Why Joaquin Phoenix's 'Napoleon' Movie Underwent Major Changes

Ridley Scott is one of the best directors in the business, but making historical epics still doesn't come easy for him, especially when Joaquin Phoenix is the star. Scott reunited with Phoenix over two decades after making Gladiator together to make Napoleon, which underwent major changes. In a new interview with Empire Magazine, the Alien filmmaker said he rewrote the film to best showcase Phoenix's talents.

"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 told the magazine. "He made [Napoleon] special by constantly questioning."

On Napoleon, Scott rewrote the film when Phoenix was "uncomfortable" with some aspects of the script. "We unpicked the film to help him focus on who Bonaparte was," Scott said. "I had to respect that because what was being said was incredibly constructive. It made it all grow bigger and better."

Despite the changes, Scott showered the Joker actor with praise. "With Napoleon, I think we dug in and found the character, or as close to what he may have been," Scott told Empire. "Joaquin is probably the most special, thoughtful actor I've ever worked with."

Napoleon was written by David Scarpa, who worked with Scott on All the Money in the World. The film focuses on Napoleon Bonaparte's relationship with his first wife, Empress Josephine. Jodie Comer was originally slated to play Josephine after working with Scott on The Last Duel, but The Crown's Vanessa Kirby stepped in after Comer's scheduling conflicts prevented her from making the movie. Tahar Rahim, who starred in Mary Magdeline with Phoenix, plays Paul Barras, a politician during the French Revolution. Napoleon will be released by Apple Studios and Apple TV+ in 2023.

Phoenix finally won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Joker. He is now filming the sequel, Joker: Folie a Deux, which opens on Oct. 4, 2024. His next movie, Beau is Afraid, will also be released in 2023. Beau is Afraid was written and directed by Ari Aster and is billed as a horror film that spans decades, with Phoenix as the title character. Phoenix previously worked with Scott on Gladiator (2000), in which he played Roman Emperor Commodus. It sounds like Phoenix will only work with Scott if he can play an emperor.

"No actor could ever embody Napoleon like Joaquin," Scott told Deadline last year. "He created one of movie history's most complex Emperors in Gladiator, and we'll create another with his Napoleon. It's a brilliant script written by David Scarpa, and today there's no better partner than Apple to bring a story like this to a global audience."