It wasn’t quite homesickness, but director Sofia Coppola felt a yearning for Los Angeles when she wrote her latest film “Somewhere,” opening in the U.S. Wednesday. After the over the top posh environs and Baroque/Roccoco palate that permeated her previous film, “Marie Antoinette,” set in the trappings of the Palace of Versailles, Coppola traded iconic residences for the comparatively minimalist Chateau Marmont, an oasis right off Sunset Boulevard for LA’s revolving trove of A-listers.
“I was living in Paris, but started to think about Los Angeles,” Coppola told indieWIRE in a conversation at the Standard Hotel in New York City last week. Coppola, who grew up in Northern California has called LA home at one point, and “Somewhere” is her first film set in the city. “I have always loved iconic LA and the pop culture of the city, and I wanted to do a film at the Chateau Marmont from the ‘guy’s point-of-view.'”
Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, “Somewhere” stars Stephen Dorff as successful but wayward actor Johnny Marco. Living at the Chateau Marmont, he drives around in his Ferrari, has a bevvy of pretty girls around to satisfy his impulses, and parties with his hard drinking and pill popping friends.
The fast times though are interrupted when his beautiful daughter Cleo (played by a delightful Elle Fanning) shows up unexpectedly at the door. Though still a child, she takes on a bit of a motherly role and her presence compels Johnny to reassess his life.
“He has this vague idea that he needs to go somewhere else,” Coppola pointed out. While not particularly unhappy he nevertheless gets the feeling there should be something more than the golden cage he lives in, and the arrival of Cleo exacerbates those feelings.
“Cleo is based on a friend’s daughter who I relate to,” Coppola offered up. “My childhood was different, but I can connect with it in a different way.” Coppola said that when looking for the actress who could play Cleo, she had a certain personality in mind, but wondered how long it would take to find someone she envisioned.
“Elle [Fanning] had done many movies and she is a little pro, but she also seemed like a child and still very natural. She still gets excited about ‘kids things.'”Coppola went on to compliment Fanning for being able to convey an innocence and playfulness despite the jaded surroundings of her father.
“We did a lot of improvisation and you could feel a dynamic between them,” said Coppola. “I even had Stephen pick Elle up from school and had him live at the Chateau before shooting began. They developed their own inside jokes, which [solidified] their relationship onscreen.”
As for the Chateau Marmont, Coppola was determined that “Somewhere” had to take place there. “There was no Plan B,” she noted. “It just had to be there. It’s a character in the film.” Though management at the Chateau is reluctant to allow film shoots, Coppola was fortunate to know the manager who pulled strings. The characters in the film reflect the popular myth (or realities) of life at the hotel. “It is a place where a guy like [Johnny] would live,” Coppola said. “Actors like him go there and it’s a right of passage.”
Though surrounded by the glitz of Hollywood and its trappings, “Somewhere” is surprisingly zen and void of some of the predictable bells and whistles other filmmakers might have used to tackle a similar story. Coppola seems driven by personal stories evident in “Antoinette” and her Oscar-nominated “Lost in Translation.”
“I am interested in how people find their identities within a world they didn’t choose for themselves. I enjoy these extreme settings.”
[Focus Features opens Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” in select theaters Wednesday, December 22.]