CANNES – Sofia Coppola is a bit tired. As we sit down for one of her last interviews of the day it’s clear she’s lost a wee bit of enthusiasm to talk once again about the world of celebrity culture her characters in “The Bling Ring” are obsessed with. She succinctly notes, “You can’t really look at US Weekly as in the same way after making this movie.”
“Bing Ring” is based on the true story on a group of upper middle class Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley teenagers whose somewhat innocent adventures sneaking into the homes of Hollywood celebrities while they are out of town turns into a series of legitimate robberies. Coppola changed the names of the burglars for the movie, but the five main perpetrators are Rebecca (Katie Chang), Marc (Israel Broussard), Cholie (Claire Julien), Emily (Georgia Rock) and Nicki (the somewhat recognizable Emma Watson). Rebecca and Marc began the “game” which found the BFFs finding their way into Paris Hilton’s home where they stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of person items on numerous visits.
While other celebrities such as Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan and Rachel Bilson were also victims of the Bling Ring, Hilton was the only one Coppola approached to use her real home. Why you may ask? Because as you’ll notice in the film, Hilton’s self-congratulatory shrine would be insanely expensive to recreate. This revelation may call come to a shock to Paris’ neighbors as her gated community doesn’t allow motion picture production.
“At any moment we could get thrown off and thrown out. We would have been screwed ’cause we didn’t have another location to be Paris’ house. We had to have a really tiny crew and sneak in in a van,” Coppola says. “Yeah, I hope she doesn’t get in too much trouble with her neighbors.”
While the exterior of Hilton’s home in the film is actually a different house Coppola ads, “we had to black roll the windows to be night and then we had two days to shoot there and we were just hoping we didn’t get busted ’cause we didn’t have a back-up plan. So, that was the most nerve-racking. And when we finished that I felt like, ‘Oh, thank God ’cause it would be so hard to rebuild that house. We didn’t have the budget to build that house.”
Hilton attended the premiere at Cannes and told Coppola afterward that seeing the break-ins on screen made her “very emotional.” She also told Vulture later that night “It made me want to slap” the perpetrators. But, as you’d expect from a Coppola movie, “Bling Ring” has a lot more going for it than it’s B-level celebrity trappings. Coppola is opening a window into a generation of kids whose morals are quickly slipping for the sake of a good time.
Coppola notes, “I think [one] challenge was not to be judgmental, you know? I wanted to really try to show what it was like for them and let the audience experience it with them.”
The film begins when the insecure Marc meets the bold and stylish Rebecca upon his arrival at a new LA area high school. The duo quickly become friends, but it’s Rebecca who encourages their break-ins and for their increasingly growing social circle to push the boundaries of where they go and what at they steal. While Rebecca’s life is probably worth a documentary in and of itself, Coppola decided to have the audience see this story through Marc’s eyes.
“The characters are all so unsympathetic and I was trying to think about making a movie about unsympathetic characters and how you can connect to them,” Coppola says. “And then I felt like Marc’s character was the one that I could connect with and [that the] audience could kind of get into the world through him.”
Not all the members of the Ring participated in Coppola’s research before she wrote the script (some are still incarcerated, some have dreams of celebrity stardom still), but Coppola did speak to Nick Prugo (Marc in the film) and Alexis Neiers (Watson’s incredulously self aware Nicki).
“I talked to Nick the most and he told me the most kind of information and little stories and details like that they tried to steal Paris’ dog and stuff like that that added to the movie,” Coppola says. “When I met Nick it was before the film and he was about to go to jail and he was definitely remorseful of what he did and he was sorry for it. “I mean, I could tell he had fond memories of that thrill and of being part of something but he was sorry for what he did.”
A number of critics, including this writer, are describing “Bling Ring” as almost a West Coast answer to Harmony Korine’s polarizing “Spring Breakers” which hit theaters a few months ago. Both films center on a group of teenagers (or college students in the case of “Breakers”) who dangerously lose all their inhibitions in the conquest of a good time (Coppola hasn’t seen “Breakers” yet, but she’s curious as she’d already heard the comparison when I mentioned it). While Korine film may have a much darker and violent subtext, Coppola’s demanded am ugh different tone.
“I think it was like trying to make something that was fun and pop but then also was thoughtful and if you could do both at the same time. If you can get to this popcorn and have some kind of art in it,” Coppola says. “And I guess just to make them sympathetic ’cause otherwise it’d be hard to watch a movie about people you don’t care about.”
“The Bling Ring” opens in limited release on June 14.