'Somewhere' director Sofia Coppola explores off-duty stardom

by Joe Williams

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

14 January 2011


ST. LOUIS — With “Somewhere,” a Hollywood father-and-daughter story, Sofia Coppola has directed her fourth film in 11 years. That’s more prolific than, say, Terrence Malick, who has completed four films in 38 years, but the modest output is a disappointment for those who expected Coppola to be the next great American director.

In 2003, Coppola became the first American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award as best director, for “Lost in Translation.” Although she lost to Peter Jackson (for the “Lord of the Rings” finale), Coppola won the Oscar for best original screenplay. The Coppolas thus joined the Hustons as the only family with three generations of Academy Award winners.

Sofia’s paternal grandfather was composer Carmine Coppola. Her father, of course, is director Francis Ford Coppola.

Francis cast Sofia in all three of his “Godfather” films and directed her script for his segment of the anthology film “New York Stories” when she was just 18.

Like “New York Stories” and “Lost in Translation,” “Somewhere” is about a girl and a glamorous elder in a swank hotel. In this case, the elder is an aimlessly hedonistic movie star, played by Stephen Dorff, and the girl is his estranged daughter, played by Elle Fanning. The hotel is the Chateau Marmont, the Hollywood haunt where Clark Gable bedded honeymooner Jean Harlow, Jim Morrison concocted a mix of whiskey and LSD, and John Belushi died of a heroin-and-cocaine overdose.

Oh, and it’s also where “Lost in Translation” star Scarlett Johansson allegedly seduced Benicio Del Toro in an elevator after that year’s Oscar ceremony.

Del Toro makes a cameo appearance in “Somewhere” — aboard that same elevator.

In a recent phone interview, Coppola said her script for “Somewhere” was inspired by incidents she witnessed growing up in the film community.

“Benicio said after the premiere that it was the most realistic movie he’d ever seen about celebrity life,” she said.

Coppola wanted to depict the surreal, slow-motion moments when a star is off camera.

Although she was speaking from the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, another celebrity hangout that makes a brief appearance in the movie, Coppola said it would be too reductive to call the story autobiographical.

Unlike Fanning’s character in the movie, Coppola isn’t from a broken home and, unlike Dorff’s, father Francis wasn’t besieged by groupies whenever he went out. The Coppolas spent most of their time in northern California, where Francis often worked with kindred Hollywood exile George Lucas and maintained a parallel career as a winemaker.

“It was only when we went to film festivals that I remembered he was famous,” the younger Coppola said.

As for herself, Coppola said she can go days without being recognized in public. After relatively high-profile relationships with Hollywood directors Spike Jonze and Quentin Tarantino, Coppola spends much of her time in Paris, where she has two young daughters with Thomas Mars, the lead singer of the rock band Phoenix.

“I’d like to make more movies, but they take time,” she said. “And my family is just as important.”

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