Today: April 16, 2024

Sofia Coppola Interview

Somewhere is the latest film (out now) by Academy Award-winning writer/director…

Somewhere (out now on DVD and Blu-ray) by Academy Award-winning writer/director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette) is a witty, moving, and empathetic look into the orbit of actor Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff).

Q: Can you address the frequency of hotels in your work?

[Laughs] Oh, yes – Versailles was like a hotel, too, in Marie Antoinette!

It dates back to [the segment of New York Stories that you co-wrote] “Life without Zoe”

Yeah. When I was writing , I thought, “Oh, here I am in a hotel again.” When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time in them, off-and-on, going on location with my dad [Francis Ford Coppola] when he was filming in different places. As a kid, I always thought it was interesting to see the people staying in hotels, and fun to be in hotels. They become their own world inside.

Overall, how does place relate to and/or influence the character you’re writing? In , it would seem that the Chateau becomes identified with Johnny’s feeling trapped and unable to mature.

When I’m starting writing, I usually start with the character and then the location is next, closely following the main character; which city? Which hotel? [laughs] That shapes it. A couple of years ago, I was working on a different script, a vampire story. There was this Hollywood movie star character who popped into that story. He kept coming into my thoughts and demanding my attention, and I figured that he really needed his own movie.

So, on , I started with this character of Johnny Marco. I thought, “He lives in the Chateau Marmont,” because it seems like every young actor I’ve talked to has a story about living at the Chateau. They’ve all done a stint there; “Oh yeah, I lived there a year,” or “I lived at the Chateau for a couple of months.” It’s kind of a rite of passage; it’s so linked with making it in Hollywood while showing that you’re still down-to-earth.

That mindset probably took root back in the 1960s and 1970s, in the [Chateau-neighboring] Sunset Strip heyday…

It’s always had a decadent appeal. I went there as a kid, before its latest incarnation. I remember in the 1990s, there were stories of actors or rock stars trashing their rooms. These stories became fragments of scenes when I started writing this script, connecting them to the Johnny Marco character.

Speaking of the exact locale, you’ve gone all over the globe to make movies but you’ve never done an “L.A. story” until this one. Your initial description of this movie was as “an intimate story set in contemporary Los Angeles.” Did you just feel it was time to explore that city?

When I was [living] there [in California], I wrote about faraway, distant places. I was living in Paris after our daughter was born, and maybe that distance or some homesickness for America made me want to look at California. But I’ve always loved those iconic movies about L.A., like Shampoo and American Gigolo, and I couldn’t think of one recently that had captured the mood and the feeling of L.A. today. In starting with the character, I thought of American pop culture today, its fascination with fame and what that brings with it.

The films you just referenced notably have male protagonists who pretty much have it all, are swaggering, and are brought low by varying degrees during the course of the stories.

Right, but I wasn’t thinking directly of those characters – more of the [movies’] mood. I was thinking of successful movie stars who had died or made suicide attempts. I was curious; if you’re in a nonstop partying lifestyle with girls and drugs and all, what is that like in the morning? Do you take a moment to reflect when you’re alone with yourself?

In going back to L.A. to make this movie on location, how did you feel the city has changed in the 21st century?

Well, I lived in L.A. in the early 1990s, and it was…I don’t want to say “more innocent,” but it was before US Weekly [relaunched], tabloids [flourished], and so many celebrity party people. It had a different feeling; the Chateau Marmont wasn’t getting paparazzi, and there weren’t reality shows. It seems that there’s an abundance [of those shows] now, and it seems like people were checking into the Chateau just to be photographed. The Chateau Marmont used to be more of a private world, but now it’s become the center of that part of pop culture.

It became more of an open secret; “It’s private here –“

“But I want to be photographed.”

In terms of logistics, after your previous film Marie Antoinette, this was going to be much simpler to make. But is it in fact hard to make a movie in L.A. today?

I didn’t find it to be [so]; we were working under the radar and didn’t have superstars, so we could move around and do our thing. After Marie Antoinette, which had so many costumes and extras, it was liberating to have a smaller crew and so something closer to my experience with Lost in Translation. This was the most low-stress, pleasant shoot I’ve ever had.

For me, this was a good experiment; centering a movie around just two characters, focusing on their intimate story and also spending a lot of time with one [of them] alone. I didn’t want [anyone watching the movie] to be aware of the filmmaking, so you can just be there with the character.

So the aesthetic was informing the story as you were writing it?

Definitely – what it was like when he’s alone with himself at the Chateau; that moment of having to look at yourself, which is always scary for anyone. There are so many distractions in modern life, especially in the culture around show business in L.A. You can distract yourself forever; when do you put those [distractions] aside and really look at yourself? The intention was to take the time to be alone in the room with Johnny; the script was very minimal.

