be Blood helmer Paul Thomas Anderson. If he accepts the role, Phoenix will almost certainly become a controversial figure in some religious circles. But the real question is whether mainstream viewers will be able to embrace him as they did in 2005’s Walk the Line and 2000’s Gladiator. Whether you’re on Team Joaquin or Team Fool-Me-Once-Shame-On-You, there’s no denying the guy’s acting chops, and his presence on screen has been sorely missed. But did his most recent “image” of the mumbling, pathetic, angry actor who stuck his gum under Letterman’s desk damage is likability, or as marketing people like to say, his “Q Score”? Can duped critics find it in their hearts to forgive the actor and appreciate his craft? Can Phoenix rise from his I’m Still Here ashes?

What say you, PopWatchers? Are you ready to see Phoenix burn up the big screen again?

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

Read more:

Joaquin Phoenix in early talks to join director Paul Thomas Anderson’s religious drama

Joaquin Phoenix and David Letterman, round 2: Fresh put-ons, insults, and apologies

Casey Affleck admits his Joaquin Phoenix documentary wasn’t real: Are you at all surprised?

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