Underestimate the power of women at your own peril. That’s one of the lessons to be drawn from The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s new remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood film, where a wounded Civil War soldier (Colin Farrell) stumbles into a half-abandoned all-girls boarding school to recuperate. As the man of the house, he expects to be the center of attention — and at first he is, as headmistress Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and their girls attend to and dream about him — but as things grow tense, the women have the numbers in this fraught battle of the sexes.
Coppola knows a thing or two about being underestimated, too. She incorporates it into the look of The Beguiled, which draws you in with its pretty pastel dresses and luscious cinematography, all the while holding a knife behinds its back: “I wanted it to be this feminine, gauzy world that doesn’t look threatening at all,” Coppola says, “so that it’s a real surprise when the story shifts.” Coppola’s ouevre, which includes The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette, is just as feminine and unhurried, and aside from her Oscar-winning Lost in Translation, just as likely to be underrated by men, too. At least The Beguiled is getting its due: The film just won a historic Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival and in this interview with Vulture, Coppola says no one was more surprised than she was.
I read an interview with you where you talked about casting Colin, and you said you wanted an actor who would appeal to both women and gay men. I felt very seen, Sofia.
[Putting a hand over her heart] My people! I really made this movie for my gay men friends. And for my women friends! I have a friend, Fabrizio [Viti], who’s a shoe designer, and he really pushed me to embrace the idea of objectifying a man’s body. He was my tutor in that.
What kind of conversations did you have with Colin about objectification?
He knew the story, and I respect that he’s man enough to take on that role. He’s confident enough to let women be in charge and be here for that, so I thought it was cool that he totally got it and had a good sense of humor. At one point we were shooting stills for a calendar where he was gardening, and he was giving it to us. He was covered in water, doing all this hunk stuff. Oh, he milked it.
You know, if you really wanted to appease your gay fan base, there should have been a title card in the Beguiled trailer saying, “We shot the interiors for this movie in Jennifer Coolidge’s house.”
I know, I love her. We’re all fans of hers. She came by one day, and she was so cool. She said, “I love coming to my house and seeing this petite woman in charge.”
Congratulations on your Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. You’re only the second woman to win it, though I know you would have loved to accept that award in person.
Yeah, I went home that Friday, and I heard on Saturday, “If your movie wins something, would you be available to come back?” I said sure, but then Saturday night came and nobody had heard anything.
So when did you find out?
I got a call Sunday morning on my way to Coney Island with my kids. I was getting on the subway, and I got a call that we won a prize. They didn’t say what prize, they just said it was a prize. But it was too late to get there. Kirsten was in Italy and I asked, “Can you get to Cannes?” but she couldn’t get there in time, either.
And what did you think when you heard which prize you’d won?
When I was actually at Coney Island, I got another call from [Cannes head] Thierry Frémaux saying it was the Best Director prize. I was shocked and thrilled. I was trying to tell my kids, “I’m sorry I’m on the phone, but I got this prize!” But they were proud. I was walking the next day to school, and strangers on the street were going, “Congratulations!” And the moms at school were giving me support and love, and all my women artist friends. It was a great week.
Before Cannes, I read an interview with you where you were somewhat apprehensive about what the reaction would be.
You never know with Cannes. There was some talk [with the studio] that was like, “Are you sure you want to go to Cannes? They can be harsh.” But we had just finished the movie and I was excited to show it there. It was a relief that the first screening went well, though. As we were going into the photo call, someone said the first tweet was really pro, and then there was a badass one that made me go, “All right!” People were getting it and laughing.
I heard one person at Cannes call it “the most deranged season of The Bachelor ever.”
That’s so good, I love that. I don’t read all [the tweets], but I remember we did a test screening in Pasadena where I didn’t know what to expect, and they laughed at all the little glances that the editor and I had really enjoyed when we were working it. It makes me happy when people connect with the things that you enjoy about it.
The thing I most enjoyed about it was Kirsten Dunst. She’s just incredible as Edwina, who has been lonely for so long and just can’t pretend anymore.
She’s so touching, yeah. I was so happy to work with her again and I was impressed by how much she was able to convey, because it’s such a quiet role and everyone else is doing so much. She has this strong performance with a lot going on underneath it and so much vulnerability. I feel like everyone really brought it, and she really, really did.
You can tell that she feels that character in her bones.
She would turn into that character before our eyes. It’s funny because at lunch, she would be bubbly Kirsten, and then we’d go back to work and she’d turn into Edwina. I could tell she was going into the zone.
I feel like your last movie with Kirsten, Marie Antoinette, has been getting a second critical wind. On social media, a lot of people now tout it as their favorite of your films.
Oh wow! I didn’t know that, but people come up to me and mention it a lot. When it came out, it wasn’t so well received, so I’m happy when people bring up that movie.
There are a lot of acclaimed movies about privileged men out there, but movies about privileged women always seem to draw disproportionate flak.
I never thought about that, but you’re so right. Marie Antoinette the person got flak, so it makes sense, at least.
You recently included the Will Ferrell comedy Daddy’s Home on your list of the best movies of the 2000s, because you can watch it with your children. Do you find that watching movies with them has affected the way you think about film?
Well, they have such bad taste in the movies they want to watch. [Laughs.] I was always exposed to such good films growing up, so I try to show those to them, but if anything’s old, they don’t want to see it. It’s always a struggle to find a movie that we all enjoy, but they were cracking up watching Daddy’s Home, so that made it fun.
Reading your list of best movies made me wonder if you’re watching a lot of current television, too.
I get overwhelmed. There’s so many choices, but I love when you get really absorbed in a show. The last thing I got really sucked into was the O.J. documentary [O.J.: Made in America], and before that, Breaking Bad, although I know it was a long time ago.
A lot of marquee directors are making their mark with a limited series these days. Is that something that’s of interest to you?
Well, I love the glamorous mini-series of the ’80s. Let’s bring that back.
Like The Thorn Birds?
Yes! I would like to do a glamorous mini-series, although I know it’s just called a limited series now. But I feel like TV has gotten a little too gritty and edgy. I would like to bring glamour back to TV.