This past Sunday, Sofia Coppola was honored with the Best Director prize for her film The Beguiled at the Cannes Film Festival, making her only the second woman ever to win that award in the fest’s 70-year history.
In honor of Coppola’s glass-ceiling-cracking victory, we were inspired this week to revisit our cover story with the awesome auteur from Dec/Jan 2011, where Sofia Coppola was interviewed by the one and only Kim Gordon. Enjoy this Flashback Friday reprint, then find a glass ceiling of your own and give it a good whack.
Good-natured, grounded, and always inspiring, Sofia Coppola is one
of the few female filmmakers writing and directing her own projects.
Here she catches up with her friend, Sonic Youth founder Kim Gordon,
about babies, boobs, and being creative
By Kim Gordon // Photographed by Andrew Durham
MAKEUP: Darlene Jacobs @ Frank Reps; HAIR: Cervando Maldonado @ the Wall group
I’ve known Sofia since she was 18, back when she claimed she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue in her life. As she’s grown, Sofia—whose father is renowned director Francis Ford Coppola—has evolved into a filmmaker with her own vision. The 39-year-old auteur’s first feature was a gorgeous adaptation of The Virgin Suicides in 1999. In 2004, she became the first American female director to be nominated for an Academy Award, for Lost in Translation. Though she didn’t win in that category, she did take home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Throughout it all, she has remained resolutely herself: soft-spoken, down-to-earth, and graceful, with a healthy aversion to all things Hollywood. In fact, it’s this world of glitz and image that she explores in her new movie, Somewhere, which won her the coveted Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Somewhere tells the story of Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff), a big-time actor living in L.A.’s famed Chateau Marmont hotel, who drinks, pops pills, and basically avoids real life until he’s faced with an extended visit from his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). Sofia is a parent herself; she and her partner, Thomas Mars, of the band Phoenix, gave birth to their first daughter, Romy, in 2006, and another, Cosima, earlier this year. Everything Sofia does seems effortless and authentic, and maybe if she didn’t have that wonderful, sometimes slightly self-deprecating sense of humor, I would almost be jealous. Even though she’s years younger than I am, I truly admire her for being herself, always.
I really enjoyed Somewhere. I thought it was an incredible portrait of L.A. You grew up in Napa, CA, but you must have gone back and forth to L.A.
Yeah, we lived there a bit when I was little. Then I moved to L.A. for college, so I feel like a lot of my memories of L.A. are ’90s L.A. We would go to the Chateau Marmont, and they would let us use the swimming pool. But it was different then. It was before US Weekly, and there weren’t paparazzi around, and they didn’t have all these reality stars who go there to be seen, so it felt a little more innocent or something. When I was writing the script, I started with the character of this movie-star guy and I thought, Of course, he has to live at the Chateau Marmont, because all those guys have lived there. The manager was telling me that there’s this kind of vortex: when one bad-boy actor checks out, another comes in. There’s always one in residence.
Why do you think people are so fascinated with actors?
I don’t know. I was in Paris when I was writing this, and it feels really cut off from that whole pop culture. It’s not like here, where you can’t avoid it. Whenever friends would visit, they would bring tabloids. And I remember at that time, there were all these stories about young actor guys in crisis. Like, either attempting suicide or having these problems, and I was thinking, What’s going on? But also, there are so many of these reality shows in recent years—just the obsession with becoming famous. I thought [it would be interesting] to look at what happens when you get to the Chateau Marmont, and what’s it really like the next morning?
Even though Johnny Marco was obviously the focus of the movie, I kept thinking about all the women around him. I loved the opening scene, with the twins pole dancing for Johnny in his hotel room.
They were from that reality show The Girls Next Door. They lived with Hugh Hefner.
They seemed really sweet, actually.
They were! They were really fun to have around.
But it is weird how men compartmentalize sex, more than women.
I think so, and I thought it would be complicated for that kind of guy to have a young daughter who’s about to become a woman.
To me, the movie was also very much about how women feel they have to be perfect in terms of pleasing men. All the women, even if they were superficial or whatever, they all were perfect.
I feel like the Chateau Marmont and L.A. always attract those girls who come to be models. I think the girls who are around that world would be that kind of woman.
Yeah, that’s true, but even Johnny Marco’s daughter had this level of reaching for perfection, trying to please her dad. Like when she was making him those perfect eggs Benedict for breakfast.
That’s funny, I never thought of the cooking and stuff to please him, but it’s just probably in my nature from growing up. I thought it was that she enjoyed cooking, doing something that makes the hotel room homey.
I was thinking she was trying to take care of her dad, fulfill a certain role. And actually, I was thinking of Lost in Translation and how Scarlett Johansson’s character could almost be Cleo in the future. I had this whole fantasy in my head about how she grows up, feels like she’s done everything right, and then she’s in this situation where it’s not working.
Yeah, that has like a father/daughter feeling to it, too.
You seem so grounded. It seems like mostly what you got out of growing up with your dad is a disdain for—
When I was growing up, my mom always talked about Hollywood values. She really had disdain for that. She’s not glamorous. She’s earthy, and she was a conceptual artist in the ’70s. She had one piece where she had me in a room, watching a video of my birth. She made these cool art films, but it was like the opposite of my dad’s world. So when she had to go into that world, I think she thought it was all full of shit.
Did she feel conflicted about it?
I think she just really rejected it. I remember she was telling me stories about going to some Hollywood party and Joan Collins jumped in the pool in her underwear and my mom felt just really uncomfortable. That world wasn’t for her.
Growing up, did you feel self-conscious about who your dad was? I notice that [my daughter] Coco is very self-conscious about that.
Because I went to the same school—we would move but always come back—I knew a lot of the kids from first grade, so they didn’t think I was exotic.
Do you worry about that with your kids?
