Sofia Coppola's minimalist masterpiece Somewhere explores LA hedonism
Sofia Coppola on Californian hedonism, buddy movies and working with family
To describe Sofia Coppola’s career as one of extremes is no exaggeration. Lambasted as an actress when she appeared in her father’s lamentable The Godfather Part III, she’s been celebrated as a director – not least for 2003’s Lost in Translation, which won her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. While she followed this with poppy period piece Marie Antoinette, which was roundly booed in Cannes, in keeping with tradition, the 39- year-old now returns with minimalist masterpiece, Somewhere. Such is life when you’re the daughter of a film legend like Francis Ford Coppola.
Already Somewhere has won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion, simultaneously re-launching the career of Stephen Dorff, who plays Johnny Marco, an A-list star who lives and parties at the infamous Chateau Marmont hotel with little concern that he may become the next John Belushi. Whoever he’s based on – Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and even Heath Ledger spring to mind – Coppola says the idea came to her after hearing ‘a bunch of stories’ in the press about hedonistic actors out of control. ‘It got me thinking, “I’m sure it looks great but it can’t be that fulfilling.”’
If Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette offered Coppola’s outsider perspective on Tokyo and 18th century Versailles respectively, Somewhere is her take on a city she lived in during her 20s. Inspired by ‘classic’ LA-set movies like Shampoo – ‘I felt like we hadn’t had an LA movie in a while’ – it made her feel nostalgic for the city before it became overrun with paparazzi. ‘It seemed more innocent then. I think just seeing how it’s changed made me want to write about LA at this time and our pop culture.’
Yet it was another 1970s film, Paper Moon, which starred Ryan and Tatum O’Neal as a con-artist team, that influenced Coppola’s thinking for the film’s core relationship between Johnny and his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). ‘I loved their relationship in that movie,’ says Coppola. ‘So I wanted to have that kind of sweet buddy relationship. I wanted it to be tender. Johnny’s character was so flawed and unlikeable that he had to have a loveable side.’
If the redemption that family can provide proves to be a central theme, it’s no surprise. Pregnant with her second daughter, Cosima, during the shoot, Coppola’s first child, Romy, was born just before she wrote the script. What’s more, with her older brother Roman producing, her long-term boyfriend Thomas Mars, and his band Phoenix, provided the soundtrack cuts. Coppola attributes this to her father’s influence. ‘He always worked with his family and also he worked with people for a long time so they became like family. That’s my example of how to work.’
What is curious is why Coppola keeps returning to characters that are lost – be it in translation, the French court or in Entourage land – particularly now she’s a settled mother-of-two. ‘I’ve had moments of my life going through a transition, coming through the other side to go in a new direction,’ she counters, doubtless referring to the failure of her four-year marriage to director Spike Jonze. So what is it about being lost? ‘It just interests me but I don’t know why,’ she shrugs. ‘I don’t analyse stuff. It’s not my job.’
Somewhere is on general release from Fri 10 Dec.