News Column

Sofia Coppola: 'Acting's Not for Me': INTERVIEW

July 5, 2013

Shereen Low

A group of celebrity-obsessed teenagers breaking into their favourite stars' homes and stealing prized possessions sounds like the perfect plot for a film.

In fact, Sofia Coppola's fifth feature film, The Bling Ring, was inspired by the real-life crime spree of five Californian youths. Known as the Bling Ring or Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch', the group - alleged ringleader Rachel Lee and high-school friends Alexis Neiers, Diana Tamayo, Courtney Ames and Nick Prugo - targeted the homes of Hollywood stars like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson.

During their ten-month rampage, they netted around $3 million in cash and belongings, before being caught in August 2009.

I remember hearing the story in the news and it seemed crazy - these teenagers robbing celebrities' houses, says Coppola.

But it was after reading American writer Nancy Jo Sales's Vanity Fair article in 2010, entitled The Suspects Wore Louboutins, in which she'd interviewed the gang, that Coppola decided to turn the story into a movie.

The Bling Ring - a fictional tale based on the crimes - stars Emma Watson. When I read about the kids and their perspective on it, I thought it was fascinating and a fun story for a movie. It said a lot about our culture today, says 42-year-old Coppola who, at 32, became the youngest woman ever to win a best director Oscar for Lost In Translation in 2003. Her understated but intense, quirky, character-based movies, like The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette, have won her a legion of fans.

Sales let Coppola use interview transcripts.

Going through the research, editing it down and finding a way to make these characters relatable and sympathetic was very challenging, admits the New-York born director, who lives in Paris with her rocker husband, Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars, and their two daughters.

She also met up with two gang members, including Prugo, as well as chief investigator Detective Brett Goodkin.

The film also stars newcomers Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien and Israel Broussard. It was fun to discover new talent, and it was great to work with Emma Watson, who is playing a part so different from how we know her, says Coppola.

It was really energising working with our young cast - some of them had never been in a feature film before.

She praises Watson.

Niki is worlds apart from prim Hermione Granger.

I met with her in New York and really liked her as a person, recalls Coppola. She has an English accent and is very different from this character, so it was difficult to imagine her doing it at first.

When she came out to do the film, I was very impressed with how she transformed. It was so surprising. She could have easily been like a caricature or spoof, but having her take the part so seriously brought the reality to it. She worked really hard to get her Calabasas accent down, and the attitude.

I thought she did a great job of blending in. You don't think, 'Oh, there's Emma Watson'.

Watson's talked of how she prepared for the role, too - by watching American TV shows.

The film was shot in and around Los Angeles, and Coppola even had access to Hilton's real home, where some of the burglaries took place.

It was pretty amazing that Paris Hilton let us shoot in her real house. I'd heard she even had a nightclub room. We went into her house and it was like nothing I'd seen before, she reveals.

It was pretty exciting being in her shoe closet! I felt in my element. It's like a candy store. I really appreciate that she's been so supportive of our movie. Hilton also makes a cameo appearance.

She wants people to think twice about the obsession with celebrities. I try not to tell the audience what to think and set it up for them to be reflective, she says.

I've tried to tell the story in a way that you can get into it from the kids' point of view, and see how it's fun and exciting. And hopefully, by the end of it, you get another perspective that they have taken it too far.

I hope not to be judging them too much, but I'm definitely looking at them from a distance - there is a critical aspect to it, she adds. I hope I'm not glamorising their bad behaviour.

Having acted herself (she appeared in some of her father's films and music videos), TV presenting, modelling and fashion (her own range, Milkfed, is sold in Japan), Coppola has now found her true calling.

I don't enjoy being in front of the camera, she admits. When I was younger, I tried lots of things so I would know what they were like. I'm glad to know but I'm happier behind the camera. I don't think [I'll act again]. It's not for me. The Bling Ring opens today.

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