Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Sofia Coppola

Sofia Heads 'Somewhere'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sofia Coppola, 39, is sometimes chided for having it too easy, and born into Hollywood royalty -- the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola -- but it remains evident that she's one of the most interesting and unique filmmakers working today.

Despite all the perceived glitz and glamour behind her life, she makes the most breathtakingly delicate movies imaginable, from her acclaimed Bill Murray comedy Lost in Translation (2003), to her misunderstood costume epic Marie Antoinette (2006).

Her new movie, Somewhere, which won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival and opens December 22.

It concerns a successful Hollywood actor, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), who has lost his way in a haze of sex, drugs, loneliness and boredom. He begins to find his way again when his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) suddenly turns up for an indefinite stay.

Ms. Coppola recently visited San Francisco to discuss her new movie. As with her previous films, she says she tried for a universal emotional experience, despite the fact that her hero is a movie star. "I put it in that setting because that world's familiar to me," she says. "But I tried to keep his job in the background and not make it about that. Everyone has to make decisions as to how they're going to live."

Just as she wrote Lost in Translation with Murray in mind, Coppola also wrote Somewhere for Dorff (Backbeat, Blade, Public Enemies), whom she knew but hadn't seen in some time. "I find it helpful to picture someone, and I just thought of Stephen when I started to write."

She says that Dorff's sweet personality was the opposite of the character she had in mind, which would make for an interesting characterization.

Audiences will no doubt experience Dorff like they've never seen him before. "He couldn't hide behind anything," Coppola says. "I like when the drama is going on from within the character, and the tension comes from what's not being said."

So how does Coppola conjure up that dreamy, quiet atmosphere? The actors reportedly rehearse and improvise their scenes, but she never blocks scenes or over-prepares. On set, she works with a small crew (no "assistant directors yelling"), and even tries to get rid of any big distractions, like trucks, unless they're needed. After that, "it's always mysterious how it comes together. It does, and then at the end, it gives you a feeling."

December 3, 2010

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Partial Sofia Coppola Filmography:
The Virgin Suicides (2000)
Lost in Translation (2003)
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Somewhere (2010)

This article also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner
Please also see my longer interview at Cinematical
Photo by Danielle Taormina-Keenan
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