After Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon Portrayal Was Called ‘Truly Terrible,’ The Historical Advisor On Ridley Scott's Film Is Speaking Out

 Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon.
Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon.
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Joaquin Phoenix is generally well regarded as one of our finest actors. His starring roles in fare like Her and Walk The Line blew critics away, and his performance in Joker won the movie star an Oscar. However, his most recent performance in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon didn’t resonate with everyone. In general, Napoleon received mixed critical reviews and, recently, Succession’s Brian Cox chastised Phoenix's work, calling the portrayal “truly terrible.” Now, the historical advisor who worked on the movie is responding to the criticism, discussing the team's intent behind how they approached the historical figure.

Lorris Chevalier was the historian that advised Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in the 2023 epic and was quick to defend the lead actor. He told TMZ that while the actors all kept historical records in their mind as they played their characters, they all sought to approach the subject with a unique tone and style. Chevalier said that Phoenix, in particular, did the best he could with the material given. He also said that the Master actor had a lot of ideas that were shot down during production. Nevertheless, he apparently threw himself into the role, doing intense Napoleonic research that included character research and even visiting certain historical sites.

Based on this account from the historian, it sounds like the leading man did what he could in his role as an actor to be true to the historical figure at the center of the story. And did so while also balancing Ridley Scott’s unique creative vision. Joker is what convinced Scott to cast the Oscar winner. Keeping that in mind, you may get the idea that Scott wanted to bring a more eccentric energy to the famous French leader.

On the whole, Joaquin Phoenix was clearly not the sole creative voice for Napoleon, and his performance wasn’t just a reflection on his acting decisions but also the director’s tonal goals for the film. Admittedly, it's easy for an actor to say what they would do differently when they aren’t the actual one on set.

Brian Cox has been pretty critical of other actors in the past, as the Succession cast member has rarely held his tongue. For instance, Cox threw shade at Johnny Depp when giving his thoughts on the iconic Jack Sparrow performance in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He also scathingly critiqued Quentin Tarantino's movies, calling them “style without substance.” These are very pointed takes though, ultimately, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Also, it seems like the Signs alum is now in good company of creatives who've been on the receiving end of Cox's feedback.

Brian Cox on Succession
Brian Cox on Succession

Maybe the way the actor approached Napoleon was not the way Brian Cox would’ve handled the character, but Ridley Scott was clearly drawn to the way he could portray the Frenchman. The Beau is Afraid actor has a very specific quirkiness that fits within Scott’s intended vision for the project.

Over the years, the politician has been played by a number of actors like Ian Holm and James Mason, who all brought their own take on the character, and Joaquin Phoenix did the same. Whether the vision was successful is up for debate but at least he brought something different to the role. And, as historical adviser Lorris Chevalier indicated, that star put in the work behind the scenes.

You can find out for yourself if you agree with Brian Cox or not by seeing Joaquin Phoenix in Napoleon, which is streaming now for Apple TV+ subscribers. You can also see the actor alongside Lady Gaga in Joker: Folie à Deux, which is set to hit theaters on October 4th. The film is one of the most anticipated titles on the 2024 movie schedule, and will likely include yet another much-discussed performance by Phoenix.