Somewhere director Sofia Coppola revisits iconic hotel
LOS ANGELES—Sofia Coppola is no stranger to the Chateau Marmont. Back in the '90s, the legendary Hollywood hotel's management would turn a blind eye when she and her art-school pals dropped by to swim in the palm tree–encircled pool. Well, maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was the daughter of a rather famous director, Francis Ford Coppola.
Watch the trailer for Somewhere.
Then there was the morning in 2004 when she bumped into Matt Dillon and Helmut Newton in the Chateau's elevator. She knew Dillon from when they first acted together in her father's film The Outsiders. (She was 12 at the time, and was credited, rather theatrically, as “Domino”.) But she had never met the photographer before. Later that day, Newton crashed his car on the hotel's sloping driveway above Sunset Boulevard and died.
In Coppola's film Somewhere (which opens this Friday [January 14]), the main character, a movie star named Johnny Marco, drives his Ferrari up that driveway past a car that has struck a wall. “Yeah, that was an homage to Helmut,” the writer-director says in an L.A. hotel room, somehow pulling off the effect of seeming both shy and unselfconscious at the same time. “He's a hero of mine, so it was sad.”
The charismatic Chateau—where she filmed for three weeks—was a Somewhere (which recently won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion award for emerging cinema) essential. “I think of the Chateau Marmont as being this classic Hollywood place, with interesting people staying there and lots of stories,” she says. “It has a kind of decadence.” Everyone from Howard Hughes to Jim Morrison to Lindsay Lohan has holed up there. John Belushi overdosed in one of its bungalows.
Johnny (Stephen Dorff) lives in a suite at the Chateau. He sometimes passes beautiful models gliding down the hallway, dressed for fashion shoots. Glancing into a room, he sees a stunning topless woman getting her hair cut. “That's from a Helmut Newton photograph,” Coppola says. “I thought about all the times I've gone to that hotel and there's photo shoots going on. Even last night, I was staying there and I opened my door in that hallway and there were these two made-up models in leopard dresses.”
Because he's a big star, people—especially women—eye Johnny wherever he goes. When he steps out onto his balcony, a bikinied babe below glances up invitingly. He has carnal adventures from Hollywood to Milan. Sometimes he falls asleep during intimate acts. Mostly, he seems to drift, disconnected from life, until his young daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), comes to stay, pulling him back.
“I can imagine if you became famous quickly and had girls throwing themselves at you and people offering all kinds of things, you might go out of balance,” Coppola says. “I wanted to do a portrait of this guy at this moment in his life, but I think it's about points in your life when you have to look at yourself and decide what kind of person you're going to be.” She adds, laughing: “I don't want to write about the times in between when you're feeling great.”
Anyone familiar with Coppola's films (The Virgin Suicides; Lost in Translation, for which she won a screenwriting Oscar; and Marie Antoinette) knows her proclivities: scant dialogue, languorous Michelangelo Antonioni–style shots, and cannily atmospheric music, from hypnotic French techno to fuzzy shoegazer pop to '80s postpunk.
“Usually when I do a movie, I pick a band to do the music, like people have composers,” she says. “Often it relates to the music I'm listening to while I'm writing, like, the mood of it. I try to have the music be something the characters could really be listening to.” Somewhere's characters, apparently, like French alt-rock band Phoenix, of which Thomas Mars, Coppola's partner and the father of her two young children, is frontman.
Also on the Somewhere soundtrack? In the film, Romulo Laki, the Chateau Marmont's famous singing waiter, serenades Cleo with Elvis Presley's “Teddy Bear”—just as he reportedly once did to Coppola herself.
But that was a long time ago. “Romulo's gone now,” she says. “He retired.”