Oscar-winning actor and vegan activist Joaquin Phoenix requested to have a vegan hat made for the filming of Napoleon, as he wasn’t willing to wear a hat made from sheep’s wool created especially for the film.
The historical epic movie, based on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, has grossed USD $36.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $47.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $83.7 million.
Phoenix stars as the titular Napoleon Bonaparte, and the biopic charts his rise to power as French emperor and military commander, as well as his tempestuous relationship with Empress Joséphine, portrayed by Vanessa Kirby (The Crown, Mission: Impossible — Fallout). Directed by Ridley Scott, the film is currently in cinemas before it moves to Apple TV+.
Phoenix consulted with costume designer David Crossman on the issue of the bicorn hat, one of the most iconic parts of Napoleon’s famed regal dress. A specialist in military clothing, Crossman said he had a “mini panic” about the hats in an interview with the New York Times, which were made from wool. One of Napoleon Bonaparte’s original felt wool recently sold in a French auction for $2.1 million. “I just felt it’s going to be a problem of what to make the iconic hat out of because it’s going to be all about the hat,” Crossman said, knowing Phoenix doesn’t wear any animal products as part of his vegan lifestyle.
Finding a vegan solution
He managed to source a solution, however: they constructed the large and opulent hats from a fabric that uses tree bark originating in Uganda, meaning the hats were completely animal and cruelty-free.
“I thought, ‘oh good, we’re out of trouble,’” Crossman said. “I was just so worried it was going to be some polyester synthetic thing. But it gave us a lot of lovely surface texture on the hat.”
Click here to read why vegan’s don’t wear wool and the cruelty involved in the industry.
Joaquin Phoenix’s vegan advocacy
Phoenix went vegan at the age of three — he and his family witnessed fish being thrown against the side of a boat and stunned, which prompted the entire Phoenix family to become vegan. As his fame and acting career has grown following performances in Gladiator and Walk The Line, he has increasingly used his platform for animal rights activism.
He is the narrator in the animal rights documentaries Earthlings and Dominion and he used his Best Actor speech at the Oscars (for his lead performance in Joker) to speak about the abuse of cows in the dairy industry, and its impact on the environment. The day after his Oscar win, he rescued a cow and her calf from a farm in California in partnership with Farm Sanctuary. His partner, actor Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Carol) is also vegan, and the pair have been spotted at protests outside slaughterhouses in the US as animals arrive in trucks, among other animal rights activism around the country.
Horse riding controversy
Despite Phoenix’s work with the filmmakers to ensure he would not wear any wool, leather, or other animal products in Napoleon, his role in the film still caused some controversy and backlash among the animal rights community, as he was required to ride horses during filming.
Besides the fact vegans avoid horse riding for ethical reasons, this has caused further surprise as Phoenix spoke of his regret about riding horses for the 2018 film The Sister Brothers. He said at the time:
“I didn’t like riding horses. I regretted having to ride. I’m a little clueless because I don’t think that I thought about it that much until I was there and realized, ‘Oh, it’s a Western, and we’re on horses a lot.’ I hadn’t considered that. I felt bad about riding them. I had the feeling that they were like, ‘I don’t really want you on my back.’”
Animal rights group PETA holds the position that horses are “historically among the animals most commonly injured and killed when exploited for entertainment.” A recent high-profile case saw a horse die from cardiac arrest while pulling a carriage for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Phoenix has not publicly commented on the horse riding in Napoleon.