Sofia Coppola Mimics Hollywood Life In 'Somewhere' Filmmaker Sofia Coppola's latest movie, Somewhere, is about an aimless Hollywood actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who re-examines his superficial life after a visit from his 11-year-old daughter. Coppola discusses the film -- and her relationship with her own father, Francis Ford Coppola.
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Sofia Coppola Mimics Hollywood Life In 'Somewhere'

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Sofia Coppola Mimics Hollywood Life In 'Somewhere'

Sofia Coppola Mimics Hollywood Life In 'Somewhere'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Sofia Coppola, wrote and directed the new film "Somewhere," which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. She won a screenwriting Oscar for her 2003 film "Lost in Translation" and was nominated for Best Director and Best Picture Oscars. Her 2006 film, "Marie Antoinette," won an Oscar for Costume Design. Her 1999 film "Virgin Suicides" won the MTV Movie Award for Best New Filmmaker.

"Somewhere" is based in part on people she's known, but she also drew on her memories growing up with her father, Francis Ford Coppola. He's an executive producer of the film.

"Somewhere" is about a popular actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who's living at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in L.A. He's in between roles, divorced and adrift. His life is his sports car, the women who throw themselves at him and the parties in his room that he doesn't even seem to have arranged.

His forearm is in a cast, after falling down a flight of steps, following a night of drinking at the hotel. His life is out of balance, and nothing seems to have meaning.

He has to rouse himself when his 11-year-old daughter, played by Elle Fanning, comes to stay with him. Here's the scene where he wakes up to find his daughter by his bedside. She was brought there by his ex-wife, who is also in the room.

(Soundbite of film, "Somewhere")

Ms. ELLE FANNING (Actor): (As Cleo) Hi, dad.

Mr. STEPHEN DORFF (Actor): (As Johnny Marco) Hey, Cleo.

Ms. LALA SLOATMAN (Actor): (As Layla) Hi, Johnny.

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) Hey Layla.

Ms. SLOATMAN: (As Layla) What happened to you?

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) Just a little stunt work. You know, I do all my own stunts.

Ms. SLOATMAN: (As Layla) Don't get her back too late, okay?

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) Yeah, sure. I like this, my first signature.

Ms. FANNING: (As Cleo) Thanks.

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) This is cool.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Have you known a lot of actors like your character, Johnny Marco, who are living in this kind of nowhere-land, where they're kind of lost and drifting and not - you know, in between films and not engaged with anything, not even the women who they're having sex with?

Ms. SOFIA COPPOLA (Filmmaker): Yeah, I feel like I've been around some guys like that, and I've definitely heard stories. But I've seen, I've been around some. So I've seen it, and then I just kind of imagined what I thought that life would be like.

There were a few - when I was writing the script, there were a few stories in the news about a couple of really successful actors and performers having personal crisis, and it looked like they were having this kind of fun, party lifestyle. So I just from there tried to imagine what his life would be like and, you know, the next morning. And also just with our kind of fascination with celebrity culture.

There's a - I feel like there's a desire for some people to get to the Chateau Marmont, and I was thinking about what happens when you get there. That hotel is sort of, you know, a center of show business and, you know, some people go there to be seen or hide out.

GROSS: Now, a lot of the film is set at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, where your main character is living. And so tell us about why you wanted to set it at that particular hotel for - I mean, I'm not really familiar with the lore of that hotel.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, I mean, in Los Angeles, the Chateau Marmont is this iconic hotel in Hollywood that has a lot of history and stories of people throughout the years in movies and music and authors all staying there and kind of debaucherous(ph) things that happened and scandals.

And so it's - in Los Angeles, it's sort of a meeting ground for all these creative types, but then in more recent years, it's been in tabloids. And so many movie stars have lived there, whether they're making movies or in between films or in between relationships.

So it has a lot of history, but a lot of movie stars have lived there, and it's almost been like a rite of passage. Even Stephen, the actor in the movie, told me his story of when he lived there. And so it has a lot of stories, but when I was writing this character, I thought that's where this guy would live.

GROSS: Didn't your father try to buy the hotel once?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, there was a story. He says, I owned the hotel for a day. But I guess it was probably in the - I don't know if it was in the late '70s or '80s. He had bought the hotel. But then there was a termite report. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: So my mom talked him out of it, I guess.

GROSS: Why did he want it? What was he going to do with it?

Ms. COPPOLA: I don't know. I have to ask him more about it. But, you know, now he has a little chain of resorts.

