Nearly two decades after the duo worked on the historical drama Gladiator, director Ridley Scott experienced an intense turbulent partnership with unconventional star Joaquin Phoenix as they prepared for the filming of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Napoleon.
Ridley revealed more about his experience working with Phoenix in a joint interview for Empire magazine, noting that the entire script for Napoleon was rewritten until it fit the vision they had in mind for the film.
“He’ll come in, and you’re f—king two weeks’ out, and he’ll say, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Scott recalled, alluding to 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.”
While their partnership may have been a tumultuous one, The American Gangster director has nothing but praise for Phoenix’s talented performances, elaborating on how the duo took the actor’s performance as Commodus in Gladiator, fixated on one of his character’s traits and expanded on it to bring the French emperor to life.
“My heart went out to him,” Ridley recalled, making allusion to the scene in which Commodus and his father Marcus Aurelius talk about their failures, adding, “He is the best player of damaged goods.”
In a previous interview with Empire, Ridley Scott revealed that watching Joaquin Phoenix’s Academy Award-winning performance as Arthur Fleck in DC Phillips’ Joker led the star to be cast as Napoleon in the eponymously named epic historical drama.
“I’m staring at Joaquin and saying, ‘This little demon is Napoleon Bonaparte.’ He looks like him,” the director said as he recalled watching Phoenix’s performance as the iconic villain from DC Comics.
Ridley added, “I compare him with Alexander the Great. Adolf Hitler. Stalin. Listen, he’s got a lot of bad s—t under his belt. At the same time, he was remarkable with his courage, and in his can-do and in his dominance. He was extraordinary.”
The Gladiator actor’s penchant for accuracy, as well as his inquisitive nature, did rattle some cages — causing David Scarpa’s script for Napoleon to be rewritten almost entirely to better suit Phoenix’s vision of the French emperor.
“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,” Ridley told Empire in December of last year.
The director added, “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,” Ridley acknowledged.
Phoenix himself weighed in on both Napoleon and the character he’s playing in the film, noting that the film will give audiences Ridley Scott’s interpretation of the French emperor.
“If you want to really understand Napoleon, then you should probably do your own studying and reading,” the actor encouraged. “Because if you see this film, it’s this experience told through Ridley’s eyes. It’s just such a complex world. I mean, it’s so f—king complex. What we were after was something that would capture the feeling of this man.”
Napoleon is scheduled to hit theaters on September 28th.