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Sofia Coppola Mimics Hollywood Life In 'Somewhere'

Filmmaker Sofia Coppola's latest movie, Somewhere, is about an aimless Hollywood actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who re-examanes his superficial life after a visit from his 11-year-old daughter. Coppola discusses the film -- and her relationship with her own father, Francis Ford Coppola.

30:45

Other segments from the episode on December 20, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 20, 2010: Interview with Sofia Coppola; Interview with Stephen Dorff.

Transcript

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Sofia Coppola Mimics Hollywood Life In 'Somewhere'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Sofia Coppola, wrote and directed the new film "Somewhere,"
which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. She won a
screenwriting Oscar for her 2003 film "Lost in Translation" and was
nominated for Best Director and Best Picture Oscars. Her 2006 film,
"Marie Antoinette," won an Oscar for Costume Design. Her 1999 film
"Virgin Suicides" won the MTV Movie Award for Best New Filmmaker.

"Somewhere" is based in part on people she's known, but she also drew on
her memories growing up with her father, Francis Ford Coppola. He's an
executive producer of the film.

"Somewhere" is about a popular actor, played by Stephen Dorff, who's
living at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in L.A. He's in between roles,
divorced and adrift. His life is his sports car, the women who throw
themselves at him and the parties in his room that he doesn't even seem
to have arranged.

His forearm is in a cast, after falling down a flight of steps,
following a night of drinking at the hotel. His life is out of balance,
and nothing seems to have meaning.

He has to rouse himself when his 11-year-old daughter, played by Elle
Fanning, comes to stay with him. Here's the scene where he wakes up to
find his daughter by his bedside. She was brought there by his ex-wife,
who is also in the room.

(Soundbite of film, "Somewhere")

Ms. ELLE FANNING (Actor): (As Cleo) Hi, dad.

Mr. STEPHEN DORFF (Actor): (As Johnny Marco) Hey, Cleo.

Ms. LALA SLOATMAN (Actor): (As Layla) Hi, Johnny.

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) Hey Layla.

Ms. SLOATMAN: (As Layla) What happened to you?

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) Just a little stunt work. You know, I do all my
own stunts.

Ms. SLOATMAN: (As Layla) Don't get her back too late, okay?

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) Yeah, sure. I like this, my first signature.

Ms. FANNING: (As Cleo) Thanks.

Mr. DORFF: (As Johnny) This is cool.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Have you known a lot of
actors like your character, Johnny Marco, who are living in this kind of
nowhere-land, where they're kind of lost and drifting and not - you
know, in between films and not engaged with anything, not even the women
who they're having sex with?

Ms. SOFIA COPPOLA (Filmmaker): Yeah, I feel like I've been around some
guys like that, and I've definitely heard stories. But I've seen, I've
been around some. So I've seen it, and then I just kind of imagined what
I thought that life would be like.

There were a few - when I was writing the script, there were a few
stories in the news about a couple of really successful actors and
performers having personal crisis, and it looked like they were having
this kind of fun, party lifestyle. So I just from there tried to imagine
what his life would be like and, you know, the next morning. And also
just with our kind of fascination with celebrity culture.

There's a - I feel like there's a desire for some people to get to the
Chateau Marmont, and I was thinking about what happens when you get
there. That hotel is sort of, you know, a center of show business and,
you know, some people go there to be seen or hide out.

GROSS: Now, a lot of the film is set at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, where
your main character is living. And so tell us about why you wanted to
set it at that particular hotel for - I mean, I'm not really familiar
with the lore of that hotel.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, I mean, in Los Angeles, the Chateau Marmont is this
iconic hotel in Hollywood that has a lot of history and stories of
people throughout the years in movies and music and authors all staying
there and kind of debaucherous(ph) things that happened and scandals.

And so it's - in Los Angeles, it's sort of a meeting ground for all
these creative types, but then in more recent years, it's been in
tabloids. And so many movie stars have lived there, whether they're
making movies or in between films or in between relationships.

So it has a lot of history, but a lot of movie stars have lived there,
and it's almost been like a rite of passage. Even Stephen, the actor in
the movie, told me his story of when he lived there. And so it has a lot
of stories, but when I was writing this character, I thought that's
where this guy would live.

GROSS: Didn't your father try to buy the hotel once?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, there was a story. He says, I owned the hotel for a
day. But I guess it was probably in the - I don't know if it was in the
late '70s or '80s. He had bought the hotel. But then there was a termite
report. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: So my mom talked him out of it, I guess.

GROSS: Why did he want it? What was he going to do with it?

Ms. COPPOLA: I don't know. I have to ask him more about it. But, you
know, now he has a little chain of resorts.

GROSS: I didn't know that.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. I don't know, he likes, you know, the lifestyle. He's
interested in a lot of different areas.

GROSS: Many of the scenes in "Somewhere" are shot almost in real time.
For example, the opening scene is of a sports car being driven, and we
don't even know who's driving it yet, but just being driven around and
around in circles on this desert road.

