How Joaquin Phoenix’s Demands Completely Changed His Movie

Director Ridley Scott revealed that Joaquin Phoenix was uncomfortable with the script for Napoleon and asked it to be rewritten.

By Chad Langen | Updated

Joaquin Phoenix

Being one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood definitely has its perks. For instance, Joaquin Phoenix had quite a bit of say when it came to the script for his latest film Napoleon, an upcoming historical epic that was helmed by Ridley Scott. According to Empire Magazine, the renowned director revealed that the screenplay for his latest feature underwent a series of rewrites to make the Joker star more comfortable.

Napoleon reunites Joaquin Phoenix with Scott after the pair collaborated on the Oscar-winning picture Gladiator. As the director tells it, the 48-year-old thespian is “far from conventional” and if there’s something he doesn’t agree with, he has no problem speaking his mind. Even though the actor’s criticisms were seemingly endless, Scott admitted that his frequent input made the forthcoming movie “special.”

In fact, Joaquin Phoenix was apparently so “uncomfortable” that the entire script for Napoleon was practically rewritten. According to Scott, the actor wanted to capture who Bonaparte truly was, and the director was more than willing to meet his demands. Fortunately, the filmmaker found the star’s concerns to be “incredibly constructive” and when all was said in done, it led to a “bigger and better” picture.

The screenplay for Napoleon was penned by David Scarpa, who also scribed the script for the Scott-helmed film All the Money in the World. The biographical drama is reported to be an examination of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix). It will center around his origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife, Joséphine.

As well as Joaquin Phoenix, Napoleon stars Vanessa Kirby, Ben Miles, Ian McNeice, Phil Cornwell, Gavin Spokes, and Paul Rhys. The Last Duel star Jodie Comer was originally tapped to star opposite Phoenix as Joséphine, but scheduling conflicts forced her to pass on the role. Kirby, who currently stars on The Crown, was eventually cast in the role of the empress.

Ridley Scott originally had a deal with 20th Century Studios to direct and produce Napoleon (previously titled Kitbag) with Joaquin Phoenix attached to star, but when the director’s deal with the company concluded at the end of 2020, the project became available for other major studios. At the beginning of 2021, Apple Studios announced its commitment to finance and produce the feature. Although the film is currently in post-production and without a release date, it’s expected to be released by Apple sometime next year.

joaquin phoenix feature

In addition to Napoleon, Ridley Scott is also developing a sequel to Gladiator, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director in 2001. Joaquin Phoenix was also nominated for an Academy Award for his turn as Commodus in the action drama. Considering his character was killed off at the end of the first film, it’s unlikely Phoenix will return for the follow-up unless it’s through flashbacks.

Of course, even without Gladiator 2, Joaquin Phoenix has plenty on his plate. He’s currently hard at work on Joker: Folie à Deux, which is the hotly anticipated sequel to the 2019 origin flick Joker. Todd Phillips will once again direct the picture, which also stars Brendan Gleeson, Lady Gaga, and Jacob Lofland.