Ridley Scott Explains Why He Rewrote Napoleon Movie For Joaquin Phoenix

“Joaquin is about as far from conventional as you can get.”

There are few working actors who have earned quite the same high pedigree as Joaquin Phoenix. The Oscar-winning thespian is among the most versatile and volatile performers of the modern age, and he has received no shortage of acclaim for his impactful, compelling, soulful, and immersive performances. But he has also earned a reputation for being an actor with a temperament, and someone who doesn’t always make the filmmaking process go smoothly. Indeed, you can’t deny the results, but sometimes, as collaborators have noted, you need to work with him intently and, sometimes, even combatively in order to receive such great, thunderous performances. Currently, we don’t know what’s in store for Phoenix’s much-anticipated portrayal of Napoleon Bonaparte in Ridley Scott‘s Napoleon, but the reuniting actor-director ultimately shared an unorthodox creative partnership, particularly with the filmmaker allowing the celebrated performer to help retool the script to accommodate the star’s take on the tyrannical emperor.

As Scott noted to Empire, the experience of reteaming with Phoenix on this upcoming Apple TV+ movie was “one of my most challenging but also one of my best experiences, with any actor.” More than two decades after their work together on Gladiator, for which Phoenix received his first Oscar nomination, the actor’s process has certainly become more invigorated and involved, and Scott went to incredible lengths in order to realize the film centered around Phoenix’s performance. Namely, Scott allowed the actor to speak up whenever he felt “uncomfortable” with his character, and he retooled the movie during filming to allow the actor to realize the performance he wanted to give at the forefront of this new movie.

Here’s how Scott described the tumultuous filmmaking process for Napoleon:

Joaquin is about as far from conventional as you can get. Not deliberately, but out of intuition. That’s what makes him tick. If something bothers him, he’ll let you know. He made [Napoleon] special by constantly questioning. With Joaquin, we can rewrite the goddamn film because he’s uncomfortable. And that kind of happened with Napoleon. We unpicked the film to help him focus on who Bonaparte was. I had to respect that, because what was being said was incredibly constructive. It made it all grow bigger and better.

Her 2013 Joaquin Phoenix


Joaquin Phoenix And Ridley Scott’s Napoleon Movie Lands At Apple, Sets 2022 Start DateThough some directors would ultimately find this demanding process to be frustrating and overwhelming, Scott looked at it favorably. He believes that, through liberating the script and performance, he and his lead actor could dig in deep and create a character that’s authentically realized, while also bringing out the best of Phoenix’s well-acclaimed talents. It should be noted that this isn’t the first time that Phoenix’s involvement has resulted in radical changes. Scott speaks quite fondly of the actor, as he noted here:

With Napoleon, I think we dug in and found the character, or as close to what he may have been. Joaquin is probably the most special, thoughtful actor I’ve ever worked with.

Of course, we still have quite a bit of time before we get a chance to see what’s in store for Scott’s latest film, but Phoenix’s performance alone should make it one of the year’s most anticipated new films. At a time when movie stars are often saddled with projects that don’t always favor their talents, it’s truly quite exhilarating to see what Phoenix can do as a performer and how seeped into the wool of his characters he can be. In playing a personality as notable and uncompromising as Bonaparte, it’s perhaps only fitting that Phoenix wouldn’t settle as an actor. By Scott’s admission, Phoenix took charge of this role, and the director shepherded the performance accordingly. The results, hopefully, should speak for themselves.

Napoleon, formerly known as Kitbag, will be released sometime in 2023. In the meantime, check out the 4K trailer for Gladiator below:

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