I never thought about that. I mean, I haven’t thought about it yet. [laughs]
I just put a new worry into your head. Coco sometimes complains about it, “You don’t know what it’s like!” I feel bad for her. She’s at such a self-conscious age.
I remember complaining that we traveled so much, like, “Oh, I miss my...” whatever, but I really liked it. I thought it was fun to do all that. Maybe back then also, I feel like people didn’t know as much because it was pre-Internet.
Did you ever feel like the film world was your dad’s world? Did you ever think that you wanted to do that?
I always liked visiting the set. We would go there in the summers and after school, so I was always really comfortable on set. When I went to college, I wanted to be an artist. But it didn’t even occur to me to do film, probably because [I felt like] I had to do something different. Then I tried a bunch of stuff, and I was always frustrated that I wasn’t really good at anything. [laughs] But I had all these different interests, so when I made a short film, I felt like it came together. I felt like that was a place where it was good to know a little bit about all these different things. It took me longer because I was avoiding it. But my dad was really super-encouraging from the beginning.
How do you balance working and being a mom? I get that question all the time. I do think it’s interesting, because people don’t think about it, but it’s hard to balance.
Yeah, I’m just winging it. When I shot this film, I had only one [kid]. It was a short shoot. Like, I couldn’t imagine now. I feel like I wouldn’t be drawn to doing some huge, epic project. My mom, she was always saying, “Just make sure you get really great nannies, so you can do your work and not feel guilty about it”—I think because she felt like she gave up her career to raise us. It was nice to take the year off after Romy was born just to hang out with her and have that experience. But then after that, I was missing having my own creative thing.
Yeah, it can be boring. [both laugh]
Yeah, I really like being able to work. I remember I used to write late at night, and stay up all night, because that was the time that you couldn’t make phone calls or do anything else to be distracted. And now with having kids, you can’t stay up all night writing, you have to be up in the morning. I remember I met Patti Smith at some photo exhibit in Paris, and she told me that when she had kids, she started waking up really early in the morning and working before they woke up. I don’t like to wake up early, but I can see there is that time when everything’s quiet. Xan Cassavetes—she’s like a big sister to me—I remember her saying, “You just have to learn how to write in the chaos.” We were all on a trip in France in the country, with all the kids running around, and I was working on the script for this, and she was writing something, and we would just all sit outside with the kids talking and write. As a writer, you always think you have to be in a quiet room alone, and it was good to be like, OK, you have to just learn to do it anywhere.
It’s funny the things that make one focus. I find it hard.
It’s always hard to start, I think. But once you get into something, you’re excited to work on it. Do you feel like when you finish a project, then it’s a thing of, What are you going to do next? Or can you enjoy being done with it?
I always get worried I’m not going to find something.
Yeah, but you always do. It’s true; I think that must just be a creative thing where you always panic that you’re not going to find something you’re into.
This has nothing to do with the movie, but I was talking to [author] Mary Gaitskill, and she said one of her students, who’s 28, was saying all the men she knows are into porn, and that 14-year-old girls now feel that’s how they’re supposed to look because they’re watching porn on the Internet.
And they’re learning that’s how they have to act?
Yeah, I mean, that’s a very broad statement, but nonetheless. For some reason—because of the Internet—porn is so pervasive.
It was so different when we were young. I feel so removed from that, though. The whole Internet-porn world is totally foreign to me.
In a way, in your movie you dealt with it in a very sweet—in a more sort of playful way.
I remember when we were filming the twins doing their pole dances, there’s a part where they shake their butts in the camera, and I was like, “Is this too vulgar?” All the guys on the set were like, “No, no, that’s best part!” and I thought OK, I can’t be a prude. If I’m going to do pole dancing, I have to do the whole thing.
It’s kind of interesting that it’s sort of there—an implication that it’s a surrounding sensibility without getting into it.
I went with the twins because they’re kind of cute and cheerleader-y. I didn’t want it to be too dark. But that just might be my taste, too.
Yeah, you made it tasteful! [laughs]
[laughs] No, I mean I wanted it to be playful! I was impressed that they were Playmates that didn’t have big, fake boobs. They were actually talking about getting boob jobs after the shoot, and I really worked on talking them out of it. They thought they had to get boob jobs to make it in show business.
I also thought it was good the way you dealt with the sex scene in Somewhere.
Sex scenes are so hard. I’m really bad at them. It’s really brief. [laughs]
Well, it’s in the dark! I mean, they’re usually so painful to watch.
Yeah, it’s awkward. The scene where Stephen passes out on the girl [in the middle of going down on her], I remember my dad being like, “How did you— What do you know— Where’d you get that from?” And I was like, “Umm...a story.” It was embarrassing. But yeah, the actors are all pro and get into it, and I’m embarrassed, and I’m like, “OK, guys, go ahead.”
How did you feel when you acted in your dad’s movies, like The Godfather: Part III? Did you like it?
No, I didn’t like it at all. I was at that age where I wanted to try everything. I really freaked out about not knowing what I wanted to do. I think also, being 18 and having my dad tell me what to do at that age where you don’t want to listen to your parents was really uncomfortable. There was so much pressure and people looking at me.
I remember afterward, people blamed the movie on you.
Yeah, there was a magazine cover: Did she ruin her dad’s movie? But I feel like it made me strong.
Well, you always seemed to have a good attitude about it.
If it was my dream to be an actress, I would’ve been crushed. But I never wanted to be an actress. Actors are just so vulnerable; you have to keep that in mind. I guess control freaks become directors because you get to have everything you want. To me, it would seem annoying as an actress that you don’t really have a say about the photography or the clothes, but I feel like the people who do it, they have to do it. I feel like everyone should be doing what they really feel strongly about.
This story was originally published in BUST Magazine, Dec/Jan 2011.
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