And we hear - we see the car go in and out of camera range. We hear the
engine, motor go in and out of microphone of range. And we don't know,
why is this car circling round and round and round? And we find out more
about that a little later. It's kind of like an image, in a way, of what
the movie's going to be like.

But anyways, it's shot in real time, and a lot of the scenes are, for
instance, like Johnny sitting in his suite, smoking a cigarette,
drinking a beer, and we're just watching him smoking a cigarette and
drinking a beer and just kind of spacing out.

And, you know, movies tend to be so tightly edited nowadays, where
everything, like, moves so quickly. And you're doing exactly the
opposite. How come?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, well, I wanted it to feel like you're alone with this
character and just for the audience to be alone with him, and what does
he do in his off moments?

And I thought it was interesting to, yeah, feel like you were there with
him and also get in his state of mind, which is, you know, when he's -
there's a scene with twin pole dancers, and it should be exciting, but,
you know, he's seen it a million times. So I didn't want to edit it in
a, you know, titillating way.

I hope it's refreshing for audiences that - I just feel like movies are
so bombarded with fast editing and song after song of music, and I
wanted to have more breathing room and just have a pause.

And even modern life, with everyone in contact and on BlackBerrys, and I
felt like it was nice just to have a break from that and just be alone
with this guy.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned the twins who do the pole dance. So let me
explain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: After Johnny has broken his arm, he's lying in bed in his hotel
suite, and these two twin pole dancers are dancing in what I think is
like skimpy nurse uniforms.

Ms. COPPOLA: They're candy-stripers.

GROSS: Candy-stripers, okay. So they're on these, like, I don't even
know they made these, like portable poles for pole dancing, portable,
collapsible poles, and they're - and it's just kind of like cheesy
choreography, and they have these, like, actor-ly smiles on their faces
because they know they're supposed to be smiling. And they're going
through the motions.

And he's lying in bed. He's just broken his arm. He's looking kind of
bored. And the scene plays out. They're listening, they're dancing to -
no, what are they dancing too?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, they're dancing to the Foo Fighters song, "My Hero,"
which I thought was funny, them in their candy-stripers, performing to
"My Hero," as he's broken his arm.

GROSS: And the whole - you see the whole dance, and it's not erotic.
He's not aroused. It's not shot in an arousing way. You hear, as they're
sliding down the poles, you hear their arms kind of squeaking, their
hands squeaking on the pole. So it's, like, they're working.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, I like - I loved working with Richard Beggs(ph), the
sound designer because it was fun to put in all those little details and
the squeaks of the pole so that I wanted it to feel as much as, like,
life as possible and kind of avoid movie - things about movies the way
they're usually done and make it, you know, hopefully more like life and
have all these kind of real details.

And you see them fold up their collapsible pole, and I like all those
little moments.

But yeah, I wanted to start off showing that, you know, he can order
anything he wants from - you know, pick up the phone, and he can have
twins entertain him and just the idea that even with two - even with the
twins, it's not exciting because he's on painkillers, and he's probably
seen them, you know, for months.

GROSS: So how did you know that there are portable poles for pole
dancing?

Ms. COPPOLA: You know, I think I saw it in a magazine. There was a
whole, like, fitness craze of people, they would sell like a portable
pole and a DVD as, like, a workout thing. It was such a popular thing,
which is so bizarre to me that, you know, that people were doing, you
know, stripper-pole routines as exercise in general.

But then I was talking to Stephen about the - you know, because I just
made that up that these twins are there. He told me, like, oh yeah, I
was at a bachelor party at the Chateau and, yeah, and then they brought
the portable poles, and these girls came and danced. So I was glad to
know that it was accurate.

GROSS: So are those the twins that you actually hired, the ones that he
saw?

Ms. COPPOLA: No, no, they're from - Hugh Hefner had a reality show
called "The Girls Next Door," and they - I had a friend that watched
that show, and she said, oh, you've got to meet Hefner's twins, the
Playboy twins.

And yeah, and they were great. They were - we met a bunch of twins, and
they were really bubbly and sweet and gung-ho. And they were fun to have
there.

GROSS: I think that's funny that you actually got them through a reality
show, since your film is, in part, a comment on reality shows.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, and I went to the Playboy mansion to watch them
rehearse, and it was like I'm really having a full L.A. experience.
Because part of doing the movie, I wanted to do kind of a portrait of
this slice of L.A. So I wanted to show L.A. So I had the full
experience.

But - and I liked also that they're not - that they don't feel like, you
know, really slick, that they have this kind of cheerleader, fun aspect,
and they're not - you know, they're not doing the routine like old pros.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sofia Coppola. We're
talking about her new movie "Somewhere."

