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INT: Sofia Coppola

10.16.2006

Sofia Coppola surprised everyone with her poignant debut feature THE VIRGIN SUICIDES; because until then, she was known as Francis’ daughter who he cast in GODFATHER 3. She then went on to garner major critical success and an Academy Award for her screenplay, LOST IN TRANSLATION. She continues here with her girl becoming a woman theme with the poetic MARIE ANTOINETTE, a beautiful yet oddly eccentric look at the infamous queen.

When she stopped by The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills , she seemed excited to have her movie open for an American audience. After a controversial start at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie is being given a second chance of sorts (you can read JoBlo's review of the film HERE).

She also spoke about working with Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman as the young King and Queen who had been placed into positions of power too young and too inexperienced. Sofia is a lovely woman who has become a force in her own right and she was smart and knowledgeable regarding filmmaking and telling a story with as little dialogue as possible.

Sofia Coppola

Sofia, when this was shown at Cannes several people mentioned that they thought this was the third of a trilogy you had made about young women coming from innocence… is that correct?

When I finished this movie you know, looked at the… there’s a connection between the themes of my films. This is sort of the final chapter of something I was working on and where it’s the next step of a girl’s evolution; from Lost in Translation she’s on the verge of trying to find her identity and I feel like this story is her going from a girl to a woman and so for me there’s a connection.

So for the next time you’re going to start with someone who is a woman already? Is this like a final chapter?

I mean for me if feels like a, you know the three films fit together in something I was thinking about in that phase of my life and who knows, maybe I’ll keep making the same movie as some people do but no, I feel like now I’d like to go in another direction but I’ve no idea what that will be.

When we were talking to the producer, he said that this is your vision and not a historical epic.

When I read Antonia Fraser’s biography, for me what was interesting is to read about the real human behind all the myths and just this sort of icon that we’ve heard about is the frivolous, evil French Queen, and so I wanted to show a portrait of the real person based on the research and the letters and do more of an intimate portrait of this woman. And not… yeah, I wasn’t ever setting out to make a historical epic and I wanted to show the insulation of her life.

The fact that they’re not speaking in French accents… [Was that a specific choice]?

Yeah, I mean it’s not a documentary or a history lesson but I wanted it to be impressionistic and be as close as I could to what it might have felt like to be there at that time. Well, like when I saw Amadeus and they were just speaking in their regular accents, they felt like real people to me as opposed to someone living in some other era that I couldn’t relate to so I was trying to take away as many kind of period film genre clichés and simplify it into a way that could be relatable on a human level.

Is that where the music comes into play? Using the music as an acronism [for the character]?

Yeah, that also came from wanting to show the emotion of the scene as close as I could and I felt like, when she goes into a masked ball the first time, there would be a feeling of excitement and so to pick a song that gave that feeling as opposed to, I don’t think that a quartet at that time would give me the same rush, so it was all meant to be, to give the impression.

What sort of inspirations did you have visually?

Definitely looking at movies of that period but also I wanted it to kind of have a vitality and freshness of that they were teenagers, so I wanted it to have it’s own palette and when I want to see the real private bedrooms of Marie Antoinette, you see all the fabric that she really chose, like turquoise and pink and usually when I think of that period I’ve seen it in museum portraits and the real clothes of that time have been faded and it’s not as bright as… I was surprised at how bright the colors were that she was actually in her world and I thought, yeah, a fourteen-year-old girl would want turquoise and pink. So to make this kind of palette of pastries and this really girly ritual kind of came from what I saw in her real apartments and then, you know, being in France… it just felt like the right setting to start her world.

During the infamous press conference at Cannes , there seemed to develop and urban myth [a negative reaction] regarding the film and press conference. Is that something that you felt you had to rehabilitate the film or is it something that you put behind you?

Yeah, I really watched that turn into a whole exaggerated story and how anyway, you see a rumor or something grow and spread and I thought now it was really a shame that the first question asked [at] the press conference, that that guy was unfair. I thought it was a really lame way to start a press conference and if I had been prepared or thought about it, I would have kind of deterred that til later because it just set a bad tone and it got exaggerated.

But yeah, so I’ve had to answer a lot, you know, I got all these condolences when I got back [Laughter] and I thought God we had a standing ovation and I thought it went really well... So, I’ve been asked a lot, it’s been really distorted and I’ve just tried to put it in perspective, you know, a lot of people liked it, some people didn’t… Cannes is such a volatile place it’s not like a regular audience but in a way I think it’s interesting that people have heard that there’s been, not controversy but debate, some people liked it, some people don’t because I feel like that’s more interesting if you’ve created a dialogue and it would make me interested to see a movie if there’s different opinions.

Do you feel like it’s getting a fresh start in America ?

Yeah, for me it was just enjoyable for me to watch it with an audience here because people laughed at the parts I think are funny and the audience just seemed to go with it where in Cannes it felt more tense and people weren’t reacting in the [scenes] or laughing and maybe also because it was subtitled, I don’t know. But it felt different, it was more and maybe it’s less… it was more nerve-racking than watching it in Cannes .

You’re an American in France , making a movie about their French Queen…

Yeah, exactly, in California it’s gonna have a different view so for me it was fun to see it with an audience that was more, kind of open and laid back.

Why Kirsten (Dunst)? You worked with her as a kid in The Virgin Suicides was there something that you thought back then that I want to work with her again?

