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Ridley Scott Says Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Napoleon’ Performance Was So Good, They ‘Rewrote the Goddamn Movie’

After shooting the film, Scott called Phoenix "the most special, thoughtful actor I’ve ever worked with."

Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix

Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix

Getty Images

Ridley Scott has spent most of the 2020s directing period pieces ranging from the medieval “The Last Duel” to the 20th-century fashion drama “House of Gucci.” And the 85-year-old director shows no signs of slowing down, as he is currently gearing up to release “Napoleon,” a drama starring Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Scott and Phoenix previously worked together on “Gladiator,” and their collaborative relationship only appears to be improving. In a new interview with Empire, Scott explained how Phoenix’s performance ultimately reshaped the entire film.

“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,” Scott said. “He made [‘Napoleon’] special by constantly questioning.”

Scott went on to explain that Phoenix’s intuitive understanding of the character meant that many of his script notes were helpful and the entire film ended up being reshaped because of the actor’s interpretation of Napoleon.

“With Joaquin, we can rewrite the goddamn film because he’s uncomfortable. And that kind of happened with ‘Napoleon,’” he said. “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.”

The hard work ultimately paid off, and Scott says that he left the film thinking even more highly of Phoenix than he did when they began.

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

Countless filmmakers have tried to make movies about Napoleon Bonaparte’s life over the years. Stanley Kubrick famously wrote and planned to direct a hyper-realistic war epic about the French general, and Steven Spielberg tried to turn Kubrick’s script into a miniseries after the legendary director died. Phoenix has been attached to Scott’s film, originally titled “Kitbag,” since 2020.

The film has previously been described as “an original and personal look at Napoleon’s origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine. The intention of the film is to capture Napoleon’s famous battles, relentless ambition, and astounding strategic mind as an extraordinary military leader and war visionary.”

Apple is expected to release “Napoleon” in 2023.

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