So your main character's life is changed when his daughter, who is 11
years old and is played by Elle Fanning, comes to stay with him at the
hotel. And one of the things I find really interesting about their
relationship is that beautiful women are constantly throwing themselves
at him, and, you know, he partakes. He has sex with lots of them. And it
doesn't matter to him. He doesn't even remember their names most of the
time. He doesn't even care about anyone.

And his 11-year-old daughter, Elle Fanning, she's beautiful and she does
things that, if she wasn't 11 years old, would be very sexual. Like she
- she doesn't pole dance, but she does this beautiful ice-skating, ice-
dancing routine, and it's just, it's lovely. It's absolutely lovely. And
it's almost like a very artful pre-teen's echo of that more sexualized
choreography that you've seen earlier.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah, to me, it's really a total contrast to the twins,
that we go from the twins performing to him watching his daughter, who
is so, you know, looks so pure and innocent. She's 11 and gliding on the
ice.

GROSS: Exactly, exactly.

Ms. COPPOLA: But I hope that that scene - I thought it must be
complicated for that kind of guy who has those relationships with women
to have a daughter now who's on the verge of becoming a teenager. And so
I thought in that scene that he starts to, you know, really see her and
realizing that she's growing up.

But to me, it's the flipside. And it's very, yeah, innocent, and she's
this kind of representation of something pure in his life.

GROSS: The main character, Johnny, basically has two homes. One is in
the hotel and the other is in his sports car. And the sports car is the
first thing we see and the first thing that we hear. The movie starts,
and we hear - we see the car being driven around in circles, and we hear
the motor.

And then that segues into the opening credits, and the opening credit
music seems to have incorporated either the motor or something
resembling the motor, like an electronic sound that's like the motor,
into the music. And the music was composed by your, shall we say, life
partner?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: Sure.

GROSS: Thomas Mars. You have two children together. And did you tell him
you wanted a motor-like sound in the opening music? And before you
answer that, let's hear some of the music.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Okay, so that's the opening music, and the question to you, Sofia
Coppola, was, did you ask Thomas Mars, when he was composing the opening
music, to have a motor or motor-like sound in it?

Ms. COPPOLA: I think - I mean, when I started the script, I started with
the idea of this actor, and he has a Ferrari, and we first see him out
on a track going in circles and just to set up who he was.

So the Ferrari was really a big part of his persona. And I can't
remember what I - Thomas' band, Phoenix, who did the music, I asked them
to - there was a song out there, it was called "Love Like a Sunset,"
that we use at the end of the film. And I asked them if they could do
some things related to that.

And I loved the intro music that they suggested. I don't think I
specified the engine, but when I heard it, I thought, oh, that's so
perfect. It sounds - the sound is really connected with the engine.

And in the sound throughout the movie, we kind of interweave the sound
of the engine. It almost becomes like a score with some of their music.
So I hadn't asked for that, but I really loved it when I heard it
because it really connected to the Ferrari.

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola. Her new film
is called "Somewhere." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and director Sofia Coppola. She made
"The Virgin Suicides," "Lost in Translation," "Marie Antoinette" and the
new film "Somewhere."

Now, you cast Stephen Dorff in the leading role as Johnny Marco. You've
known him for a long time, right? You knew each other as kids?

Ms. COPPOLA: No, I mean, since - yeah, in our 20s. I've known him over
the years since the '90s. So I never was very close to him, but I knew
him through friends, and, you know, we'd see each other occasionally
over the years. And I've always really liked him.

I thought - I've always thought he was - I was struck by what a sweet
guy he is in real life because it's kind of different than - he has more
of a kind of bad-boy persona, and he's such a sweet guy, kind of in
contrast to what you would think.

And when I was writing this part, I thought of him because I've always
thought he was such a good actor, and also because he's so sweet, I
thought it would come through and hopefully connect you to this
character that, you know, is pretty flawed and could be easily
unlikeable.

GROSS: So you wrote the role for him?

Ms. COPPOLA: I had him in mind. I find it helpful when I'm writing to
picture an actor because it just helps you, you know, envision someone
when you're writing it.

And so I thought of him. I mean, it's not based on him. I was thinking
of other people when I was writing the character. But I pictured him
playing the part.

GROSS: There's a scene where the 11-year-old daughter goes with her
father to Italy for an Italian TV awards ceremony show, where he's
getting an award for the most recent movie that he did. Is that based on
an experience that you had with your father?

Ms. COPPOLA: When I was writing the character of the daughter, she was
based on my friend's daughter, whose parents are in Hollywood. But then
I could, you know, relate to moments of my own childhood, even though my
parents and my childhood are very different than the one in the movie. I
didn't grow up, you know, in Hollywood.

But when I was writing that story, I tried to put in real memories to
connect it with something real. And I had - I remembered being in a
casino with my Dad, because he used to like to write scripts in casinos,
and him explaining craps to me. And other trips where - it was always
exciting as a kid to get to, you know, go on a trip or around a world
that kids aren't normally brought into.

