I was in the Park Hyatt doing interviews for Virgin Suicides with a translator. I'd answer the question with a sentence, and she would translate and it'd be, you know, five minutes longer, and you start getting paranoid, wondering, is she getting carried away, is she adding to it? Then later, she explained that the language is longer, and it's got more formality, but it's just one of those oddities.
- Sofia Coppola, on the origins of Lost in Translation
Film Director and Writer
b: May 14, 1971
Sofia Coppola is the first American woman nominated for the Academy Award for best director for 2003's Lost in Translation and also the first to have her film nominated for best picture (again, Lost in Translation). Lost in Translation was only her second film (the first being the critical hit The Virgin Suicides); she's clearly one of the bright young stars of filmmaking.
Sofia Coppola was born to legendary director Francis Ford Coppola and his wife on May 14, 1971 during the filming of Coppola's masterpiece, The Godfather. As if her film pedigree weren't enough, she made her first screen appearance as an infant member of the Corleone clan in the film.
Sofia grew up around her father and absorbed years of filmmaking from him; her earliest memories are of her father and Marlon Brando on the set of Apocalypse Now. She was largely educated by on-set tutors, rarely participating in traditional classroom schooling; instead, she spent her childhood filling many bit roles in her father's films (and on occasion in films of his acquaintances).
As she grew into a young adult in the late 1980s, she dabbled in a lot of different arts: directing a short film with her father for the New York Film Review, acting, modeling, photography, costume design, and clothing design, where she started a rather popular independent clothing line called Milk Fed.
Her "big acting break" came in 1989 during the making of The Godfather, Part III, when Winona Ryder, who was to play the role of Mary Corleone, came down with fatigue during the project and dropped out, leaving very little time to replace her. Francis turned to his daughter, who was not trained as an actress and had very little experience, and thrust her into the major role of Mary Corleone. Unfortunately for Sofia, she was clearly the weak link in the movie; although she looked the part and fit in well as a member of the well-defined Corleone family, her lack of acting experience showed in the handful of emotional scenes she was involved in.
After the critics ripped into her role in The Godfather, Part III, Sofia gave up acting, deciding that her passion for the arts would be best served if she were to experiment with several arts. She left Hollywood for several years to attend art school at New York University, leaving Hollywood behind for most of the 1990s.
By 1998, though, the filmmaking bug was beginning to itch for her. She wrote and directed a short film entitled Lick the Star, about junior high school cliques, and then immediately followed it with a screen adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel The Virgin Suicides. Using her father's Hollywood connections, she assembled a strong cast for the film, including James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Josh Hartnett, Kirsten Dunst, and Danny DeVito, and the film was a strong critical success.
While touring Japan to promote The Virgin Suicides in 2000, she observed the cultural difficulties Westerners often have in Asian society and the feelings of isolation that result. She was also feeling some estrangement from her husband Spike Jonze (they were married on June 26, 1999), and the result of this experience was Lost in Translation, a major 2003 critical and commercial hit starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
She has recently taken time away from film and is currently linked romantically with Quentin Tarantino.
Sofia's acting roles, with one exception discussed in details below, are all very minor, often without any speaking at all. Most of her appearances are during her teenage years, where she would appear in minor scenes in films directed by her father.
The one major exception to this is The Godfather, Part III, where she played Mary Corleone, the daughter of Michael Corleone. Without being overly critical, it is fair to say that her inexperience ruled the day to the detriment of the film. Mary's character is central to the entire plot of the movie; her "romance" with Vinny, who Michael is considering as his successor even as he tries to legitimize the family business, both ties together and brings opposition between the two male leads. To carry this off, Sofia needs to be able to carry a wide range of emotions, but it simply doesn't come through.
Thankfully, her real strength is in writing and directing, which she has shown to the world in more recent films.
Directing & Writing
It's always more intriguing to imagine what's happening, as opposed to seeing everything because then you can use your imagination. I always wanted to be at a distance.
- Sofia Coppola, on The Virgin Suicides
Sofia's major contribution to film has come as a writer/director. Thus far, she has written (or co-written) and directed three films, each of which is well worth watching.
Lick the Star (1998) was co-written with Stephanie Hayman and serves as both the commercial writing and directorial debut of Sofia. It's a short film (14 minutes), but it is quite good at capturing the instability and chaos of junior high. The weakest part of the film are the actresses who play the girls the film focuses on; many of them feel as though they're reciting their lines in much the same way an uninterested Catholic child might recite Bible verses.
The Virgin Suicides (1999) is Sofia's full-length debut and is based on Jeffrey Eugenides' novel of the same name, with the film adaptation written by Sofia herself. The entire film evokes a claustrophobic protection of innocence even as it slips away into the night; every camera angle works towards showing this throughout the film. Sofia coaxes a fantastic performance out of one of the most overrated young actresses around and comes up with a funny but still introspective winner that manages to capture the essence of the book and turn it into a stellar film; most adaptations fail in one department or another.
If Lick The Star was leading off the game with a single and The Virgin Suicides followed it with a figurative double, then Lost in Translation (2003) is Sofia's first home run. The film tells the tale of a muted love between Charlotte, a lonely wife of a photographer, and Bob, an over-the-hill actor. Both are living lives that leave them romantically strangled and, dropped into an alien culture, they reach out to one another.
One of the most striking pieces of the film is Sofia's translation of herself into the role of Charlotte and, comparatively, translating Spike Jonze into the role of John and her "ideal man" into the role of Bob Harris. Lost in Translation is clearly a tale of strangulated, muted love, and she was able to transfer her life as source material into a cohesive, narrative structure, then was able to translate that into a filmed environment. That artistic transformation is amazing.
Her next film is Marie Antoinette, scheduled to be delivered in 2006.
I saw Sofia in a park one cold day in 1997. She was sitting on a bench adjusting film in her camera. I watched her as I fed the pigeons.