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'Napoleon' Star Edouard Philipponnat Recounts Improv with Joaquin Phoenix & Stepping on Vanessa Kirby's Toes (Literally)

'Napoleon' Star Edouard Philipponnat Recounts Improv with Joaquin Phoenix & Stepping on Vanessa Kirby's Toes (Literally)

At 24, Edouard Philipponnat has already worked with powerhouse director Ridley Scott twice and his latest project Napoleon has him going toe to toe with the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby.

The rising French-Finnish actor chatted with about the experience shooting his new film, a spectacle-filled action epic that details the checkered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Edouard tells us that co-star Joaquin is “intimidating in his nature because he is that good” but is “so generous and kind as a performer. He helps you bring everything out of the scene.”

As for Vanessa, Edouard says that there was “a lot of laughter and toe stepping was involved. She was a class act. I think she pretended like it was hard for her too to make me feel better.”

Click inside to read Edouard Philipponnat’s full interview with Just Jared …


Tell us about your character in Napoleon. I play Tsar Alexander 1st who was the emperor of Russia at the time. He was a young and ambitious ruler. His father, the ruler before him, was a very hated man in his country, which influenced this obsession Alexander had about being loved by everyone. He was forced to take on an immense amount of responsibility very quickly and didn’t always trust the people around him. He was brought up with quite a European mindset, which was rare at the time.

How did this project come to you? I was in Budapest filming another movie called Lost in Wonderland when the audition came in. It was for another character at the time. I think I ended up being too young for that role so after about two weeks or so of silence on their end, they came back with the idea of me playing the Tsar. So we did about another 3 weeks of auditions for that character. It was towards the end of filming in Budapest when I received an email saying that I had gotten the part, but the role had been expanded, and so the studio wanted to verify that I was right for it. This took about another 2 weeks but thankfully I ended up getting a green light from the studio and the team.

Was it challenging to tackle a biopic as opposed to completely fictional scripts? I wouldn’t call it challenging but more intimidating for sure. On one hand you have a lot of research materials and tools available at your fingertips, but on the other, this character belongs to a very well known period in world history. There is a certain level of responsibility in that. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

What was your favorite scene to shoot? There was a scene we did that was cut from the film where my character sits with his parliament, and is persuaded to turn against Napoleon. It’s an interesting turning point for the character because we see him torn between his own interests, and the interests of his country. The whole scene was shot in Russian which I think adds a nice cultural element in the film.

Was it intimidating working with Joaquin Phoenix? What’s something most people wouldn’t know about him? Absolutely. He’s intimidating in his nature because he is that good. He really makes you step your game up. I remember the director taking me to the side before we started that day and telling me not to let him outshine me, otherwise they’ll have to cut to him. It’s one of those moments where you definitely feel your heart beating in your chest. But Joaquin is so generous and kind as a performer. He helps you bring everything out of the scene. He took me to the side and shared his ideas on some improv he had thought of, and then let me run with it and make some of it my own. He doesn’t have to do that but it just goes to show how keyed in he is on making the scene the best it can be.

Do you have a specific memory that sticks out with any of the cast off-set or between takes? I do remember spending a few hours with Vanessa [Kirby] rehearsing this complicated dance that we had to do. Can’t remember the name of it. It has about 9 parts to it, each part includes a new element. It also doesn’t help that you’re fitted inside layers and layers of clothing which limit your range of motion quite a bit. A lot of laughter and toe stepping was involved. She was a class act. I think she pretended like it was hard for her too to make me feel better.

You worked with Ridley Scott on “House of Gucci” and now this. Were there any differences in how he directed both films? How would you describe his directing techniques compared to others in his field? What stands out on a Ridley Scott film are the amount of cameras. I think he used about six or seven during my scenes. It’s definitely one of those things where you know you’ll never see it again. But with that being said, I think a lot of people who have worked with him will know that he only gives you about three takes. His sets have an extremely quick turnaround. You’re expected to show up prepared. I like that, it feels quite raw and real and he captures just that so excellently well.

Do you have any other projects in the works you’re excited about? Yeah there are some things that look like they may be lining up which I’m extremely excited about. I have another movie coming out sometime next year, Lost in Wonderland which is a live reimagining of Alice in Wonderland.

You speak Finnish, Swedish, French and English. Which language do you dream in? What if you stub your toe or hit your funny bone? Stubbing a toe, definitely Swedish! Not sure about dreaming but I have this thing where I tend to forget the order of the alphabet and the months. So my go to are these songs that we learned in kindergarten that guides you through them. I’ll catch myself mumbling the song to myself whenever I’m put on the spot.

Do you have your favorite holiday films you watch this time of year? Not really. I had actually never seen Elf until last year. Harry Potter seems to be a go to with some friends of mine. Maybe Disney movies.

What are your Christmas and New Years plans? Just spending time back home seeing family. I live quite far away from them so I try to cherish that time as much as I can.

Do you have any guilty pleasure films that were panned critically that you watch over and over again anyway? When I was young, there’s this (2008) movie called “City of Ember” that I used to watch all the time (starring starring Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan and Tim Robbins). I re-watched it about a month ago and thought it must have been a box office hit. I don’t think it matters though, the whole point of movies is to entertain you and bring about a smile. If it does that, then it’s a hit in my books.


Napoleon is in theaters now. Check out the gallery for stills of Edouard from Napoleon and a red carpet video interview from the London premiere below!

Edouard Philipponnat Red Carpet Interview on at London premiere of Napoleon
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Photos: Claudia Albuquerque, Apple Original Films
Posted to: Edouard Philipponnat, Napoleon