Joaquin Phoenix Freaked Out Before Napoleon Shoot, Says Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott told Empire magazine that Joaquin Phoenix felt clueless two weeks before cameras were set to roll on their historical epic “Napoleon.” The film marks a long-in-the-works reunion between the director and the Oscar-winning actor, who worked together over two decades ago on “Gladiator.” Phoenix is headlining the film as the French emperor opposite Venessa Kirby as his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais.

“He’ll come in, and you’re fucking two weeks’ out, and he’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Scott said about Phoenix. “I’ll say, ‘What?!’ ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Oh God. I said, ‘Come in, sit down.’ We sat for 10 days, all day, talking scene by scene. In a sense, we rehearsed. Absolutely detail by detail.”

Scott went on to call Phoenix “the best player of damaged goods,” which is why he was so perfect to cast as Napoleon. The actor said it wasn’t too tough of a decision to sign up for another film directed by Scott.

“The truth is, there was just a very nostalgic idea of working with Ridley again,” Phoenix said. “I had such an incredible experience working with Ridley on ‘Gladiator,’ and I was so young. It was my first big production. I really yearned for that experience again, or something similar. He’s approached me about other things in the past, but nothing that felt like it would be as demanding for both of us. And so I really liked the idea of jumping into something with Ridley that was going to be that.”

Scott previously revealed to Empire that casting Phoenix as Napoleon resulted in the script being entirely rewritten to make the actor more comfortable. The “Napoleon” script was penned by David Scarpa, who also wrote the screenplay for the Scott-directed “All the Money in the World.”

“Joaquin is about as far from conventional as you can get,” Scott said. “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,’” the director continued. “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.”

Apple and Sony are releasing “Napoleon” in theaters on Nov. 22.

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