And we and been on a family trip to Italy, where we went to the
Telegatti Awards, which is like the TV Guide of Italy. And that I went
as an adult, but we did go with my family. And so, you know, it wasn't
when I was a little kid, but I tried to bring things that I've seen, you
know, into the story.

GROSS: The daughter in your movies, growing up with a father who's very
disconnected from his life at the moment, you grew up with a father who
was obsessive about his work.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. Yeah, my dad isn't like this character at all. He was
always very engaged and always included us, and my parents are still
married after many years. So, you know, the situation is different. But
I tried to put in, you know, just like, kind of father-daughter, the
significance of things that I remember about him into this character
who's very unlike him. But, you know, just that bigger-than-life kind of
- which I'm sure a lot of girls look at their dad in that way when they
are growing up, I would think.

But just like when they order ice cream in the hotel in Italy, he orders
every flavor for her, and that is the kind of thing that my dad would
have done. You know, I remember once time when I was a kid, I think I
had a flu, and I was on my own with my dad. My mom was doing something.
And he - I remember him filling the table - he made me, like, every kind
of ice cream concoction he could come up with. So things like that stay
in my mind as, you know, kind of fun memories of that kind of dad.

GROSS: Which movies of his were you on the set for?

Ms. COPPOLA: Well, I was - the first one I remember was "Apocalypse
Now." I was, I guess, around four. And - but - and then all the ones
after that until I, you know, graduated from high school and was, you
know, not living with my parents anymore.

So I remember living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during "Rumblefish" and "The
Outsiders" and lived in New York for a year during "The Cotton Club" in
the '80s. And I always enjoyed living all these different places, but I
was glad that we had our home base in Napa Valley. So I had, you know,
some roots, and I went to all these different schools, but I would go
back to my local school there, and I graduated with the kids I went to
first grade with, so...

GROSS: Were you on the set of - well, actually, in "Godfather I," you
were the baby that gets christened, right?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: What do you feel when you watch that back? Do you say, that's me
as a baby in this iconic movie?

Ms. COPPOLA: I think, you know, my dad did that so that there would
always be a record of, you know, me at that age. And it's nice because
you can't always find, like, home movies, but I always can, you know,
see myself as a baby.

And I haven't seen in it a while, but I had a daughter last May, and we
were trying to see if there was a resemblance of my family at all. So I
just went on YouTube and looked up that scene.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COPPOLA: And it was fun to be able to, you know, see that and
compare.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola will be back in the second half of the show. She
wrote and directed the new film "Somewhere." I'm Terry Gross, and this
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with screenwriter and
director Sofia Coppola. Her new film is called "Somewhere." She also
made "The Virgin Suicides, "Lost in Translation" and "Marie Antoinette."

You have such a good eye. Your new film, which is, I think, visually
really interesting and beautiful, but not in a pretty way, is such a
contrast to your previous film, "Marie Antoinette," because...

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah.

GROSS: ...like, the new film, it's in LA. It's in the present. It's in
an era where people are mostly wearing, like, jeans and T-shirts.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. It was pretty opposite of - after doing "Marie
Antoinette."

GROSS: Yeah. In "Marie Antoinette," everybody is, you know, elaborately
costumed in the clothing of the times. And also, if you're watching the
DVD of the film and you just, like, put it on pause, there are just like
so many moments that just look like a classic painting because the
colors are so beautifully coordinated and the poses are, you know, the
positions people are in just look like a pose for a painting.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah.

GROSS: Were you thinking about paintings when you made that film?

Ms. COPPOLA: We definitely looked at reference. We looked at paintings
because that's, you know, the way to see that era, that time. So, you
know, inspired the portraiture you would see of that time. And, yeah, I
think after making "Marie Antoinette," I was living in Paris when I
started writing this film, "Somewhere," and I was like kind of overdosed
on all that beautiful decoration and the beautiful clothes and so many
characters and details. And I really enjoyed making that film, but after
it, I was really wanting to do something as minimal as possible. And I
was curious to write - to try to write a story from a guy's point of
view, because that movie was so, you know, my feminine, girlie side.

GROSS: In "Marie Antoinette," the language and speaking style is often
very contemporary. The music that you used in it is contemporary music.
But the story is historical. The setting's historical. The clothing is
very period-correct. And the composition - the painterly composition is,
you know, classical, in a way.

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah.

GROSS: So let's hear a scene, and then I'll ask you about that contrast.
So you'll hear in this scene how...

Ms. COPPOLA: Okay.

GROSS: ...contemporary sounding some of the dialogue is. So Marie
Antoinette is elaborately dressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And she's been selected by her Austrian empress mother to marry
her second cousin, the Dauphin of France. And in this scene, she and her
friends are trying on what looks like hundreds of shoes and feathers and
accessories and clothes. And her closest adviser, an ambassador played
by Steve Coogan, is standing by watching all this as he waits to brief
her on an emergency political crisis for France. So here's the scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "Marie Antoinette")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KIRSTEN DUNST (Actor): (as Marie Antoinette) Can we just see this in
white, maybe?