Yet the movie seems classically shot, not on-the-fly – and it was on 35-millimeter film, rather than in hi-definition [HD] digital.

I’ve always shot on film. My dad is really into HD, and he thinks it’s sweet that my brother Roman and I are so sentimental and love film. It has a beautiful quality that is unique, and I hope that we can shoot on it for a little while longer.

The set of lenses we used to shoot were the actual ones that my dad shot Rumble Fish [(1983)] on. Roman said that we had them, Harris wanted to try them, and Rumble Fish is a favorite of mine. So I thought, let’s use them. The lenses were in storage, and we had them all cleaned up and restored. These are Zeiss lenses, which have a softer quality; we’re so used to super-sharp with hi-def, but with this I wanted to have a romantic feeling [in the cinematography].

There’s no romance in the movie per se, but rather the great love of a father and daughter. How close to you is the character of Cleo?

The character of Cleo was inspired by a friend’s kid that age whose parents are in show business, but also by my memories of having a powerful father that people are attracted to being around and having a dad who did things that were kind of out of the ordinary. It’s not all me, but there’s things from my childhood.

In everything I do [as a writer/director], there’s a personal connection. Your life experiences are going to inform what you write about. After Lost in Translation, this is my only other original screenplay [to have been filmed]. I feel that those movies are more personal than ones based on a book or something else, because you fill them with your own experiences and thoughts. I admire personal filmmaking, movies that come from a point of view unique to that person making it. So I try to do that. I try to make personal films.

With your films’ lead characters, you come down on the side of empathetic rather than judgmental or condescending.

I want to tell their stories, imagining what it’s like for that person at a point of transition in their lives. On , I wanted to be in Johnny’s head. Because this [character] was a guy and my other films have been more about women, I asked Stephen a lot of questions. But I also had a sense of Johnny from people I knew. What you try to do is, try to show a point of view that someone might not otherwise see. I’ve seen privileged worlds; if you’re outside one, you might think it would completely fulfill you, but that’s not necessarily so.

Any frequent moviegoer has their own Johnny Marco – actors or actresses we are loyal to but who maybe haven’t made the most of their potential.

There’s ones that you like, actors that you’re rooting for. There have been bad-boy actors who either grew up a little, chose to have families, or went the route of being the old guy at the club and never evolved. I wanted Johnny to be right at that moment in his life where he has to look at himself and choose – which I feel is something that anyone can relate to, having to make that decision of what kind of person you’re going to be. So Johnny was a mix of people I know or have met, and stories heard. There were people that I talked to who thought it was them [that Johnny was based on].

Cleo is introduced in an ice-skating sequence. How did you conceive this as an understated turning point in the story – with the Gwen Stefani song [“Cool”] in mind?

The story starts out darker, and just by herself, Cleo brightens it up. I wanted Johnny to have to do some parent thing in the beginning, so [it became Cleo’s] taking ice-skating lessons. The dreamy gliding on the ice is her purity, in contrast to the strippers [we’ve seen him with] in his world. I wanted the source music to be music that would really be playing there [at the rink], part of the experience. “Cool” is a sweet song, and you believe that an 11-year-old would be ice-skating to it. I’m so happy we got that song, because I love the way it works with that [sequence]; it’s so sincere.

I wanted to show that she’s a girl right on the cusp of transforming into a teenager; the way Johnny is with women, I thought it must be complicated to have a daughter who’s on the verge of becoming a woman. So, to me, the sequence is about that.

But we’re experiencing it as a beautiful moment. The characters may not pick up on that, because they’re in the moment, but through the lens we do and behind the lens you must.

Yes, I feel that in life, you notice these moments that could be in the most mundane places, They’re magical moments, but they’re real and they’re all around you – if you’re looking for them. When you look back on moments that touch you, things don’t have to [have] happen[ed] in a dramatic way. They can be not extraordinary, very ordinary.

Yes, you got actual industry people, like filmmaker Maurizio Nichetti, for the Telegatto Awards sequence…

They made it more authentic, especially for the Italian audience [who will see the movie]. I had gone to the Telegatto Awards with my family years ago. That Italian television culture is so specific, and so different than ours – it’s over the top. Being in that foreign a setting bonds Johnny and Cleo together.

As the movie progresses, there’s no artificially induced melodrama, like a custody battle or a trip to the ER…

Something like that was suggested to me, but I feel that in life those things don’t always happen. You don’t have to gain awareness from something big and dramatic; it can be from details that you [take] notice [of]. Spending time with his daughter in a more aware way [than before] affects Johnny, and I feel that the film ends on a hopeful note.

Somewhere is out in cinemas now.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

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