Village Living Magazine Talks One-on-One with Roman Coppola, Writer & Director
Writer and director, Roman Coppola, is nothing short of Hollywood royalty as the son of The Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola, brother of indie darling and fellow filmmaker, Sofia Coppola, cousins of actors Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman, and friend of Wes Anderson. Directing a dozen music videos, and co-writing The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, it is about time Roman Coppola stepped out and made his second feature length film, A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III. The film, which is out in theaters now, is about a graphic designer coming to terms with a messy break-up. It is a zany look into the inner workings of an even zanier character, delightfully played by Charlie Sheen. With bright, bold imagery, a thoughtful script, and a soundtrack any music lover will gush over, the film is not to be missed. I was lucky enough to speak to Roman about his inspirations for the film, his cast, Wes Anderson, and his writing process.
Danita: Hi, Roman. How are you? It’s really exciting to speak with you!
Roman: Thanks, I’m doing well.Yourself?
Danita: I’m great. Let’s jump into the questions. I’m curious as to what made you set the film in the 1970s? Is there something that fascinates you about the era?
Roman: I guess so. It’s tricky because when people ask when the film is set, I sometimes reply that it isn’t set in any specific time. But it is kind of set in the 1970s, so I admit to it. But it is more of a spiritual setting. It’s more of the feeling I wanted to evoke from that time and place.
There are a few reasons why I wanted to set the film in the 1970s. I was born in 1965, so I was ten in the mid ’70s. I grew up in San Francisco but I would go to LA with my family, and drive down the Sunset Strip. You’d see all of these posters, and album covers, and magazine covers of that time. It was all really playful, imaginative, sexy, and cool imagery. All of that stuff fills your imagination. For some reason, and I don’t think I’m unique in this, those impressions you have as a kid hang in there with you. It made me very curious about that time and place. I became interested in airbrush art. I thought, I wanted to tell a story about it so I had my character be a graphic designer. Anyway, I think it’s just my childhood connection that made me set the film in that specific time period. One further thing is that the movies of that time, like Annie Hall and All That Jazz. All of those movies seemed so adventurous and free.
Danita: I love that Charlie Sheen wears sunglasses throughout the entire film. Was that a ‘70’s inspired thing? Was it his idea or yours?
Roman: It was my idea. It was something I developed for that look – the way his hair is, his sideburns, and his velvet suit, stuff that is part of who his character is. His tinted shades are part of that. They look like shades, but they are actually just tinted prescription glasses, which is what you would see during that time. Actually I wear them myself, so I find them appealing.
Danita: You got such a great performance out of Patricia Arquette, and it is a role I haven’t seen her do before. Have you always wanted to work with her?
Roman: I didn’t precisely have her in mind when I wrote the part. She plays the sister of Charlie’s character. And I knew Patricia because she was married to my cousin [Nicolas Cage] at one time. And so I knew her as a family member, as someone who is warm and nice. Someone who has a warmth and a directness. She is very frank. So it felt right when I came up to cast her. She does a beautiful job.
Danita: I think so too. You portray her in a very nice light.
Roman: Yeah, there’s a lot of warmth there.
Danita: And what about Aubrey Plaza? Where did you first see her?
Roman: She is a friend of a friend– actually a friend of two friends. I had never met her. They both said I should meet her, and she couldn’t have been a nicer or funnier person. I’ve never seen her show [Parks and Recreation], but within five minutes of meeting her, it was obvious that she was so great. We became friends. I’m lucky enough in my film to work with people I’ve known for some time, like Jason [Schwartzman], and Bill [Murray], and even Charlie [Sheen]. With the case of Aubrey, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead also, it was like “oh my God – I love these people and want to do everything with them.”
Danita: Right, it seemed like they fit in perfectly with the people that you already work with so often.
Roman: Yeah, I feel lucky.
Danita: I was watching other interviews around the time Moonrise Kingdom came out. I found myself interested when you mentioned that things you write come from your real life experiences, like the letter writing scene. Are there any specific moments in this film like that?