Unidentified Actress: I don't know if I like that one. Ooh, I love
these.

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) Oh.

Unidentified Actress: You want these, too?

Mr. STEVE COOGAN (Actor): (as Ambassador Mercy) Has madam read the brief
on our current situation?

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) No, I haven't read it yet. Can you just
tell me about it?

Mr. COOGAN: (as Ambassador Mercy) Well, the reforms in Poland by King
Ponyatovsky have led to civil war. The Russians and the Austrians have
taken over a third of Poland, which is, of course, distressing, as
Poland is a friend and ally of France. It's...

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) Wait. Do you like ruffles or without?

Mr. COOGAN: (as Ambassador Mercy) Have you been paying any attention?
Your mother is relying on you to smooth over this crisis.

Ms. DUNST: (as Marie Antoinette) Where will I be if there's a rupture
between our two families? Am I to be Austrian, or the Dauphin of France?

Mr. COOGAN: (as Ambassador Mercy) You must be both.

GROSS: So that's a scene from my guest Sofia Coppola's film, "Marie
Antoinette."

So can you talk about the contrast in styles between the contemporary-
sounding language and the contemporary music and the period-correct
costuming and, you know, and it being a historical story?

Ms. COPPOLA: Yeah. I mean, to me, what really struck me about her story
is that she's a teenage girl, and so that was a first - my first thing I
was trying to put across, that we're in the point of view of this
teenage girl, and I wanted you to feel like she's a teenager. And so,
you know, we used music that, to me, feels like that, and it has that
kind of spirit. And also, I kind of wanted to do it in an irreverent
way, because I feel like that's how she would do it, you know, just
whatever she felt like, even if you're breaking rules you're not
supposed to. And I didn't want to do just the traditional costume drama.
I feel like those exist, and I wanted to do it in more of a kind of punk
spirit.

And there was this movie about Franz Liszt called "Lisztomania," where
Roger Daltrey plays him and, you know, they show him kind of like a rock
star with paparazzi and ice cream sundaes. So I was doing it more in the
spirit of something more pop.

GROSS: Now, your father, Francis Ford Coppola, has been a producer on
your films. Do you involve him in the process at all? Do you want to
know what he thinks, or would you prefer not to?

Ms. COPPOLA: It depends on the project. I mean, he's always given me
great advice, and I'm so glad that I can turn to him. And he's come in
the editing room, you know, when I was starting, to help me and get a
fresh point of view, which really helped me a lot. But on this movie, he
wasn't as involved.

I had such a specific idea of how I wanted to do the movie that I kind
of didn't want to be influenced by too many opinions. I just kind of
wanted to try to make it this way, and then I showed it to him. I showed
him the script, and then I showed him the film when we were finished
editing, and he really loved it, which, you know, made me happy.

I worked more closely with brother, Roman...

GROSS: With Roman. Uh-huh.

Ms. COPPOLA: ...who was the producer, and he was more, you know, a day-
to-day producer. He lives in Los Angeles and helped me put a crew
together and really helped protect the movie in keeping it in the small,
intimate that I wanted to make the film, and that I felt like was the
way to keep - he helped protect it, to keep the crew small and be able
to do this, you know, build a film in an intimate way in the hotel room.

GROSS: Well, Sofia Coppola, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. COPPOLA: Thank you. Thanks for having me back.

GROSS: Sofia Coppola wrote and directed the new film "Somewhere." We'll
meet the film's star, Stephen Dorff, after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Stephen Dorff, Going Hollywood In 'Somewhere'

TERRY GROSS, host:

My guest, Stephen Dorff, stars in Sofia's Coppola's new film,
"Somewhere." He's been acting professionally since he was 12. His
breakthrough films include "Power of One" and "Backbeat," in which he
played Stu Sutcliffe, The Beatles' first bass player.

In the film "I Shot Andy Warhol," he played the transvestite Candy
Darling. His other films include "Public Enemies," "Blade" and John
Waters' "Cecil B. Demented."

In "Somewhere," he plays Johnny Marco, a popular actor who is divorced,
in-between roles, lost and adrift. He has indulgences, like his sports
car, women, alcohol, drugs, but nothing seems to have meaning. That
begins to change when he starts to spend time with his 11-year-old
daughter, played by Elle Fanning.

Stephen Dorff, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, you said that you knew that
this was a great script, a great screenplay. But I was wondering, how
did you know? There's so little dialogue in it, and I'm not very good at
reading plays and screenplays. But I would think that if there's not
much dialogue, and it's - what exactly are you reading, and how do you
know if it's good or not?

