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Sofia Coppola: Yes, my birth was filmed
25.05.2016
Sofia Coppola / iStock

Sofia Coppola / iStock

Sofia Coppola: Yes, my birth was filmed

25.05.2016

The director on a A Very Murray Christmas, her parents, her films. The good news is that if you like a Sofia Coppola film — slow and atmospheric, with scarce, longing dialogue — then the chances are you will also like an interview with her.


She turns up in a light blue shirt — very ironed — and black trousers. We’re in Paris, where she lives, and she’s city chic; her small mouth, with its full lips and peeking tooth, much more pronounced in person. We sit for a brunch of scrambled eggs in the muggy courtyard of a hotel near the Tuileries. It had to be a hotel. From Lost in Translation to Somewhere and her latest project, A Very Murray Christmas — an hour-long festive special — many of her key scenes have been shot in hotels.

“I have to stop working in hotels,” she says, so softly that I shift my recorder closer, so it won’t just tape air. “But I spent a lot of time in them growing up. They are their own little world, and it’s not your real life. People in them are in transition, and that’s more interesting than someone settled. It’s when you’re more reflective, trying to understand something you’re going through from one phase to another.”

Coppola — the 44-year-old daughter of the film-makers Francis Ford and Eleanor — is extremely polite: to publicists, waiters, me. She enjoys small talk, as it’s an insight into normal lives she never led.

A Very Murray Christmas looks like its backer, Netflix, paid Coppola to film a seasonal portrait of her family and friends. The thin plot has Bill Murray (star of Lost in Translation) as the host of a TV variety show hit by heavy snow in New York. Nobody turns up, so he heads to a bar for a piano-side singalong. There are cameos from Michael Cera, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Chris Rock, the French band Phoenix (whose singer, Thomas Mars, is Coppola’s husband), Jason Schwartzman (her cousin) and the singer Jenny Lewis (who is a wonderful actress). Lots of songs in, Murray bumps his head and dreams up how his show could have been: Miley Cyrus takes on Silent Night beautifully, and George Clooney jazz-hands from behind trees to croon Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.

Hearts of Darkness

She gets on with people, in life and work, which results in those smooth, uncluttered films, dreams that you wake from and remember. In 1976, her dad was living a nightmare. His Apocalypse Now was starting a shoot afflicted by typhoon, illness and bloated actors, all filmed behind the scenes by his wife. The result of her footage was the excellent 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness, and the immortal line from Francis Ford: “We were in the jungle… and little by little we went insane.”

What, I ask his daughter, would a Hearts of Darkness-style film about a set of hers be like? “It’d be really boring,” she says, sipping lapsang souchong. “There’s not a lot of drama. I mean, I’m not in the Philippines making a war movie. That was a lot of drama, and my dad has a different personality, obviously, than I do. What I’m trying to accomplish isn’t on a big dramatic scale. What I’m making is more intimate.”

She knows, though, that she owes her parents her career. Not exactly what you’d call an anecdotalist, or even a sentence finisher, Coppola nevertheless speaks freely about “learning by being on my dad’s sets”, how “Dad always showed us films”, or how “Mom was always encouraging us that art is important”.

“It’s our family business,” she says of film. “It’s our trade.” Her brother Roman is another writer/director. (He co-wrote Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.) Nicolas Cage, like Schwartzman, is a cousin and weird actor. Her aunt Talia Shire was Connie Corleone in The Godfather films, while even her 28-year-old lookalike niece Gia Coppola has made a decent indie (last year’s Palo Alto). Call it nepotism, call it talent, but that is three generations heavily involved in the movies. Indeed, there is no finer illustration of a film-fanatic family than the fact that in 1971, when Sofia appeared as the baby that Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone holds during the christening at the end of The Godfather, it wasn’t her first time on camera.

Mr. Coppolas Homevideo

Is it true that your birth was filmed? “Yes,” she says, understandably a little embarrassed. “My dad filmed it.” How much do you watch it? “I haven’t seen it in a long time. I’d forgotten. It’s funny, because Dad drops the camera. It was black-and-white — a home video, like everyone does now.” She didn’t have the births of her own children, Romy and Cosima, filmed, but if she had, imagine how sumptuously they would have been soundtracked and framed, with Murray as a midwife.

“Yes, it’s hard to make the movies I work on, which are not multiplex movies, but it’s been OK, as I don’t require big budgets.” She wants control and her own space, and five films in 16 years attest to that; from The Virgin Suicides to The Bling Ring, with nothing on the horizon. She’s writing two scripts, I say, but there’s no great… “Plan?” I was going to say rush. “No, I’m not full of rush.” Is either script set in a hotel? “No.”

Jonathan Dean / The Sunday Times / The Interview People

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