Exclusive 1:1 Interview with director Roman Coppola
Roman Coppola has been in the movie business since birth. His father is, of course, the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, so it seemed predestined that he - along with his sister Sofia - would follow in the same footsteps. Throughout the 90s he directed a multitude of music videos (for Green Day, Daft Punk and Moby, among others), as well as assisted on several of his father's films as Second Unit Director. He finally made his own feature debut in 2001 with CQ, an ode to the psychedelic movie scene of the late-60s.
Coppola's latest effort behind the camera is A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III, an examination of a successful graphic designer's tumultuous life following a break-up. Replete with dream and fantasy sequences, the film continues to display Coppola's nostalgia for the past, this time the swinging 70s. (Though it doesn't take place then, its style has clearly been informed by the era.) The films stars Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Patricia Arquette.
This is a busy moment for Coppola, as he's recently been gifted with an Oscar nomination for co-writing the original screenplay for MOONRISE KINGDOM with his friend Wes Anderson, but he thankfully took some time to chat with me about the inspiration behind CHARLES SWAN, what it was like working with Sheen (who Coppola has known since both of their fathers worked on APOCALYPSE NOW together), and the uncertainty of casting Bill Murray in your movie.
Congrats on the nomination! How exciting is it to be in the race?
It's totally thrilling and just unbelievable, really exciting.
Did you predict that you were going to get a nomination, or was it a complete surprise?
Well a lot of people were saying we were going to get the nomination, and we got a WGA nomination, so it's that tricky thing where you don't want to expect it, but you don't want to say "oh we're not going to get it" and jinx it. You have to tread that fine line of being hopeful and not expecting that your movie will get one. To be nominated is really wonderful.
Now let's move on to CHARLES SWAN. The movie struck me as having something of a 70s sensibility, with its surreal fantasies and dream sequences. What was the inspiration behind it?
Well, a couple of things. It is kind of set, emotionally or spiritually, in the 70s, but I didn't want to set it then. It's rather vague, we don't specify precisely when it's set, but it is emotionally set in that time, at least for me. There are movies from that time that I really relate to, so you want to make a movie that is in that world somehow, movies like ALL THAT JAZZ or KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, the Cassavetes movie, there's just a feeling that happens when you cook up a movie. I knew I wanted to tell the story of a very dynamic character, someone outlandish and immature, someone with a big imagination.
Was the role written with Charlie Sheen in mind? Because, if one wanted to, you could draw some parallels between the character and Sheen the personality.
It wasn't. If you remember, there's this famous Maxell commercial, with the guy sitting there and he gets blown back by the speakers, that was the guy in my mind, "I want this guy going through a break-up, and what would that be like?" But to be honest, I wasn't writing for Charlie, although when I was finishing the screenplay and I was looking for that motivation to finish and complete it, I happen to speak with him because we've known each other as boys, we were eleven or so during APOCALYPSE NOW, and a mutual friend put us together on the phone and Charlie said, "Oh man, when are we going to make our movie together?" So at that point I realized he'd be perfect, and I wanted someone who had a lot of charisma and who was of that right age, who still had charm but was nearing middle-age. So for many reasons, his wit, his charm, and his great acting ability, I realized he'd be the perfect guy. And then I had to talk him into it.
I wanted to ask how he reacted to the script, was he open to everything or did he think some of it was too personal?
Well this was all prior to all the public stuff, so he responded to it just as a piece of writing, and he liked it. I think he believed in me, said "I trust you, you have something in your mind that you want to do." He felt like I had something that I was committed to and it was something he wanted to be a part of. Then there was all that public stuff and he was a little hard to pin down and his life was, you know, complicated. But I never thought that he couldn't do it. It wasn't until he had gotten to a certain place in his own process that he said "I want to do this" and then he became incredibly dedicated and just threw down for me. You know, we made this movie on a very quick schedule and he had a lot he had to do, speak Spanish and dance, and it required a lot of effort and focus and he was totally one hundred percent there.
As far as your own personal business goes, is there anything in the movie that you can point to and say is autobiographical about the film?
Yes, in a way. I did go through a break-up which was the beginning kernel of an experience I had, and part of that experience was, you know, your state of mind gets very fractured and you're thinking about that person a lot, do you love them, do you hate them, you're confused. All these memories and dissociations and fantasies all this kind of stuff, and you're processing it. And it occurred to me that would be an interesting state of mind to portray in the form of a movie. So the movie's told in this crazy way, not to be novel, but to evoke that state of mind that this guy is in. And I thought it would be interesting to see a film where you get to know someone and understand this relationship he's had in the form of how he's recalling it.
What about the rest of the cast? Obviously you know Jason Schwartzman pretty well, as well as Bill Murray, were you thinking of these guys from the beginning?
Those people I had been. Jason I'm very close to, and as I was writing it I would tell him about it. And Bill is someone I thought it would be great to get, but I wasn't counting on it. I'm friendly with him, but he only takes roles that he responds to. And I met with him and showed him what I had, he was very positive but needed his time to reflect, but it worked out and I'm super grateful.
You've collaborated with your father and your sister in the past, of course, and I'm curious whether or not you seek out their thoughts or advice on projects that you're working on?
To some degree. When you're working on something, you're making it for your audience, and your own pleasure, what you want to see, but you think "Wouldn't it be fun to show it to Sofia or my dad or my girlfriend." You're not just making it in a bubble, but you're thinking of people that you're close to in your life and you hope it will resonate with them. In terms of advice? My dad is someone I've worked with a lot, and whenever we're together he's giving advice, but not necessarily movie-making advice, just things that are stimulating. So I don't really ask him, "What would you do about this?" Just being around my family growing up, you pick up things. For example, Sofia worked with Bill on LOST IN TRANSLATION, but she had a very difficult time tracking him down and getting him to commit. In fact, she was in Japan and she didn't even know if he was going to come. But he did arrive. So when I was waiting for Bill and he just showed up the day before, I was like, "Oh okay." I had faith. So not advice, but you pick up these clues and you're exposed to things that inform what you're doing.
I've heard that everybody goes through that when they try to cast Bill in a movie.
Yes, that's his modus operandi.
Before I let you go, can you tell me what you're working on next?
I don't really have exact plans, I'm kind of day-dreaming. This project took me a long time to figure out and make happen, so I'm kind of happily taking a moment to catch my breath and see what I want to devote my time to. Making a movie takes an awful lot of commitment, so I'm just going to see what comes my way.
Well thanks for your time, and good luck on Oscar night.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
|Extra Tidbit:||A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III opens on February 8th.|