Watching from “Napoleon” (opening today) with astute, cat-eyed calculation, vanessa kirby turns the entire film into a power play, one that eclipses the more brutal expressions of power on the battlefield. Of course, the epic contains cavalry campaigns at Austerlitz and Waterloo, a burning Moscow, and an ill-fated Great Pyramid used for cannon target practice: it imprints both fact and legend.
But take us back to Joséphine’s living room, where the dom-on-dom dynamic results in a showdown that could have filled several seasons of reality TV, with Kirby’s purr often winning. She has the last word in the film, chasing Napoleon from beyond the grave, just as she reportedly colonized his dying breath on his deathbed.
Kirby’s Joséphine joins director Ridley Scott’s sorority of women, characters marked by strength and cunning, openly in “Thelma and Luisa” and “GI Jane” but just as palpable in Lorraine Bracco’s 1987 scene-stealing turns. “Someone to take care of me” Jodie Eat in “The last duel” and Lady Gaga in the deep dish of madness “House of Gucci.” Although his choice of scripts can sometimes be suspect, Scott may be the movies’ most consistent stealth feminist.
“Ripley was a big reference for me,” Kirby says over video call about Scott’s most iconic female creation, brought to life by Sigourney Weaver in the 1979 classic. “Alien.” Dressed in black and in good spirits, Kirby is willing to indulge my pet theory, to a point.
“The movie didn’t consistently indicate that she was a woman,” he says. “She was just human. She turned out to be a woman. And I think that, to me, is what makes radical women’s cinema. ought do. He would prefer it to be less sexist. “I want to play a human being that men can relate to because it’s a human experience that she’s going through and that feels like the next frontier of cinema that we need to explore more.”
Apart from his mischievous flashes in the “Mission Impossible” Wimbledon-born Kirby, 35, is best known for her two-season role as a decidedly human Princess Margaret in “The crown,” composed of flintiness and anguish in equal parts. For Kirby, it’s these “confusing, contradictory, antiheroine-type parts” (she mentions Gena Rowlands’ work with John Cassavetes) that inspire her. That’s also what attracted her to Joséphine.
“There must be something inherently unknowable about her, something he could not possess,” Kirby offers as a window into Napoleon’s obsession with the former courtesan (especially visible in Joaquin Phoenixhumorous, bordering on adolescent frustration). “He could go and conquer all these lands but he couldn’t hold her. He had to navigate an extremely difficult world to survive. And he could never possess her.”
Much of that enigmatic quality comes through in the wordless passages of “Napoleon,” which touch on Joséphine’s inner cunning and then, later, her loneliness. These windswept moments are unlike any other in Scott’s career and suggest an entirely different, Austen-esque narrative unfolding off-camera. Scott, by the nature of him, has provoked a director’s cut, one that is an hour and a half longer and with a lot of Kirby.
“A brilliant listener,” Scott, 85, from London, says of Kirby. “I love Vanessa because the relationship, although never aggressive, is always fun. She is full of ideas, which I love.”
He wouldn’t call it shyness but rather a type of creativity. “She I’m attracted to the type of woman who says what she thinks,” says Scott. For the record, he can accept being called a feminist (“absolutely”), which goes back to her mother, the “dominant force” in a domestic situation in which her father, a career military officer, always he was absent. “He was a sweetheart,” Scott says. “My mom was always the boss.”
Kirby, meanwhile, has his own reasons for those smiles.
“As a child she used to suck sugar cane and lost most of her teeth,” says the actor, recounting a vision of Joséphine, born in the Caribbean, that is not even mentioned in the film. “I mean, notoriously bad teeth, which meant she never smiled with her teeth, but she was very playful in every way. Then she smiled a lot. In fact, she was wearing a mouthguard with rotten teeth, but in the end, those scenes did not appear.”
His preparation to delve into the voluminous research on Joséphine (much of which “didn’t add up,” in Kirby’s view, was a clue to her mercurial nature) came late in pre-production after Comer left the role due to an agenda. conflict. (The 61 Days shoot needed to move sooner.) Kirby harnessed physicality to reach an inner place, an instinct that served him well during his celebrated early years on stage playing Isben, Chekhov, and even Stella Kowalski in “ A tram”. Called Desire.”
It also suited Scott’s filming style: long takes, few notes, multiple cameras and a mischievous sense of humor. Legendary for catching his actors off guard ever since he launched the famous “pepper breaker” scene before an unknown cast in “Alien,” Scott had a surprise in store for Kirby, aided by a playful Phoenix.
“We didn’t tell him in that breakfast scene that he was going to say, ‘I want to have a baby now,’ and crawl under the table,” Scott says. “She didn’t know that was going to happen. I told him, ‘No matter what happens, keep going.'”
“I think that’s why I laughed!” Kirby says, smiling at the memory. Another scene, one of the most fascinating in “Napoleon,” is a long couch turned seduction that, as he recalls, was captured in nine-minute shots.
“It’s crazy how much we had to film,” Kirby says. “We did everything in that scene. I mean, we yelled at each other, we kissed each other. There was so much in that scene that I couldn’t remember those nine minutes.”
Kirby is about to film “Eden,” a survival thriller set in the Galapagos Islands with Ana de Armas and Sidney Sweeney, directed by Ron Howard. Marvelites are crazy about rumors that she will play Sue Storm in a new “Fantastic Four.” (As if Kirby could ever play an invisible woman.) You feel that her greatness comes from her. It’s a twist that fans of hers may want to put off for a few more movies. Unless, of course, she can reunite with Scott, who knows how to use him lightly. “I ask him all the time,” Kirby admits.
For now, though, there’s the oasis he created with Phoenix, which sounds like the job he really wants to do. “We knew we had to create something that was unusual and unconventional because they weren’t unusual at all,” Kirby says, noting that both Napoleon and Joséphine were outsiders who rose and fell together in Parisian society.
“It was almost like a recognition of: I see you, I know you,” he says. “We wanted their first meeting to have that kind of strange knowledge between them that is almost incomparable: my essence understands yours in the most improbable way. And we will always be attracted to each other.”
She’s eloquent about how she does them, but there’s a mystery to Kirby’s best performances, an inside joke that only she understands. Let’s hope her Joséphine sticks around for a while.
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