Sofia Coppola explores parenthood and the hollow but sumptuous life of a Hollywood movie star in Somewhere.
Written by Dylan Callaghan
Loneliness and luxury are elements for which Sofia Coppola has a keen knack. Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and her new film Somewhere all deal in different ways with characters in gilded cages. Whether a lonely aging movie star, an under-tended new bride holed up in a posh Tokyo hotel, or a teen queen trapped in the splendor and isolation of Versailles, Coppola seems to know of what she speaks.
Somewhere rests on a portrait of Johnny Marco [Stephen Dorff], a fictitious present-day movie star nestled decadently, but emptily at the Chateau Marmont until his 11-year-old daughter, heretofore cared for mostly by her mother, shows up unexpectedly. Somewhere paints a familiar, knowing portrait of a parallel and ultra exclusive Los Angeles that only the likes of a Coppola have ever memorized. While the story of a movie star is not related, the rest – even issues of parenthood which Coppola herself is now fully engaged – feel deeply personal to the modern movie heiress.
From a relatively humdrum suite at the Four Seasons Hotel at Beverly Hills, Coppola spoke to the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about writing, music, and memories of both her father and Los Angeles.
Though it is about a male movie star, this seems almost autobiographical. What do you think about that?
I feel like it’s a personal film, and I put a lot of myself into it, but I wouldn’t say autobiographical because my life and childhood were so different than this story.
But it is personal, and I’ve put a lot of things I’ve seen and been around and imagined in there.
What makes it personal for you?
The life is so different but I feel like it’s a world that I’m familiar with and that I’ve been around. I was trying to [deal] with what I was thinking about. I just had a baby so I was thinking about how being a parent changes your perspective. I imagined how that would be for this kind of a guy. I try to put myself into the character’s point of view even though my life isn’t like theirs.
Photo: © 2010 Universal Pictures
Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning in Somewhere.
What aspect of your being a mom is infused in this piece?
I was imagining this guy having a kid, and I know what it’s like to have a kid, but I can’t imagine what it’s like living that kind of lifestyle and having a kid and how your priorities must change. I tried to put what was important and on my mind into this.
Also, becoming a parent you look at your childhood. I tried to put memories of significant moments in the movie. When I was writing the father-daughter stuff, I tried to put in those memories.
Is there any of your dad in [Stephen Dorff’s character]?
Not in Johnny Marco, just in the fun, sweet side of the dad with the kid. But Johnny Marco is based on a bunch of different actors and rock stars all put together, but not on my dad.
I also read that Stephen Dorff came to your mind as the lead while you were writing. At what stage?
At the beginning, when I thought of this character I thought of Stephen. I always find it helpful when I’m writing to picture an actor.
It gives you a tone?
Yeah, it just helps you picture it. It gives a face to what you’re imagining and how they would approach it.
Why Stephen, not that there’s anything wrong with him.
I’ve known Stephen over the years. Knowing him in real life, I thought he had a real sweet side that could bring a lot of heart to a character that’s pretty flawed and make you care about him.
So the sweetness could kind of carry through any unlikable qualities…?
Yeah, with another actor… this character is already in danger of people wondering why they would care about this guy.
When and where do you write now?
I used to stay up late at night and write all night because there were no distractions, no phone… I have little kids, so I can’t stay up anymore. With this, I would just kind of write in the afternoons when my daughter would go off to the park. I have a little office at home.
I’m not a morning person. My dad gets up really early and writes and I just can’t.
So you don’t feel that fresh creative power in the morning that people talk about?
No. I understand why people do that, but I don’t. I kind of like to get things out of the way and then do it.
I know music is important to this film and to you in general. How much do you either listen to music while writing or does music give you ideas for later writing?
Both. I listen to music when I’m writing, a lot of times I listen to music that fits the mood and then some of that music will end up in the movie. It’s a combination of using music to just space out and listening to it when I’m writing.
In a lot of your films and particularly in this one, there’s this enticing, beautiful portrait of a place – in this case L.A. – but then there’s also this isolation, coldness, and loneliness. Is this an intentional theme you try to get at or does it just manifest itself in your films?
It just comes out. I don’t sit down intending to do that. I like stories about when people change. A lot of times in movies, it’s more [about] big dramatic things like being held hostage or war that make people change and I wanted to do something more like in life where something little that doesn’t seem like a big deal can really bring you to look at yourself and change.