Shocking Moments Unfold in New Historical Biopic Napoleon
When the highly-anticipated historical biopic Napoleon hits theaters on November 22nd, audiences can expect some surprising and unscripted moments. In a recent interview with Empire, stars Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, who portray Napoleon Bonaparte and Joséphine de Beauharnais respectively, revealed that they had made an agreement to shock each other during their scenes. This unique approach allowed for unexpected moments to arise, such as a tense exchange that resulted in Phoenix slapping Kirby.
In Napoleon, directed by Ridley Scott, Phoenix takes on the title role while Kirby plays Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. The film explores their tumultuous relationship, which saw them become the Emperor and Empress of France, as well as the King and Queen of Italy. Despite their historical legacy being rooted in the love letters Napoleon sent to Joséphine, their marriage eventually came to an end, leading Napoleon to marry Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria.
During the filming of a divorce scene for the movie, Phoenix unexpectedly slapped Kirby. “We were using the real words from their divorce in the church,” Kirby explained to Empire. “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.”
The Crown star emphasized the importance of having a creative partner with whom she could delve into the depths of their characters’ emotions. “It’s the greatest thing when you have a creative partner and you say, ‘Right, everything’s safe. I’m with you. And we’re gonna go to the dark places together,'” Kirby shared.
An Unconventional Approach
In a separate interview, Joaquin Phoenix revealed that he and Kirby shared a desire to avoid overly choreographed scenes and embrace surprises. “She said, ‘Look, whatever you feel, you can do,'” Phoenix recalled. “I said, ‘Same thing with you.’ She said, ‘You can slap me, you can grab me, you can pull me, you can kiss me, whatever it is.’ So we had this agreement that we were going to surprise each other and try and create moments that weren’t there, because both of us wanted to avoid the cliché of the period drama.”
The Oscar-winning actor further expressed their goal to challenge and shock each other in their portrayals of Napoleon and Joséphine. “We never really got to the bottom of it. I don’t know if you can call it love. I don’t know what it was. But we encouraged each other, demanded of each other, to challenge ourselves to shock each other in moments. And that’s what came out of that, that moment,” Phoenix explained.
Both Phoenix and Kirby immersed themselves in their characters’ histories and became deeply invested in their roles. Kirby revealed in a previous interview with Harper’s Bazaar UK that she extensively researched Joséphine’s life, even visiting her tomb and home. Phoenix, known for his unconventional approach, contributed to shaping the film by constantly questioning and challenging the script.
“Joaquin is about as far from conventional as you can get. Not deliberately, but out of intuition. That’s what makes him tick,” Ridley Scott, the film’s director, explained. “He made [Napoleon] special by constantly questioning. We unpicked the film to help him focus on who Bonaparte was.”
Despite their unorthodox methods, Phoenix and Kirby’s commitment to portraying their characters with depth and authenticity shines through in their performances. Audiences can look forward to experiencing the unexpected in this captivating historical biopic.
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