By following in her father's footsteps, a young filmmaker finds her own way
Sofia Coppola, the writer and director of the globally adored ”Lost in Translation,” is surrounded by actors. They’ve descended like a shiny plague on Toronto for the annual film festival, and the hotel courtyard is swarming with them. They don’t eat, this junket-frazzled bunch, feeding instead on coffee and cigarettes.
Coppola — who’s relishing every bite of a BLT and fries, thank you very much — tried acting once. She played Mary Corleone in her famous father’s 1990 drama, ”The Godfather Part III,” and oh, how the critics howled. ”I never wanted to be an actor,” says Coppola, who at 32, has long since brushed off the battering. ”It’s not my personality. I don’t like to be on stage. But I don’t regret anything. Plus, that was so long ago for me. It’s like someone asking about having braces. I just don’t remember it.”
So Coppola, who grew up poking around the costume departments of her father’s legendary film sets, gave art school a whirl. She never did graduate, but she had some fun with fashion and photography while searching, searching for her true passion. ”Sofia was concerned that she had interest in so many creative activities,” says Francis Ford Coppola, who still reels from the assault his daughter endured after he cast her in his movie. ”She’d ask me if she ought to specialize. I remember always telling her that she didn’t have to, that she should pursue everything and anything that interested her, that eventually they’d come together in something on their own.”
She soon followed her heart back to the movies. And if critics sneered at her acting (nepotism! no-talent!), surely they’d rip apart her directorial debut. But 1999’s ”The Virgin Suicides,” based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel about a family of doomed suburban sisters, was met with impressed surprise. Maybe there WAS more to this little girl than her daddy.
”Lost in Translation,” about the tender romance between a world-weary actor (Bill Murray) and a lonely newlywed (Scarlett Johansson) who connect easily and innocently over late-night drinks at the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel, should silence any remaining skeptics. ”It’s kind of annoying when people ask me how much my dad is involved, or assume my career is because of him,” says Coppola. ”But I felt a little bit this time, a little bit, that people were able to see my movie without seeing my family.”
Only now she must deal with questions about the other filmmaker in her life, her husband, ”Adaptation” director Spike Jonze. The gossip columns are rife with rumors of trouble in the four-year-old marriage. Fueling the fire is the depiction of an out-of-rhythm young couple in her new movie. Johansson plays a confused wife, disappointed by her sweet but hopelessly out-to-lunch hipster husband (Giovanni Ribisi). ”It’s not Spike,” insists Coppola. ”But there are elements of him there, elements of experiences. There are elements of me in all the characters.”
Look for her, she says, in the resigned sag of Bill Murray’s weathered face. ”I totally relate to that character. He’s like my male alter ego.” And, of course, in the woman who’s awed by the demands of marriage and unsure of her place in the world. Like her protagonist, a younger Coppola sweated out her dilettante years at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where she’d stay when in town for assorted fashion jobs. ”I definitely had moments where — you’re just out of college, and you wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re so far from home,” she says. ”I just remember feeling overwhelmed by ‘How do you figure out what you’re supposed to do? What do you do that’s special to you? Unique to you?”’
She chose well. The reviews are in, and the love is pouring out from everywhere. Coppola is suddenly a critic’s darling. No fool, she’s getting out of town before she finds herself wrapped up in it. ”I’m going to take a little break and go on vacation,” she says. ”I’m not going to talk at all — just read and sleep.” But doesn’t she want to bask in the heaps of gorgeous praise? Isn’t she desperate to hear that she has in fact picked the right life for herself? ”It’s exciting, but I’m trying not to read the reviews because once you start, you read them all. I don’t know; I’d like to leave it at what I like about the movie.” See, sometimes a woman has to look within to find out what she’s worth.