GROSS: I didn't know that.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. I don't know, he likes, you know, the lifestyle. He's interested in a lot of different areas.

GROSS: Many of the scenes in "Somewhere" are shot almost in real time. For example, the opening scene is of a sports car being driven, and we don't even know who's driving it yet, but just being driven around and around in circles on this desert road.

And we hear - we see the car go in and out of camera range. We hear the engine, motor go in and out of microphone of range. And we don't know, why is this car circling round and round and round? And we find out more about that a little later. It's kind of like an image, in a way, of what the movie's going to be like.

But anyways, it's shot in real time, and a lot of the scenes are, for instance, like Johnny sitting in his suite, smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer, and we're just watching him smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer and just kind of spacing out.

And, you know, movies tend to be so tightly edited nowadays, where everything, like, moves so quickly. And you're doing exactly the opposite. How come?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, well, I wanted it to feel like you're alone with this character and just for the audience to be alone with him, and what does he do in his off moments?

And I thought it was interesting to, yeah, feel like you were there with him and also get in his state of mind, which is, you know, when he's -there's a scene with twin pole dancers, and it should be exciting, but, you know, he's seen it a million times. So I didn't want to edit it in a, you know, titillating way.

I hope it's refreshing for audiences that - I just feel like movies are so bombarded with fast editing and song after song of music, and I wanted to have more breathing room and just have a pause.

And even modern life, with everyone in contact and on BlackBerrys, and I felt like it was nice just to have a break from that and just be alone with this guy.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned the twins who do the pole dance. So let me explain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: After Johnny has broken his arm, he's lying in bed in his hotel suite, and these two twin pole dancers are dancing in what I think is like skimpy nurse uniforms.

Ms. COPPOLA: They're candy-stripers.

GROSS: Candy-stripers, okay. So they're on these, like, I don't even know they made these, like portable poles for pole dancing, portable, collapsible poles, and they're - and it's just kind of like cheesy choreography, and they have these, like, actor-ly smiles on their faces because they know they're supposed to be smiling. And they're going through the motions.

And he's lying in bed. He's just broken his arm. He's looking kind of bored. And the scene plays out. They're listening, they're dancing to -no, what are they dancing too?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, they're dancing to the Foo Fighters song, "My Hero," which I thought was funny, them in their candy-stripers, performing to "My Hero," as he's broken his arm.

GROSS: And the whole - you see the whole dance, and it's not erotic. He's not aroused. It's not shot in an arousing way. You hear, as they're sliding down the poles, you hear their arms kind of squeaking, their hands squeaking on the pole. So it's, like, they're working.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, I like - I loved working with Richard Beggs(ph), the sound designer because it was fun to put in all those little details and the squeaks of the pole so that I wanted it to feel as much as, like, life as possible and kind of avoid movie - things about movies the way they're usually done and make it, you know, hopefully more like life and have all these kind of real details.

And you see them fold up their collapsible pole, and I like all those little moments.

But yeah, I wanted to start off showing that, you know, he can order anything he wants from - you know, pick up the phone, and he can have twins entertain him and just the idea that even with two - even with the twins, it's not exciting because he's on painkillers, and he's probably seen them, you know, for months.

GROSS: So how did you know that there are portable poles for pole dancing?

Ms. COPPOLA: You know, I think I saw it in a magazine. There was a whole, like, fitness craze of people, they would sell like a portable pole and a DVD as, like, a workout thing. It was such a popular thing, which is so bizarre to me that, you know, that people were doing, you know, stripper-pole routines as exercise in general.

But then I was talking to Stephen about the - you know, because I just made that up that these twins are there. He told me, like, oh yeah, I was at a bachelor party at the Chateau and, yeah, and then they brought the portable poles, and these girls came and danced. So I was glad to know that it was accurate.

GROSS: So are those the twins that you actually hired, the ones that he saw?

Ms. COPPOLA: No, no, they're from - Hugh Hefner had a reality show called "The Girls Next Door," and they - I had a friend that watched that show, and she said, oh, you've got to meet Hefner's twins, the Playboy twins.

And yeah, and they were great. They were - we met a bunch of twins, and they were really bubbly and sweet and gung-ho. And they were fun to have there.

GROSS: I think that's funny that you actually got them through a reality show, since your film is, in part, a comment on reality shows.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, and I went to the Playboy mansion to watch them rehearse, and it was like I'm really having a full L.A. experience. Because part of doing the movie, I wanted to do kind of a portrait of this slice of L.A. So I wanted to show L.A. So I had the full experience.