Mr. STEPHEN DORFF (Actor): Well, I think I have so much trust in Sofia,
you know, as a filmmaker, as somebody that I think, all three of her
films before this one, has made really special movies and I think has a
pulse for, you know, "Lost in Translation" had more words - it still has
a lot of strange pacing. It allows you feel very intimate within that
hotel.

I think on this movie, she pushes it even further as far as less
dialogue, more emotion, telling a story based on moments and vignette
scenes and facial reactions and just going against the rule - I mean,
really breaking all the rules down. As far as little things like, you
know, one line in the script might say Johnny smokes a cigarette in real
time on the couch, you know, in the evening by himself. I didn't know
that scene was going to be five minutes long, you know.

So I don't - you know, there's certain things that she's hold back from
me, letting me know as I go. But I love the process. I loved how - I
find that scripts in general tend to be too long and tend to be
overwritten and, you know, monologues that explain everything.

And I love how I think even not the most sophisticated audience in the
world will be able to feel what's going on and be able to hear the story
in their own heads with maybe how we're conveying it. And that was just
the ultimate challenge, which I think makes this film the most
challenging of all the films I've ever done.

I didn't have any tricks as an actor. I didn't have any things that we
all rely on, you know. When you give me makeup or you want me to mimic a
real-life person, I can do all that stuff, like, very easily, you know,
because it's given to me, half of it.

GROSS: So when you had to smoke a cigarette in real time in an
uninterrupted scene while you were alone with a cigarette and maybe a
beer, what does it mean to act in that scene? You're not interacting
with anyone. You're not going through a particularly emotional moment.
Nothing's happening. It's not like, oh, you're weeping because, you
know, your wife just walked out the door. There's no big emotional
moment to play.

Mr. DORFF: Right. And I think that was what the exciting thing was as an
actor, and as a filmmaker for Sofia, is she really wanted you be this
fly on the wall and be in the room with him, almost like you're next to
him on the couch. And so the audience, I think, after the first two
minutes, is kind of like, okay. Okay.

But then you kind of start to think about what he's thinking about, and
it's kind of a manipulation. I mean, I found out with the scene - and
the makeup scene, you know. Because as that camera's slowly pushing on
me, I had no idea what the shot was that day, because I'm under all that
plaster.

GROSS: I'm going to explain what you're talking about.

Mr. DORFF: Yeah, sorry.

GROSS: Because there's a scene where you have to get a plaster cast of
your face made...

Mr. DORFF: Yeah.

GROSS: ...for the special effects makeup department.

Mr. DORFF: Yeah.

GROSS: And so you have, you know, you're sitting in the makeup chair,
and they're putting, like, Vaseline or something on your eyes and your
lips so that the cast doesn't stick to it. Then they're slathering this,
like, plastery stuff all over your face. And at the end of the scene
everybody, you know, the makeup people walk out and you're just sitting
alone in the chair, your face completely covered with plaster, and all -
the only thing left of your senses is two holes for your nostrils so
that you can breathe.

So we can't see you. You can't see the world. And it's almost like a
metaphor for how disconnected you've become from everything.

Mr. DORFF: Totally, yeah.

GROSS: And all we hear is you breathing, and we hear it for a long time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The camera just, like, stays on you.

Mr. DORFF: Yeah. It's kind of slowly creeping in. And the breathing,
it's almost weird, by hearing just the breath and then you hear this
kind of empty phone ringing in the background, it's like where'd
everybody go? Did they go to lunch? I mean, as this thing's hardening on
my face, it was very - it's a very claustrophobic feeling, anyway,
because I've had to do one of those.

Any actor that's probably done a special effects movie or a comic book
movie in this day and age has probably had a face mold done, and it's
pretty awful, you know, feeling.

But I love that scene because I remember the first time I had seen it
with a big audience was in Venice, and it doesn't get much bigger than
that, and the whole audience was about 700 Italians breathing with me.
And it was a very effective scene. A lot of people tell me that's one of
their favorite scenes. I don't know why, but...

GROSS: It's a good scene. And then, you know, the mask that they've made
from the cast of your face, and it's your older self. The character has
to age in the film that you're making. What's it like for you when the
special effects people bring you your old man face?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DORFF: Well, you know, again, that's like very easy to play once
they give you all this stuff, you know. And, again, I think it's a
metaphor of Johnny looking at himself, saying, if I don't slow down,
this is what I'm going to look like, you know.

So they went a little extreme with the old age makeup there, and I think
it's like supposed to be in my 90s, you know. And they did such a good
job. And, again, this is how it really feels like as an actor when you
go to get a head cast, these are the guys that do it. They're not
actors. These are the real guys. So again, the scene feels very real.

So everything like Sofia - every situation she put me in, I never felt
like I was acting. And that's what I think I had to find, because if I'd
acted too much, to go back to that cigarette scene, or, you know, if I'd
been mugging for the camera, or one little subconscious thing became
conscious, I think it would have unraveled the whole movie that Sofia
was trying to make. So it was a very delicate balance, you know, and a
lot a responsibility on my part. I think that's what the challenge was.

