At this point, it doesn’t matter how Napoleon does. Critics might love it or critics might hate it. It might crater at the box office, or it might single-handedly resuscitate the theatrical viewing experience. It really doesn’t matter a jot. Because what does matter is that Napoleon is a Ridley Scott film, and this means that Ridley Scott has to talk in public again, and this by far the most important thing. Because Ridley Scott talking about anything in public is wonderful.
Even better, it seems as though Ridley Scott has got wind that, while most people seem to love Napoleon, some people don’t. As such, he has become a little defensive. This is the best possible news for all of us.
The headline from Ridley Scott’s Napoleon charm offensive came during an interview with the BBC this weekend. Scott was informed of some less than stellar French reviews of his film – French GQ called it ‘deeply clumsy’ and ‘unintentionally funny’ – to which Scott replied with the following solid gold banger: “The French don’t even like themselves.”
But don’t think that insulting an entire country is enough for Scott. Speaking to the Sunday Times’s Jonathan Dean last weekend, he also reserved some ire for historians, some of whom have suggested that Napoleon might not be the most rigorously accurate film ever made. Scott responded by addressing the entire historian community. “Excuse me, mate, were you there?” he raged. “No? Well, shut the fuck up then.”
Then there’s Sunday’s interview with the Evening Standard, which strayed far enough from the brief to include his thoughts on whether or not Earth has been listed by aliens (“How did the Egyptians build the pyramids? Rolling 20-tonne stones on logs? Fuck off!”). Thematically, this is of a piece with his recent interview with Deadline where he started to warn about the dangers of AI, only to end up boasting about his readiness for the apocalypse (“We are all completely fucked. We’re back to candles and matches. Do you have candles and matches at home? I live in France, so I do.”)
Even the long and ponderous New Yorker profile of Scott from earlier this month came to life when he was given free rein to just riff about whatever happened to be ambiently passing through his mind, which at that point in time was baboons. “Can you hang from that roof for two hours by your left leg?” he asked his interviewer. “No! A baboon can.”
What I hope is clear from this is that Ridley Scott is the world’s greatest interviewee. A blistering mix of northern club comic, taxi driver and literal vehicular juggernaut, you never so much interview Scott as cling on for dear life while he just says whatever he wants. I spoke to him during the pandemic, about a TV show whose pilot he had directed. Ostensibly a three-way phoner with the show’s creator, it very quickly became The Ridley Scott Show. He was variously exasperated with his adult children, incredibly angry at the prospect that anyone might be sceptical about the existence of aliens (“The idea that we are it in this galaxy is fucking nonsense”) and describing a work ethic that would kill a man half his age. At one point he called me “dude”. I’ve never been so happy at work in my entire life.
And the good news is that there will be more interviews with Ridley Scott. Once Napoleon is out in the world, he’ll continue filming Gladiator 2. Then, five months from now, he’ll start shooting a western. He’s also slated to make an action film about an assassin on the lam, plus a handful of TV pilots. Every one of these projects will require publicity, providing Ridley Scott ample opportunities to bark bluntly about whatever he likes to dozens of outlets. Every interview will be insane, and obviously wonderful.
Martin Scorsese is 81, and all his most recent print profiles have been haunted by the spectre of death. Ridley Scott, meanwhile, is five years older than Scorsese, and all his profiles are full of either great walloping insults about French people or weird facts about baboons. The difference in attitude speaks volumes about Scott’s reputation as a workhorse. Indeed, when questioned about Scorsese’s existential angst by the Times, true to form, he barked “Well, since he started Killers of the Flower Moon I’ve made four films.” Scott isn’t remotely nostalgic, cares little for legacy. What matters to Ridley Scott is the next thing on his list, and the thing after that. Sometimes that might be a historical blockbuster, other times it might be another hilariously bullish chat with an interviewer who can’t believe their luck. Fortunately for all of us, death seems to be right at the bottom of his list. And long may it continue. God, I love him.
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