Joaquin Phoenix is currently in production to portray the legendary general, emperor, and conqueror of most of Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte. His casting in the role of the still-controversial Corsican dictator was reported way back in 2020, when it was announced that the Joker star would be directed by Ridley Scott. Since then, Ridley Scott has made a movie about a medieval duel and Ben Affleck’s hair, a tumultuous Italian fashion dynasty, and an HBO show about a maternal murder droid. The reasons for the delay in the project are currently unknown, but films about the life of Napoleon have defeated even the greatest of filmmakers. So the fact that Phoenix has at least suited up in costume is a pretty good sign.
This would not be the first time that Joaquin Phoenix has played a historical figure. His first Academy Award nomination came in 2000, when he played Roman Emperor Commodus in Gladiator (also directed by Ridley Scott). Although Phoenix had been acting since childhood in movies like SpaceCamp and Russkies, his early career had been overshadowed by the burgeoning stardom of his older brother River Phoenix. The elder Phoenix had been earmarked as one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars in the early 1990s along with his friends Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves, before tragically dying of a drug overdose in 1993. Joaquin Phoenix retreated from acting for several years, but by the early 2000s, movies like Gladiator, Signs, and Walk The Line had made him a star. In 2019, he achieved unprecedented success with Joker, which made over a billion dollars at the box office and a slew of awards including the Venice International Film Festival’s Golden Lion.
It is likely that Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon film has been the victim of production delays due to Covid-19 (as have many films in the last several years) and the doubtlessly complex needs of a film portraying massive 19th-century battles and reconfiguring a thousand-year-old cathedral to look like a different thousand-year-old cathedral. During the delay, actor Jodie Comer (who worked with Scott in The Last Duel) who was to portray Napoleon’s first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais was replaced by Vanessa Kirby.
For his part, Ridley Scott shows no sign of slowing down his prolific filmmaking. Napoleon will be his second collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix, and he reportedly has a sequel to Gladiator in development (in which we hope Commodus shows up as a ghost haunting Russell Crowe). He also has yet another Alien prequel announced, as well as an adaption of Greg Rucka’s spy comic Queen & Country. Likely, Scott also has plans to chew out some interviewers in the near future and to continue to dunk on the MCU and DCEU. Joaquin Phoenix has been announced to star in Midsommar director Ari Aster’s upcoming film Disappointment Blvd, which promises unseen to be the most unsettling thing we watch all year. He is also set to star with his partner Rooney Mara in a film titled Polaris from director Lynne Ramsay. Napoleon has not yet had an announced release date.