GROSS: A good deal of the film is shot in the hotel, the Chateau Marmont
in L.A. And you actually spent some time there, right? Sofia Coppola
implied that you have a story about having stayed there, or lived there.

Mr. DORFF: Yeah. Well, when I had finished - funny enough, when I'd
finished "Backbeat," I was 19 - I think I had just turned 20, and I got
back to L.A. And it was weird, you know. You'd go spend four months in
Europe and, you know, you come home, and I didn't have a apartment. So I
didn't have any real loins(ph) except for my family, and to go back to
their house when I was like, well, no. I'm 20. I want to check into the
Chateau Marmont, you know.

And I had had a photo shoot - I think my first big photo shoot, Bruce
Weber, around that time and - at the Chateau. And so I kind of went over
there and I checked in, and I thought it was going to be for a week. And
there was a real estate agent that was supposed to show me some
apartments, and, you know, I had a budget I was working on, but I didn't
really pay attention to any of those things, as I never did, it seemed
like.

I always went from movie to movie because I felt like I wanted to live
and spend money. I didn't really want to save money. I don't know why.
But I look back, and I had a lot of fun. And ultimately, I stayed for
the Chateau for about four weeks, and got a big bill and ran out of
money at the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DORFF: I didn't understand the concept of - I said, well, yeah. But
"Backbeat" paid me this, and they said, yeah, but Stephen, after you pay
your agent, your lawyer, your taxes, you know, you're left with this.
And have you seen your hotel bill? And I said, no. Maybe I should look
at it.

And I didn't realize that when you stay in a hotel for that long, you
know, you have friends come join you. You kind of host the party every
night, or the dinner parties. So, you know, I'm paying for everything,
and I realized it can add up.

GROSS: Room service, yeah, right.

Mr. DORFF: Yeah. It can add up. Every time you have a coffee or - so,
you know, it was a good lesson to learn. But I love the Chateau. I did
have moments there. I then ultimately had my, I think, 21st birthday
party there, which ended in a big gymnastics, synchronized swimming
party in the pool, where ultimately, I do my underwater tea party with
Elle Fanning in.

So there's been all these moments - and I guess also growing up in Los
Angeles, I - it was a hotel I always looked forward to going to and
getting to. I remember being in the Valley and wanting to just get over
the hill was a big thing for me. I want to get to Hollywood, you know.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Steven Dorff, and he's
starring in Sofia Coppola's new movie called "Somewhere." Let's take a
short break here, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephen Dorff, and he's
starring in Sofia Coppola's new moving, "Somewhere."

I want to play a clip from the movie, "I Shot Andy Warhol." And you
played Candy Darling in this, a transvestite formerly known as Jimmy,
who eventually starred in some Warhol films. And "I Shot Andy Warhol" is
about Valerie Solanas, who shot Andy Warhol. And it's also about the
whole Warhol scene.

And this is a scene where you and Valerie Solanas first meet. She's an
aspiring writer who's actually prostituting herself to get money. And
she - in this movie, she's really hoping that Warhol will give her her
big break. And when he doesn't, she ends up shooting him.

So this is a movie of where you meet each other, and you meet through a
mutual friend named Stevie, played by Martha Plimpton. And Stevie and
Valerie Solanas are walking in the park when Stevie sees you, Candy
Darling, formerly known as Jimmy. Here's the scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "I Shot Andy Warhol")

Ms. MARTHA PLIMPTON (Actor): (as Stevie) Jimmy, hey. Jimmy, this is
Valerie, Valerie, Jimmy.

Ms. LILI TAYLOR (Actor): (as Valerie) Hey.

Mr. STEPHEN DORFF (as Candy): I'm called Candy now.

Ms. TAYLOR: You're a guy? My God, I thought you were a lesbian.

Mr. DORFF: Thank you. A lot of people say that. May I have a cigarette?

Ms. PLIMPTON: Yeah. Do you live around here?

Mr. DORFF: Who lives? Natalie Wood, "Rebel without a Cause."

Ms. PLIMPTON: I need a room.

Mr. DORFF: Try the hotel Earle - comfort and convenience for the modern
girl.

GROSS: That's a great scene.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you understand transvestites before taking the role?

Mr. DORFF: Like, not really. I had no idea what - I remember being with
- at a dinner with Mary Harron and Lili Taylor downtown...

GROSS: Mary Harron's the director.

Mr. DORFF: Yeah. Downtown. And my biggest fear was I only had three
days, you know. I don't know if they were talking to somebody else or
what, but I know that when the idea came for them to offer to me, I had
only three days before I started shooting. And that was worrisome for
me, and I kept telling Lili, you know, I don't think I have the time,
Lili. I mean, I can - and I came to New York with a beard, and I
couldn't been more of a testosterone young guy. And I did it.