But - and I liked also that they're not - that they don't feel like, you know, really slick, that they have this kind of cheerleader, fun aspect, and they're not - you know, they're not doing the routine like old pros.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sofia Coppola. We're talking about her new movie "Somewhere."

So your main character's life is changed when his daughter, who is 11 years old and is played by Elle Fanning, comes to stay with him at the hotel. And one of the things I find really interesting about their relationship is that beautiful women are constantly throwing themselves at him, and, you know, he partakes. He has sex with lots of them. And it doesn't matter to him. He doesn't even remember their names most of the time. He doesn't even care about anyone.

And his 11-year-old daughter, Elle Fanning, she's beautiful and she does things that, if she wasn't 11 years old, would be very sexual. Like she - she doesn't pole dance, but she does this beautiful ice-skating, ice-dancing routine, and it's just, it's lovely. It's absolutely lovely. And it's almost like a very artful pre-teen's echo of that more sexualized choreography that you've seen earlier.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, to me, it's really a total contrast to the twins, that we go from the twins performing to him watching his daughter, who is so, you know, looks so pure and innocent. She's 11 and gliding on the ice.

GROSS: Exactly, exactly.

Ms. COPPOLA: But I hope that that scene - I thought it must be complicated for that kind of guy who has those relationships with women to have a daughter now who's on the verge of becoming a teenager. And so I thought in that scene that he starts to, you know, really see her and realizing that she's growing up.

But to me, it's the flipside. And it's very, yeah, innocent, and she's this kind of representation of something pure in his life.

GROSS: The main character, Johnny, basically has two homes. One is in the hotel and the other is in his sports car. And the sports car is the first thing we see and the first thing that we hear. The movie starts, and we hear - we see the car being driven around in circles, and we hear the motor.

And then that segues into the opening credits, and the opening credit music seems to have incorporated either the motor or something resembling the motor, like an electronic sound that's like the motor, into the music. And the music was composed by your, shall we say, life partner?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: Sure.

GROSS: Thomas Mars. You have two children together. And did you tell him you wanted a motor-like sound in the opening music? And before you answer that, let's hear some of the music.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Okay, so that's the opening music, and the question to you, Sofia Coppola, was, did you ask Thomas Mars, when he was composing the opening music, to have a motor or motor-like sound in it?

Ms. COPPOLA: I think - I mean, when I started the script, I started with the idea of this actor, and he has a Ferrari, and we first see him out on a track going in circles and just to set up who he was.

So the Ferrari was really a big part of his persona. And I can't remember what I - Thomas' band, Phoenix, who did the music, I asked them to - there was a song out there, it was called "Love Like a Sunset," that we use at the end of the film. And I asked them if they could do some things related to that.

And I loved the intro music that they suggested. I don't think I specified the engine, but when I heard it, I thought, oh, that's so perfect. It sounds - the sound is really connected with the engine.

And in the sound throughout the movie, we kind of interweave the sound of the engine. It almost becomes like a score with some of their music. So I hadn't asked for that, but I really loved it when I heard it because it really connected to the Ferrari.

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola. Her new film is called "Somewhere." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola. She made "The Virgin Suicides," "Lost in Translation," "Marie Antoinette" and the new film "Somewhere."

Now, you cast Stephen Dorff in the leading role as Johnny Marco. You've known him for a long time, right? You knew each other as kids?

Ms. COPPOLA: No, I mean, since - yeah, in our 20s. I've known him over the years since the '90s. So I never was very close to him, but I knew him through friends, and, you know, we'd see each other occasionally over the years. And I've always really liked him.

I thought - I've always thought he was - I was struck by what a sweet guy he is in real life because it's kind of different than - he has more of a kind of bad-boy persona, and he's such a sweet guy, kind of in contrast to what you would think.

And when I was writing this part, I thought of him because I've always thought he was such a good actor, and also because he's so sweet, I thought it would come through and hopefully connect you to this character that, you know, is pretty flawed and could be easily unlikeable.

GROSS: So you wrote the role for him?

Ms. COPPOLA: I had him in mind. I find it helpful when I'm writing to picture an actor because it just helps you, you know, envision someone when you're writing it.

And so I thought of him. I mean, it's not based on him. I was thinking of other people when I was writing the character. But I pictured him playing the part.

