Though her Somewhere star Stephen Dorff is a raconteur who’s happy to talk to the press, director Sofia Coppola is a little more circumspect. It’s not for nothing that when Dorff’s movie-star character Johnny Marco appears at a press conference in the film, his responses to questioning are muted and brief, like Coppola’s herself (and quite unlike the vapid character played by Anna Faris in Coppola’s Lost in Translation, who is only too happy to spew nonsense at length when being interviewed). Still, when the 39-year-old Oscar winner sat down recently with Vulture, we managed to get her to open up just a little bit about her love of vampire movies, her memories of the Chateau Marmont (where Somewhere is set), and her surprise that any of you would be so interested in the ending of Lost in Translation.
Stephen told me that when you began this movie, Johnny Marco wasn’t the main character.
Yeah, I was writing something else and this character came to mind. I kept thinking about that character and got interested in doing a portrait of this guy.
What was the original project?
It’s sort of embarrassing. After Marie Antoinette, I was thinking, Oh, I feel like it’s time for a vampire movie. So I was writing this vampire story, and then that character came in. It was before Twilight and all that stuff.
Was it kind of a Bret Easton Ellis, vampires-in-Hollywood type of thing?
Oh no, it was set in Europe.
And it just happened to involve a Hollywood star?
Yeah, he came into the story, but it was all set in Europe. And then I was writing the character of the daughter, and I asked my friend’s daughter what books she would be reading, and she was explaining to me the plot of Twilight, and I didn’t know what it was. So that’s why we have the daughter talking about that [in Somewhere].
And then life imitated art, because you were mentioned as a contender to direct the final Twilight installment, Breaking Dawn. Did you approach them, or did they approach you?
They approached me. I had asked [Summit] about something else a while ago, but they approached me about that.
Did you ever seriously consider the gig?
Yeah. Yeah, I talked to them about it. I liked the first story, and I have so many friends’ kids who love it. I think it’s romantic. But yeah, I didn’t end up doing it.
Would you be amenable to directing someone else’s story?
I like writing and doing the whole process, so I’m not sure. I want to be open to saying I’ll try other things, but I can’t imagine working from someone else’s script.
Breaking Dawn would have been a movie with a whole different scope than what you normally make, with a lot of special effects. Is that something you’re interested in doing?
You know, I was curious about doing that with my brother [Roman], who really knows a lot about that stuff. I thought it would be a good balance. I’ve never done a lot of all that.
Is Roman the gearhead who wanted to use your father’s old lenses from Rumble Fish when shooting Somewhere?
He saved them, but I’m sentimental about old-sized lenses. I still shoot on film. I’m not advanced in the high-tech world.
Would you be resistant to making a 3-D movie?
I guess it depends on the idea. I thought it would be funny to release this movie in 3-D, for like a week. But I can’t really see doing that, because it relies on a lot of action, whereas I’m more internal.
James Cameron likes to preach that in the future, even intimate dramas like this one will benefit from 3-D.
Really? That’s so bizarre. But it would be funny to see this movie in 3-D. I’d love to see [Marco’s sexy, dancing] twins in 3-D.
What did you see Stephen in that made you think he might be right for this role?
I always thought he was a really good actor, but it was more just from knowing him. I had known him over the years, and he’s such a sweet guy that I thought he would bring a lot of heart to this character, who could be unlikable. I knew he could bring some sweetness that would make you want to watch him.
How important was the public’s perception of Stephen? He’s famous, but he’s not a huge, A-list star.
Yeah, but I think it’s good that you don’t know too much about his personal life. I just felt like he was the right guy, and it was fun to see him in a role we haven’t seen him in before. A different side of him.
Your father was interested in buying the Chateau at one point. What happened?
He actually owned it for a second.
Oh, so it actually went through?
Yeah, but there was a termite report, and my mom talked him out of it.
Do you have strong memories of the place when it was a little more run-down?
I don’t remember it so much from being a little kid. My memories of it are from my twenties, after Andre Balazs took over.
Do you worry that the movie may be responsible for driving more looky-loos to the place?
You know, I didn’t think about that, and then someone just said, “I hope it doesn’t get too crowded now.” That never occurred to me, but I don’t feel like it’s a secret. You see it in tabloid magazines.
Stephen was telling me that the script was 48 pages when he read it, and —
I’ve got to tell him not to say that. But yeah, it was really short.
Do you worry that people will understand what you intend to fill it out with when you first show it to them?
I feel like it’s pretty clear when I write. I get the point across. If it were my first script, it would be a little harder, but Lost in Translation was also a really short script, and they knew how I filled that out with visuals, that I can state something in a sentence. The ice-skating scene was two sentences, but I knew it was going to be a whole sequence.
Did you have any reservations about repeating some of the motifs from Lost in Translation … the hotel setting, the older, soul-sick man, his dynamic with a young woman?
I wasn’t worried about that. I think a lot of creative people revisit certain themes. To me, it’s such a different world, with different characters.
We recently spoke to Kirsten Dunst, and she says that some of the bad reviews given to Marie Antoinette really hurt her. How did they land for you?
I don’t read them. I’m oversensitive.
Did you ever read your own reviews?
Did I ever? I mean, I have in my lifetime. But I don’t now. It’s hard enough as a writer, that you have all these things in your head that try to discourage you. I try to focus on the things that interest me.
We also recently spoke to your partner, Thomas Mars, who says you’re not a big fan of the Beatles. This is a provocative notion!
Ugh, I wish he hadn’t said that. Yeah, I don’t want to be disrespectful or rude, so I don’t want to say anything about that.
Are you aware that there are people on YouTube who’ve tried to use sound-editing programs to decode the ending whisper of Lost in Translation?
Yeah, it’s so bizarre! I never would have thought people would be interested in that.
You didn’t think people would be curious about that moment?
I never thought the moment would be a big deal at all. I mean, I never even thought that many people would see the movie, so it was a surprise that it got so much attention. But yeah, I didn’t think that scene would be so analyzed. I like that Bill Murray says that it’s between them.
Do you know what you want to do next? You’ve said that Somewhere was a stripped-down reaction to the frippery of Marie Antoinette.
I do feel like everything I do is a reaction to what I just did, that I want to do something different. But I’m not sure. I’m not sure yet. Once this comes out and I have a little break, I’ll see what I get interested in.
I still kind of want to see what you’d do with a vampire movie.
It’s too bad that there’s so many of them now!
The fact that it’s a trend would only help you to get one made.
It’s just funny that at the time I thought, It’s really time for a vampire movie, and now, of course, it’s all over. I doubt I’ll go back to that.