Joaquin Phoenix Slapped Vanessa Kirby While Filming Napoleon

By Chad Langen | Updated

Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon

Joaquin Phoenix, the Oscar-winning actor, is recognized for his brilliance and talent, along with his intensive research to fully embody his roles. However, Phoenix’s intense method acting sometimes exceeds conventional boundaries. A case in point, during an interview with Empire Online, he confessed to slapping co-star Vanessa Kirby during the filming of their forthcoming movie, Napoleon.

Joaquin Phoenix went so far into method acting for Napoleon that he slapped Vanessa Kirby, twice, filming an intense argument between their married characters.

Fortunately, Vanessa Kirby consented to Joaquin Phoenix’s actions, as both had agreed to surprise each other during the shooting of Ridley Scott’s biopic to avoid a mundane or over-rehearsed vibe. They aimed to maintain the intensity and spontaneity of their scenes, prompting an agreement to permit improvisation in their physical interactions.

This pact was established ahead of an intense scene, granting each other freedom to act unexpectedly.

“We were using the real words from their divorce in the church,” said Vanessa Kirby. “When that happens, you can faithfully go through an archival re-enactment of it and read out the lines and then go home. But we always wanted to surprise each other.”

joaquin phoenix napoleon
Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon

Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby went on to express deep admiration for each other, serving as trusted creative partners. Despite exploring dark themes together, they maintained a sense of safety and trust. They consistently urged each other not just to support, but to challenge themselves, aiming to create moments of shock and surprise.

“We were using the real words from their divorce in the church. When that happens, you can faithfully go through an archival re-enactment of it and read out the lines and then go home. But we always wanted to surprise each other.”

Vanessa Kirby on working ith Joaquin Phoenix to make Napoleon

Napoleon, directed by Ridley Scott, presents an intimate portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power, focusing on his intense and tumultuous relationship with his beloved wife, Josephine.

The film features a star-studded cast, including Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role, Vanessa Kirby as his wife, and actors such as Ben Miles, Ludivine Sagnier, Ian McNeice, Tahar Rahim, Catherine Walker, Paul Rhys, and Matthew Needham. The screenplay was penned by David Scarpa.

Originally announced as Kitbag in October 2020, on the same day Ridley Scott completed filming The Last Duel, Napoleon received its funding from Apple Studios. The filming process commenced in the United Kingdom in 2022. This movie marks the first collaboration between Scott and Joaquin Phoenix since their renowned 2000 historical drama Gladiator, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby have had nothing but praise for each other, supporting each other even while filming dark scenes, and providing a safe creative space to bring Ridley Scott’s vision to life.

Speaking of Gladiator, Ridley Scott is currently immersed in the development of its long-awaited sequel. Filming for Gladiator 2 started in June, subsequent to Scott’s wrap-up on Napoleon. Despite initial expectations for a November 22, 2024, release, the filming process has been put on pause due to the ongoing actors’ strike.

Vanessa Kirby and Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon

After the death of Maximus (Russell Crowe) and Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) in Gladiator, the sequel looks set to focus on Lucius Versus, the son of Maximus. The film stars Pedro Pascal, Denzel Washington, Connie Nielson, Paul Mescal, Djimon Hounsou, Josep Quinn, Derek Jacobi, and Lior Raz. David Scarpa, a regular collaborator of Ridley Scott, wrote the script.

Though Joaquin Phoenix won’t be seen in Gladiator 2, he stars in Napoleon, hitting theaters on November 22, 2023. For its global release, Apple Studios has joined forces with Sony Pictures under Columbia Pictures to distribute the film. The movie will be made available on Apple TV+ at an unspecified date.

Further out, Joaquin Phoenix will also reprise his role as Arthur Flek in the hotly anticipated sequel, Joker: Folie à Deux. While the specifics of the storyline are being kept under wraps, the film is slated for a theatrical release on October 4, 2024. Along with Phoenix, the movie stars Lady Gaga, Zazie Beetz, Brendan Gleeson, Catherine Keener, and Jacob Lofland.