GROSS: There's a scene where the 11-year-old daughter goes with her father to Italy for an Italian TV awards ceremony show, where he's getting an award for the most recent movie that he did. Is that based on an experience that you had with your father?

Ms. COPPOLA: When I was writing the character of the daughter, she was based on my friend's daughter, whose parents are in Hollywood. But then I could, you know, relate to moments of my own childhood, even though my parents and my childhood are very different than the one in the movie. I didn't grow up, you know, in Hollywood.

But when I was writing that story, I tried to put in real memories to connect it with something real. And I had - I remembered being in a casino with my Dad, because he used to like to write scripts in casinos, and him explaining craps to me. And other trips where - it was always exciting as a kid to get to, you know, go on a trip or around a world that kids aren't normally brought into.

And we and been on a family trip to Italy, where we went to the Telegatti Awards, which is like the TV Guide of Italy. And that I went as an adult, but we did go with my family. And so, you know, it wasn't when I was a little kid, but I tried to bring things that I've seen, you know, into the story.

GROSS: The daughter in your movies, growing up with a father who's very disconnected from his life at the moment, you grew up with a father who was obsessive about his work.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. Yeah, my dad isn't like this character at all. He was always very engaged and always included us, and my parents are still married after many years. So, you know, the situation is different. But I tried to put in, you know, just like, kind of father-daughter, the significance of things that I remember about him into this character who's very unlike him. But, you know, just that bigger-than-life kind of - which I'm sure a lot of girls look at their dad in that way when they are growing up, I would think.

But just like when they order ice cream in the hotel in Italy, he orders every flavor for her, and that is the kind of thing that my dad would have done. You know, I remember once time when I was a kid, I think I had a flu, and I was on my own with my dad. My mom was doing something. And he - I remember him filling the table - he made me, like, every kind of ice cream concoction he could come up with. So things like that stay in my mind as, you know, kind of fun memories of that kind of dad.

GROSS: Which movies of his were you on the set for?

Ms. COPPOLA: Well, I was - the first one I remember was "Apocalypse Now." I was, I guess, around four. And - but - and then all the ones after that until I, you know, graduated from high school and was, you know, not living with my parents anymore.

So I remember living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during "Rumblefish" and "The Outsiders" and lived in New York for a year during "The Cotton Club" in the '80s. And I always enjoyed living all these different places, but I was glad that we had our home base in Napa Valley. So I had, you know, some roots, and I went to all these different schools, but I would go back to my local school there, and I graduated with the kids I went to first grade with, so...

GROSS: Were you on the set of - well, actually, in "Godfather I," you were the baby that gets christened, right?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: What do you feel when you watch that back? Do you say, that's me as a baby in this iconic movie?

Ms. COPPOLA: I think, you know, my dad did that so that there would always be a record of, you know, me at that age. And it's nice because you can't always find, like, home movies, but I always can, you know, see myself as a baby.

And I haven't seen in it a while, but I had a daughter last May, and we were trying to see if there was a resemblance of my family at all. So I just went on YouTube and looked up that scene.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: And it was fun to be able to, you know, see that and compare.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola will be back in the second half of the show. She wrote and directed the new film "Somewhere." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola. Her new film is called "Somewhere." She also made "The Virgin Suicides, "Lost in Translation" and "Marie Antoinette."

You have such a good eye. Your new film, which is, I think, visually really interesting and beautiful, but not in a pretty way, is such a contrast to your previous film, "Marie Antoinette," because...

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah.

GROSS:, the new film, it's in LA. It's in the present. It's in an era where people are mostly wearing, like, jeans and T-shirts.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. It was pretty opposite of - after doing "Marie Antoinette."

GROSS: Yeah. In "Marie Antoinette," everybody is, you know, elaborately costumed in the clothing of the times. And also, if you're watching the DVD of the film and you just, like, put it on pause, there are just like so many moments that just look like a classic painting because the colors are so beautifully coordinated and the poses are, you know, the positions people are in just look like a pose for a painting.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah.

GROSS: Were you thinking about paintings when you made that film?

Ms. COPPOLA: We definitely looked at reference. We looked at paintings because that's, you know, the way to see that era, that time. So, you know, inspired the portraiture you would see of that time. And, yeah, I think after making "Marie Antoinette," I was living in Paris when I started writing this film, "Somewhere," and I was like kind of overdosed on all that beautiful decoration and the beautiful clothes and so many characters and details. And I really enjoyed making that film, but after it, I was really wanting to do something as minimal as possible. And I was curious to write - to try to write a story from a guy's point of view, because that movie was so, you know, my feminine, girlie side.

