Why Joaquin Phoenix Slapped His Co-Star Vanessa Kirby While Filming

While “Napoleon’s” first trailer debuts Ridley Scott’s brutish emperor on the battlefield, interspersed are scenes of the French leader’s first meeting with Joséphine, their illicit courtship, and ultimately, the influence she had over him. That’s only a snapshot, though, of a much larger portrait of the couple that works in the elements of surprise that Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby intended to bring to the film. “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,” Phoenix told Empire. “And by that, I mean moments that are well-orchestrated and designed.”

As such, the absence of prefabricated scenes — plus no definitive answers about the driving force behind Napoleon and Joséphine’s volatile relationship — allowed for the actors to freely create such fierce actions as the slap, Phoenix told the publication. “We never really got to the bottom of it,” Phoenix explained. “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.”

“Napoleon” is scheduled to open in theaters on November 22, 2023.


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