Roman: Well, there’s many, but it is all textures or things you overhear so less literal moments. Let me just think for a moment. I had a break-up that inspired this idea so that feeling of being confused was an inspiration. Do you still love this person, do you hate this person, do you want them back? Also, for example, Charlie’s kimono in the film is actually my kimono that I have. And if you notice, he doesn’t have the right tie for it. He uses an actual neck tie to close the kimono, which is the story of my life. Like you have this beautiful thing, but a piece gets lost in the laundry. Or there’s my beautiful car that won’t ever start when I want it to. So that’s something I relate to.
Danita: So, do you write inspiration down in a notebook or what’s that process like for you?
Roman: I’m a little chaotic in my writing. I’ll have a napkin or a matchbook, or a scrap of paper I use. I’ll put it in the computer, then lose the computer and have to go to a back-up computer. In a way, that reflects in the movie because the movie is a little chaotic. It’s just the way my brain works. It took a while to write this film actually. It took me a while to figure it all out, and to find the right shape to it because I knew I wanted it to be wild. There was all of this possibility, but I had to figure out how to do it so it would win you over and it wouldn’t be confusing or annoying. I needed it to support a story. It’s a state of mind you get into when you get dumped. You’re just confused. You’re walking around your house and you see a book, but it’s a book the person gave you. You want to throw the book out a window, but you love the book. That’s kind of the chaos that the movie has. It’s meant to be a portrayal of a state of mind.
Danita: One of my favourite scenes in the film is when Bill Murray tells Charlie Sheen’s character that “there’s always hope” with the utmost sincerity. Your scripts are often ironic or sarcastic in tone, but this is such a genuine moment. How do you balance these two tones as well as you do?
Roman: That’s a nice compliment to get. I don’t want to say I don’t think about that, because you do to a degree. As much as I love playful things, I am a sincere person. I’m certainly not a cynic and there’s fun to have with the unexpected. You think someone will say that, and then they say the opposite. To puzzle people– I love that feeling. I always feel like, in my work, there can be some toughness, but it’s really rather sincere down to its core. I hope that sheds some light your question.
Danita: It does, for sure. Working with Wes Anderson so much, did he give you any advice while you were making this movie?
Roman: Not really. We are very close. There was one point I was working on the script, and I needed to see where I stood. So he, Jason [Schwartzman], and I read the first 30 pages, which was helpful because you can step back and hear how things are connecting. But beyond that, he helped by example. He’s been doing such distinctive, personal work that is such a reflection of him. It’s a reminder that I want to do the same type of work.
Danita: Were you at all worried that people would compare you to Wes Anderson and his films?
Roman: I didn’t think about it, but then you read something about yourself and it’ll say, “Oh, he used all of Wes’s actors.” It’s ironic because Jason [Schwartzman] is, of course, my cousin, and I knew Bill [Murray] from Sofia’s [Coppola] movie. So people sometimes misread something, and make an association erroneously. I’m a fan of Wes’s work. I love his movies. But I guess we do share, as friends, a certain sensibility. We have a certain kinship, which is nice.
Danita: My last question is about the music in the movie. I know that you worked with musician Liam Hayes to create the soundtrack. Did you write the film with his music in mind?
Roman: He is someone I’m a huge fan of. In fact, my cousin Jason turned me onto him. I did write the movie to Liam’s music. The opening scene, in particular, was all written beat for beat to the music, kind of like a music video. I can’t say more exuberantly complimentary things about Liam. He is a huge part of this movie. I’m so proud of the music and I want everyone to know about him and buy his records. He deserves to be celebrated. It’s rare that you hear pop songs with lyrics, more than just music, in a film. It’s a cool thing.
Danita: Do you have anything else to add about the film?
Roman: The only thing I say when I get the chance to introduce the movie in person is that the movie is sort of unusual, and it’s kind of an experiment. But it’s meant to be enjoyed, and it’s meant to be playful. I feel like sometimes when people don’t quite know what something is, they are a little pushed back. I’m asking people to just come with me on this adventure. At the end of the movie, you can ask yourself if you relate to it or not. If people can enter into this with a sense of curiosity, that is a wonderful feeling. That’s what I’m asking people to do.
Danita is an arts and film writer, blogging nonstop about the pop culture and film scenes in Toronto. She is a cinephile, a bookworm, a social media addict, a cappuccino lover, and a sandwich connoisseur. She loves musicals, horror films, and Bette Midler. Find her on twitter @danita_35.