Image Courtesy of Focus Features
Sofia Coppola is back, bitches. The director and writer of The Beguiled, who’s fresh off of a Best Director prize from Cannes, has surprised and delighted us yet again with her new Southern Gothic drama, placing Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning in an isolated manor home with a sweaty Colin Farrell, and then seeing what happens.
The movie is everything you hope it will be: steamy, erotic, scary, violent – and full of signature Coppola sparks of humor and steady-paced storytelling. It’s reminiscent of some of her past work: the feminine longing of Virgin Suicides is there, as well as the extravagant costumes of Marie Antoinette – and even some of the groupthink-gone-wrong of Bling Ring. But The Beguiled is, as always with Coppola, a decidedly new chapter in a career of powerful stories about women. It was previously a book and a 1971 movie; but her version is wholeheartedly new and original.
We caught up with her for a chat about her star-studded cast, career evolution, and how, exactly, she decided to cast her main hunk.
This film is very different from your previous movies but there are some similar themes: female lust, as in Virgin Suicides, and opulent fashion, reminiscent of Marie Antoinette. How does it relate to your others, and what drove you to want to tell this story?
When I first thought about the story it reminded me a little bit of Virgin Suicides and that side of the world, of just girls kind of isolated and the mystery between men and women. And I love a period piece, so that was appealing. I have that side of myself that can really express a Marie Antoinette. I got to tap into that side – I love a nice ruffle. And petticoats.
And friends had jokingly suggested you make this movie?
Yeah, my friend Anne Ross, who was also the production designer, told me about this film and kind of said, “I think you should redo this.” And I just watched it, but then I changed my mind and I kept thinking about it. It’s about this group of women, but it’s told from the guy’s point of view, the soldier they take in. And I really wanted to see the story from their point of view, what it was like for them. So much of it is about sexual oppression, and desire. I felt like the other film treated it like they were crazy women, and I wanted to talk about desire in a relatable way.
You told Vulture that you made this film for a lot of your gay male friends. Can you expand on that further? A good place to start might be the setting: you filmed in Jennifer Coolidge’s house and the Lemonade house, amongst others locations.
It was very exciting – it was so fun to meet Jennifer Coolidge, she came by, and we’re all fans of hers. I was thinking a lot in the casting, when I was looking for who would play this soldier, I wanted to find a guy that women would love and gay men would love too. That was the audience I had in mind. My friend, the shoe designer Fabrizio Viti, was the consultant on how to look at the male body in an objectified way. He was my advisor. He pushed me – in the sponge bath scene with Nicole Kidman, he pushed me to really go there.
Were there any other men in final contention for that part?
I thought about a bunch of different people – my guy friends all had their favorites. But when I met Colin – he was so masculine, and had all the qualities, but could also be really complex. He’s not just a dumb hunk.
I read he was posing for a calendar shoot? What was that?
We were shooting the scene where he’s gardening, and doing his manly handywork around the garden, and we were joking we’d make a calendar, because it was so romance novel. He was really funny about it. But the photographer did take a bunch of pictures for me for an imaginary calendar. And now I’m thinking we have to make it.
If you make it, I will buy it. Was the set goofy and fun?
It was, yes – my favorite memories were spending time with all the actors on the porch, with everyone in their petticoats sort of undone. Sitting around on this porch in New Orleans, and getting to hang out with Nicole, and Kirsten and Elle. Even though we were under the gun, it was fun to relax.
This was your first time working with Nicole?
Yeah, I’ve always loved her as an actress. She taught me a lot – the way she can work an eyebrow. Just to see her as that regal and imposing headmistress… I hope it spurs Halloween costumes in the fall.
Oh, you can count on me to dress up as her.
I want a nightgown with a candelabra.
I promise you. And I do want to dive into Kirsten as well. This role is so different from, say, Lux in Virgin Suicides.
I loved her in this part because she’s so bubbly and fun in real life, so to see her transform – we always talked about how her character is really under the thumb of Miss Martha. It was amazing to see her transform on set. I love seeing when actors get cast against type.
Did you write this part with her in mind?
I wanted to work with her, so when I picked this story about women of different ages, I thought, “Oh, Kirsten can be the teacher. Now Elle’s old enough to play the Lolita-y teenage girl.” Kirsten is so smart and funny and gets my sensibility. I trust her. She’s able to convey so much under the surface.
Elle was so funny. Did you intend for her to be the comic relief?
Her character always cracked me up – I thought it was funny to make her really self-absorbed. We were laughing a lot because she really added this attitude. I wanted to feel all the tension, but then have humor without going full camp.
I’ve read that you don’t let your daughter have a phone, because the idle mind is so important for coming up with ideas. That resonated with me, because people just don’t have time to sit with their thoughts any more. And this movie is about that too – idle minds.
Being a writer, so much of being creative comes from when you’re able to daydream and space out, and just be quiet, and alone with yourself. And now it’s so addictive and connected – it’s hard to have long stretches where you’re really alone. We’re so in the habit of always being in contact. I appreciate going to the movie theaters now because when you’re at home, it’s hard to really be disciplined and put your phone in another room. So the theater is that rare moment where you really focus on that experience – where you can get lost in another world.
Have you seen anything lately that has struck you?
I just watched this Frederick Wiseman documentary at a festival – he made a lot of movies in the 70s, I love this one called Model about the fashion industry. I want to see Wonder Woman, but I haven’t yet.
The Incredibles is one of your favorite movies – it’s one of mine too. Would you ever, or have you ever thought of doing an animated film or a superhero film?
I love that movie, yes. I hadn’t thought about it, though it would be fun to do an animated film. But I really like being on set with the actors, and that process. A couple years ago I actually thought, “Where’s Wonder Woman?” So I’m glad to see her.
So Little Mermaid isn’t happening?
Yeah, I really wanted it to, but it’s not. It became so much about the budget.
Do you have any ideas in the works for next projects?
This has been so intense, that I’m excited to get this one out and take a break. But I did just look at the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation last year, at their archives; but I haven’t done anything more with that yet. I do have a project that I’m producing, called Fairyland – it’s from the book by Alysia Abbott. It’s a memoir of growing up with a gay dad in San Francisco in the 70s. I optioned it to be a film and it’s in the works.