Sofia Coppola got very rare opportunity with her new movie “Somewhere.” The Oscar winning filmmaker was granted a shooting pass at West Hollywood’s famed Chateau Marmont hotel on the Sunset Strip. Sure, they only had three weeks and had to stay out of the way of the guests, but those were easy conditions to agree to for a chance to film in the legendary hotel.
“We had to rent out the whole floor so we didn”t disturb guests and then each department was in a room, which is really fun because wardrobe was in one room, the camera guys were in another,” Coppola says. “We had to really be quiet about shooting in the lobby and there was only one working elevator at the time so when we did [the cameo] with Benecio Del Toro we had like 10 minutes to shoot it and then tthey would hop out of the elevator and let the guests use it and then we would shoot. He was really a good sport about it.”
Coppola pauses for a minute and then recalls, “It was funny because we were shooting that scene and Cameron Diaz walked by to go to her room but we didn”t put her in the movie. But we asked him and he was nice to come and be a local.”
Appropriately, Coppola and I are sitting in the corner of the Hotel’s lobby discussing her new drama which opened in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday. She’s dressed in a gray sweatshirt and jeans, almost nondescript compared to the other guests going in and out of the hotel. And yet, easier for her to make keen observations and perhaps ideally why her best work has been behind the camera.
In case you hadn’t heard, “Somewhere” is a Hollywood movie — a picture about a successful late 30’s movie star (Stephen Dorff) trying to figure out his place in the world as he indulges in a rich vagabond life inside the Chateau. It has a similar tone to Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” but still moved the Venice Film Festival jury enough to award her the festival’s Golden Lion in September. And while one would assume Coppola, having grown up on movie sets around the globe as the daughter of famed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, was drawing on years of experience in the industry, that simply wasn’t the case.
“I was living in Paris after Marie Antoinette and there was something in the news about like a few different successful actor guys who were all having personal crisis at the time and I was thinking about this idea and this character just came to mind. [I was also] homesick and thinking about L.A. and about how it’s changed and how it”s not the same,” Coppola explains. “So, this idea of this character came into mind and then I thought of course the Chateau Marmont and [him driving a red] Ferrari and then I just made up the rest, but [it was centered on wanting] to do this portrait of this guy in this moment of L.A.”
That guy ended up being played by Dorff who literally campaigned for the role by flying himself across the Atlantic to audition for Coppola. He shouldn’t have worried, it appears she already had him in mind. Still, she wasn’t sure she’d really landed on her leading character until Dorff read the screenplay.
“I thought after I finished the script and we were working on it here, Stephen would say ‘Oh yeah, that”s authentic,'” Coppola says. “I was glad to have him as a consultant because I was making stuff up and there was some stuff that I heard from stories.”
Coppola and Dorff only form two thirds of the “Somewhere” trio, however. The final part of the film’s puzzle belongs to the endearing Elle Fanning. The 12-year-old actress is clearly displaying a different set of talents than her older and more well known sister Dakota, but the family’s intense commitment to each role is still there. As Dorff’s daughter from a broken marriage, Fanning is in many ways a totem for her father to realize just out of touch he’s become with reality. On one lazy afternoon together, he has an epiphany watching her practice her ice skating lessons. Coppola told me she assumed they would have to get a double for Fanning, but the actress had other ideas and did the entire scene herself.
“I don”t how many weeks [she did it], but she went every morning before school and I went to an early rehearsal and she could barely skate,” Coppola says. “When we actually filmed the scene we were all really moved because it was so touching to see how she had learned.”
There is no follow up project on Coppola’s agenda after “Somewhere,” but she raised some eyebrows among the hipster set when she put her name in the pool to direct “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” a project that eventually went to fellow Academy Award winner Bill Condon. When I asked Coppola if that was the type of Hollywood studio picture she was interested in directing she sort of sidestepped the question, but she did explain her interest in the series.
“When I saw the first one I was really impressed with the performances by Rob and Kristen – that they were so good to take the material seriously. They weren’t treating it lightly as a kid thing. And I like things for young people and my friend”s teenage daughter put me on the book and I”m a big romantic, too. I love the romantic aspect of it,” Coppola says. “So yeah, I like doing things for a young audience and usually things for kids aren”t made in that way. I thought it would have been exciting to do the first one where [their relationship was established].”
“Twilight” directed by a Coppola? Now that would have been something to see.
“Somewhere” is now playing in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.
Follow Gregory Ellwood and Awards Campaign on Twitter @HitFixGregory