Holding the world premiere of Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” in Paris was a no-brainer for Sony’s motion picture group chairman and CEO Tom Rothman, due to the film’s French DNA and its subject, the famous French emperor (played by Joaquin Phoenix).
“Where else could you begin the worldwide rollout of ‘Napoleon’ than France?,” said Rothman on the red carpet of the event at the Salle Pleyel concert hall, where Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby and Tahar Rahim were able to attend thanks to the end of the 118-day SAG-AFTRA strike.
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But the French theatrical bow comes with a downside for Apple, which financed the pricey movie and will now have to wait 17 months to launch the movie on its service due to France’s strict windowing rules.
“It’s a great credit to Apple who made the film because this particular movie (…) is a big screen experience,” said Rothman. “It’s epic and it’s large and it’s robust and it wants to play on a big screen.”
Apple also opted to give Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” a theatrical release in France, where it was released by Paramount last month after a premiere at Cannes and will land on the streamer in France in 2025.
Scott, who skipped the carpet entirely, gave a brief speech on stage, joking that “Napoleon” was the “10th movie (he’s made) with Tom (Rothman). Remarkably, we’re still good friends!”
The filmmaker also thanked Apple for its financial support. “We weren’t inexpensive and I thank them for that. They put a lot of trust in me to work with that kind of budget.”
Producer Kevin J. Walsh, who was at the Paris premiere, said the budget came to “under $200 million.” Walsh said the movie is expensive because it didn’t rely heavily on CGI and AI. “You see a lot of these movies that are so CGI-packed and they feel like when you’re in a war scene or a battle scene or an action sequence, it’s almost dizzying,” said Walsh. “It’s extraordinary to see the scope of some of the actual in-camera images we shot, and have all those horses and soldiers and cannons going off and mortars of mud getting shot up.”
Having made 12 movies with Scott, Walsh described him as a “general.” “Every Monday morning of prep, he takes a script and we have every head of department around the table, and we flip through it page by page.” He said “if you do your job and you’re prepared, you’re going to win, but if you don’t do your job and you’re not prepared. He’s like ‘Next person!'”
Unlike Phoenix who nearly ran down the red carpet to avoid journalists, Kirby seemed happy to promote the movie and speak about her onscreen character Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s influential wife. Looking statuesque in a strapless black gown, Kirby said she felt a “lot of empathy for her character. It was difficult in many ways to be the feminine in that extremely masculine world and she did such an amazing job of remaining dignified until the end.”
Asked about rumors of her being offered the role of the invisible woman in Marvel’s ‘Fantastic Four’ movie, she smiled ear to ear and said, “I’d be extremely honored to join” the cast.
Rahim, who has rarely done period movies, said he embraced the experience of working with Scott, “a director who knows exactly what he wants in terms of directing, but also in terms of editing.”
“He’s got a lot of cameras shooting at the same time, so he knows exactly what he’s going to edit, and it’s quite impressive to see this man by orchestrating such a large one big set with hundreds of extras, animals, boats… and sometimes 14 cameras at the same time,” said Rahim. The French actor recently wrapped the shoot of “Aznavour,” a biopic of the French-Armenian crooner Charles Aznavour, another memorable experience. “It gave me an immense pleasure to work with this team and play this emblematic character which seemed an insurmountable challenge at first,” said Rahim.
The Paris premiere of “Napoleon” was also attended by French AMPAS voters who gathered for a cocktail before the screening. The movie is being buzzed about for the awards season and Scott is certainly hoping to be back in the Oscar race with “Napoleon.”
“Ridley Scott is 85 years old, has more energy than you or I, and has made some of the great movies of our lifetime and, believe it or not, has never won an Academy Award. So I hope he does this time,” said Rothman.
Scott was Oscar-nominated three times for best director (“The Martian,” “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator”), plus once for best picture as a producer on “The Martian.”
“Napoleon” will bow in theaters around the world on Nov. 22.
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