GROSS: In "Marie Antoinette," the language and speaking style is often very contemporary. The music that you used in it is contemporary music. But the story is historical. The setting's historical. The clothing is very period-correct. And the composition - the painterly composition is, you know, classical, in a way.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah.

GROSS: So let's hear a scene, and then I'll ask you about that contrast. So you'll hear in this scene how...

Ms. COPPOLA: Okay.

GROSS: ...contemporary sounding some of the dialogue is. So Marie Antoinette is elaborately dressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And she's been selected by her Austrian empress mother to marry her second cousin, the Dauphin of France. And in this scene, she and her friends are trying on what looks like hundreds of shoes and feathers and accessories and clothes. And her closest adviser, an ambassador played by Steve Coogan, is standing by watching all this as he waits to brief her on an emergency political crisis for France. So here's the scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "Marie Antoinette")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KIRSTEN DUNST (Actor): (as Marie Antoinette) Can we just see this in white, maybe?

Unidentified Actress: I don't know if I like that one. Ooh, I love these.

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) Oh.

Unidentified Actress: You want these, too?

Mr. STEVE COOGAN (Actor): (as Ambassador Mercy) Has madam read the brief on our current situation?

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) No, I haven't read it yet. Can you just tell me about it?

Mr. COOGAN: (as Ambassador Mercy) Well, the reforms in Poland by King Ponyatovsky have led to civil war. The Russians and the Austrians have taken over a third of Poland, which is, of course, distressing, as Poland is a friend and ally of France. It's...

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) Wait. Do you like ruffles or without?

Mr. COOGAN: (as Ambassador Mercy) Have you been paying any attention? Your mother is relying on you to smooth over this crisis.

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) Where will I be if there's a rupture between our two families? Am I to be Austrian, or the Dauphin of France?

Mr. COOGAN: (as Ambassador Mercy) You must be both.

GROSS: So that's a scene from my guest Sofia Coppola's film, "Marie Antoinette."

So can you talk about the contrast in styles between the contemporary-sounding language and the contemporary music and the period-correct costuming and, you know, and it being a historical story?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. I mean, to me, what really struck me about her story is that she's a teenage girl, and so that was a first - my first thing I was trying to put across, that we're in the point of view of this teenage girl, and I wanted you to feel like she's a teenager. And so, you know, we used music that, to me, feels like that, and it has that kind of spirit. And also, I kind of wanted to do it in an irreverent way, because I feel like that's how she would do it, you know, just whatever she felt like, even if you're breaking rules you're not supposed to. And I didn't want to do just the traditional costume drama. I feel like those exist, and I wanted to do it in more of a kind of punk spirit.

And there was this movie about Franz Liszt called "Lisztomania," where Roger Daltrey plays him and, you know, they show him kind of like a rock star with paparazzi and ice cream sundaes. So I was doing it more in the spirit of something more pop.

GROSS: Now, your father, Francis Ford Coppola, has been a producer on your films. Do you involve him in the process at all? Do you want to know what he thinks, or would you prefer not to?

Ms. COPPOLA: It depends on the project. I mean, he's always given me great advice, and I'm so glad that I can turn to him. And he's come in the editing room, you know, when I was starting, to help me and get a fresh point of view, which really helped me a lot. But on this movie, he wasn't as involved.

I had such a specific idea of how I wanted to do the movie that I kind of didn't want to be influenced by too many opinions. I just kind of wanted to try to make it this way, and then I showed it to him. I showed him the script, and then I showed him the film when we were finished editing, and he really loved it, which, you know, made me happy.

I worked more closely with brother, Roman...

GROSS: With Roman. Uh-huh.

Ms. COPPOLA: ...who was the producer, and he was more, you know, a day-to-day producer. He lives in Los Angeles and helped me put a crew together and really helped protect the movie in keeping it in the small, intimate that I wanted to make the film, and that I felt like was the way to keep - he helped protect it, to keep the crew small and be able to do this, you know, build a film in an intimate way in the hotel room.

GROSS: Well, Sofia Coppola, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. COPPOLA: Thank you. Thanks for having me back.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola wrote and directed the new film "Somewhere." We'll meet the film's star, Stephen Dorff, after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

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