I was in the Royalton Hotel, walking in heels. I was Naired - my body
was Naired, which is when you rub that cream and all the hair comes off.
I was waxed. My eyebrows were waxed. And the one thing that I didn't
want to do was take hormones, because obviously, that's how kind of
Candy got in trouble with her health in the first place. And I just
didn't want to do that.

GROSS: How did it change, if at all, your sense of gender, of what it
means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a
transvestite, to play Candy Darling?

Mr. DORFF: Well, you know, the biggest thing was it was one day. It was
a private moment I had, you know, and it was actually right after that
scene. We were shooting that scene, I want to say in Washington Square
Park, or one of these little parks downtown. And I remember going to the
bathroom - I had to go to the bathroom, and I - we didn't have a lot of
trailers. It was a very teeny, little movie.

So I walked by myself, I didn't think to bring a PA or somebody. I
walked by myself to the public bathroom in the park. And I walked in
there, and I was standing at the urinal, and I always wanted the real
clothes. I wanted the garters. I wanted the whole thing, because I
wanted to feel what it's like to get dressed every day as Candy Darling,
with the time and the effort she would put into this kind of commitment
that she made.

And I was about to go to the bathroom, and there was this strange guy
just staring at me in the mirror, you know. I don't know if he was a
homeless guy or what, but he looked at me like he wanted to beat me up.
And I looked at him as Stephen, even though I was, you know, wanted to
protect myself, I was like, what? And I looked at him. He looked at me,
and then he walked away.

And then I looked at myself, and I was obviously in character mode. And
I had to get through all these clothes to get to my thing to go to the
bathroom, and I realized at that point, every time Candy probably had to
go to the bathroom, it was a constant reminder of what she was. And I
thought there was an incredible sadness and depth to that moment that I
had experienced.

But that's kind of where I went with what I was feeling inside, once all
this great stuff, again, like cheats were given to me - makeup, shoes,
hair - it was very easy for me to then copy that voice and fill it with
this kind of sadness.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Stephen Dorff, and he's
starring in Sofia Coppola's new movie, "Somewhere."

Sofia Coppola said that she was thinking of you when she wrote the role
of Johnny Marco, which she gave to you in her new film "Somewhere." She
said she didn't base the character on your life, but she was thinking of
you when she wrote the role. What do you think she was thinking of when
she was thinking of you?

Mr. DORFF: I don't know. I mean, she explains that she's always thought
of me as - that there's a sweetness there, you know, and she hadn't seen
it in my movies in a long time. And I think she wanted - because this
character is flawed and is kind of reckless in his heart and in his
mind, that she wanted a certain sweetness to Johnny, she explained, and
a certain vulnerability that hopefully makes you want to root for him.

So what I tried - I think Sofia probably - that was one thing she
explained to me, but we, you know, we were always friendly. We were
always very close, you know, through our mutual friend, Zoe Cassavetes.
These were two girls that I really respected and liked and were my
friends, you know. I never dated them. There was never any weird story
in the press. We were just friends. And we had mutual friends and, you
know, there was all these other things, too.

In a weird way, the Coppolas have always kind of been there for me,
whether it was getting a call from Francis, my favorite filmmaker of all
time, when I was making a not-so-good movie in Toronto and I was
depressed. I would get a call out of nowhere that Francis wanted to talk
to me. Well, I'd never gotten a phone call like that before.

So it was, you know...

GROSS: What did he want to talk to you about?

Mr. DORFF: He wanted to send me a script of a movie he was thinking of
directing, an experimental movie, and asked if I would read it. And it's
like, yeah. Are you crazy? I'll do whatever you want me to do, Francis.
I'll be in Napa tomorrow. I'll even leave the set of this movie and get
sued to come to see you, you know. I was kind of - so immediately, my
day was much brighter after that, and I went to Napa and I spent a
couple weeks working with Francis on this experimental film, where we
shot some footage.

Ultimately, the film was "Youth Without Youth," a film he made, and Tim
Roth ended up playing the part. But it always meant a lot to me that he
came to me first and he wanted me to play a 70-year-old man, which at
the time, was five years ago. You know, I needed the makeup I had in
Sofia's movie, and then maybe I could have done it.

But I - it was a great gift to work with him so intimately. And then,
you know, I was bummed when I didn't get the part. He wrote me this
beautiful letter. But, you know, it was - from early on, Francis was a
supporter of my work. Sofia was a very supportive. I was supportive of
her. I don't know why else I was in her head.

She does explain that she was writing a different movie, though, and I
was in her head, and then the Johnny Marco character kind of wanted his
own movie.

GROSS: Well, Stephen Dorff, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DORFF: Thank you. It's nice to have a nice conversation.

GROSS: Stephen Dorff stars in the new film "Somewhere." It opens in
select cities this Wednesday, and later opens wider. You'll find clips
to - you'll find links to clips from the film on our website,
freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show.
..COST:
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