Is Joaquin joking, Is Leonardo converting, TV notes …

Is Joaquin joking?

You’re probably aware of the recent antics of Joaquin Phoenix. Early last month he appeared on David Letterman’s show to promote his new movie, “Two Lovers.” The actor sported a full beard and barely responded to Letterman’s questions. He noted that he was retiring from acting to pursue a career in hip-hop. Ben Stiller then made fun of Phoenix during the Academy Awards ceremony, wearing a ragged beard and dark shades and acting in the semi-crazy way Phoenix did on the Letterman show. Natalie Portman, who was onstage with Stiller, said to him: “You look like a Chassidic methedrine dealer.”

Everyone is asking whether Phoenix, 34, is mentally ill or whether he is making a comic documentary with actor Casey Affleck, who is married to Joaquin’s sister, Summer Phoenix.

Joaquin long has projected the fragility of someone who can barely keep it together emotionally. But his crazy persona is also a great starting point for a colossal put-on. There’s a streak of real weirdness in the family — starting with his mother, who calls herself Heart Phoenix, but was born Arlyn Dunetz to a Bronx Jewish family. While still a teenage hippie, she wed Joaquin’s father, a lapsed Catholic, and they spent years in a bizarre Christian cult. They left the cult in 1978 and Heart no longer calls herself a Christian. Her children were really raised in no faith.

“Two Lovers,” which stars Joaquin as a Brooklyn Jew, has opened to good reviews but is only playing in a few theaters.


Is Leonardo converting?

As you probably heard, Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, 23, made the cover of the annual swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Daily News said that Refaeli’s father told boxing promoter Aaron Braunstein that he wouldn’t agree to a marriage between his daughter and her boyfriend, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, unless DiCaprio converts to Judaism. But Braunstein’s long-estranged daughter, actress Natasha Lyonne, has called him a “shady character,” and he is currently promoting a big upcoming fight in Israel. So, I leave to you to decide whether Braunstein made up a conversion tale that “incidentally” got him and his fight mentioned in the Daily News and elsewhere.


TV notes

Lesley Ann Warren, 62, co-stars in the original Hallmark Channel film “Bound by a Secret” (premieres Sunday, March 8 at 8 p.m.). She plays Jane, a soap opera star with terminal cancer who returns to her hometown and renews her friendship with Ida (Meredith Baxter). Early in the film we learn that Jane is the birth mother of the daughter whom Ida has raised as her own.

Warren was born in New York City to an English Jewish father (whose original name was Woronoff) and an American Jewish mother. She made her Broadway debut at 17 and has kept a high-level acting career alive for almost 50 years. Highlights include an Oscar-nominated part as a ditzy gangster’s moll in “Victor Victoria” and roles as a lead character’s mother on TV’s “Will and Grace” and “Desperate Housewives.” She currently plays the mother of the star character in the USA network series “In Plain Sight,” which begins its second season in April.

Warren has never been that vocal about being Jewish, but she was happy to discuss her background when she played a Jewish mother in 2005’s “When Do We Eat?”

NBC has announced that it will air “Marital Spat,” a comedy-reality series co-produced by Jerry Seinfeld. It will feature celebrities who will comment on, judge, and offer advice to feuding married couples. Seinfeld says, “This is not a therapy show, it’s a comedy show. After nine years of marriage I have discovered that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich.”

Columnist  Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected].

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.