I enjoyed working with her then and I felt that she kind of understands the way I like to work and portrays something that I’m looking for but just when I was working on this, reading about Marie Antoinette and they described her personality, Kirsten just came to mind because I felt she had a lot of the qualities. She could convey the character and she’s part German, [she] has this look to her. I feel she has the kind of playful, silly side and also a substantial deeper side and I wanted the character to have both and also to be able to go from fourteen to thirty; I didn’t want to have different actresses and I felt like she could really do the whole range.

What did you want to say about the real Marie Antoinette as opposed to the “legend” and how it relates to modern day “Hollywood Royalty”?

Um, I think, and I never tried to make a statement but when I’m going into a film you try and learn something, are curious about something and I was just drawn to how different the real person was from the myths we know about her and I was struck by the way they were acting then you still see today… I thought it had some relevance to how we live today. And also just on a human level that people went through things that people still go through and the competition between the women and the culture and being in a new family, just on a basic level. You know the things that are relatable.

Were you concerned at all about authenticity?

I think - you know I was using artistic license to create the impression the best I could what it might have been like to be there. You know I wanted it to be set in eighteenth century and it’s all based on a lot of research and everything’s based on the real story. So, but I wasn’t… I wanted to… I made all the choices based on what would tell the story as a film based on the real thing as best I could, it wasn’t, like I said, a documentary.

Can you talk about your family’s involvement in the film and what it means to you to have that?

I grew up on my dad’s film sets and we always worked with a lot of his family, the crew that he worked with for a long time so it’s, you know, a nice atmosphere and you know, my brother Roman (Coppola) is really talented and on all of my film’s he’s come and helped shoot the second unit, just that helped me out and also because he knows me so well there’s a, you know, short hand, he can go shoot things the same time and know how I want them. But it’s just an extension of when we were kids, you know, Jason (Coppola), Roman and I would make little movies together and you know, you try and approach it the same way as a professional but your still doing it for the same reasons…

How much did you work with the costume designer?

I put together a reference book for Milena Canonero and the production designer and the cinematographer for the visual look I want the movie to have and I was really specific about the colors and then Milena Canonero worked from that and then of course she proposes things that fit into how we make the look.

Was it fun?

Yeah, it was really fun to see her whole, she had this big team and to go into the costume warehouse where they had rows of feathers and shoes and it was definitely kind of was, your girly side, fantasy, dress-up.

When you set-up to write the script for Marie Antoinette was it your intention to use very little dialogue?

I always like to start with the atmosphere and the tone kind of first and the music and tell the story as much as I can without dialogue. I just; I try to tell the story as much as you can with the expressions and the emotions. I even thought about doing it as a silent film at one point.

No… [Laughter]

No, I just thought about it but I enjoy, yeah, I’m not really dialogue driven, I like to just kind of express as much as I can [with] visuals. You know, I like… we were talking about Terrance Malick because we kind of referenced him for the nature montage. I like when you take time and you can be told a story with visuals as opposed to explaining everything.

What is it like to become a mother for the first time, and by the way congratulations?

Thank you.

Do you think it’s going to change your perspective on the kind of movies you want to make?

I don’t know, because I don’t know what to expect. So, I don’t know, I’m sure it changes your perspective but we’ll see.

Do you know what you want to do next?

No, I have a [few] ideas but I feel like I’ve been working on this so long I’m looking forward to taking a break and watching other movies and reading books and thinking about… the only thing I feel is that I’d like to do something on a smaller scale because this was overwhelming and I think I’d like to go back to working with just a few characters.

How easy or difficult was it to assemble this cast?

When I was writing I pictured Kirsten and Jason (Schwartzman) and other than that I don’t think I had specific actors in mind and yeah, it was a lot harder for me to cast a bigger group cause Lost in Translation was really, you know, you had two characters and then some small parts and this was such a [large] family, it was such a balance of who was cast here and the different nationalities and trying to kind of sort all that out. But I really liked working with Asia Argento, Rip Torn all these people I had never worked with before, and Judy Davis. It was really fun for me to have all these great actors from all over the world and to have a colorful cast.

What’s your theory on why she (Marie Antoinette) stuck by her man?

I was touched by there relationship from what I read about it. They started as these awkward kids that didn’t relate at all and then they really seemed to grow into a friendship and then towards the end of their lives when there were more hardships they really bonded together… I felt like they really loved each other. But they were always trying to get her to leave and she always wanted to stay with him. I felt like she had, you know… was raised with dignity and character that came through.

As a producer, is there a conflict with you in terms of being a writer and director?

I feel like for me, it’s not a conflict that they work together for me because I want to keep the budget as small as possible so I have creative freedom as a director so if I just got carried away and needed a big huge budget I wouldn’t be able to have the same kind of freedom. To me that’s essential so I look forward to finding ways, how we can do everything for as cheap as we can. But still you wanna have – make it as beautiful and lavish on screen.

So it is a bit of a conflict then?

Yeah, but you just… so you know you’ve gotta put it all on the screen and you know, we carpool to the set together, you have your priorities.

For the DVD will you have deleted scenes and do a commentary as well?

I haven’t done a commentary, I never have but we have a few deleted scenes and my mom shot a documentary, behind the scenes, so that footage will be there.

Why don’t you do commentaries, you don’t want to overextend yourself?

Yeah, it seems. Maybe when I’m an older woman or something I feel like… yeah, I just feel like you make something and that’s, I said what I was saying.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to jimmyo@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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