Sofia Coppola and The Virgin Suicides cast reunite to talk 20th anniversary
Sofia Coppola still has Trip Fontaine's wig. It's been 20 years since the writer-director made her dreamy, sun-drenched debut with The Virgin Suicides, adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides' novel about the five doomed Lisbon sisters. Not only did the 2000 film help launch Coppola's career, but it's since become a cultural touchstone, exploring teenage love and tragedy with an unprecedented introspection.
Two decades after the film's premiere, EW gathered Coppola and her cast for an Around the Table video chat, a family reunion of sorts uniting the five sisters — Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Mary (A.J. Cook), Therese (Leslie Hayman), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), and Cecilia (Hanna Hall) — as well as long-haired heartthrob Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) for a look back at The Virgin Suicides' legacy. All agreed that the film made a lasting impact on each of them, one that still lingers in their lives 20 years later — sometimes even literally, as in the case of Trip's wig.
"It's in my storage!" Coppola says.
"I forgot about what a pain in the ass the wig was," Hartnett adds with a laugh.
"It was probably not the best quality wig," Coppola admits. "But it worked."
Coppola — the daughter of directors Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola — didn't originally plan to follow in her filmmaking family's footsteps, but when she learned that producers were planning to adapt Eugenides' best-selling novel in the late 1990s, she felt so protective over the story that she decided to try to write a script on her own.
"I loved that book, and I heard they were going to make a movie of it, and I hoped that they didn't mess it up — as that happens sometimes with books that you love," she recalls. "I just had an idea of how I thought they should make it into a movie, so I thought I would try to learn how to write a screenplay. I started working on one just as a kind of practice. I thought I would just do a few chapters."
But Coppola couldn't get the Lisbon sisters out of her head, and when she finished writing a full script, she approached the film's producers and asked if they'd consider making her version. The result was a low-budget shoot in Canada, with Toronto standing in for suburban '70s Michigan. Like Eugenides' novel, Coppola's Virgin Suicides explores the lives of the five sisters and their well-intentioned but oppressive parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner), told through the eyes of the infatuated teenage boys in their neighborhood. But whereas Eugenides treated the Lisbons as unknowable enigmas, whose tragic endings are seen as mysteries to be unraveled, Coppola focused on the sisters' rich inner lives — cryptic and hidden, to be sure, but also devastatingly human.
To play the young blonde sisters, Coppola cast mostly unknowns. At that point, Dunst was the biggest star, having appeared in films like Interview With the Vampire, Little Women, and Jumanji.
"When I read the script, I was a little bit nervous because I was making out with all these guys in the script, and I just was overwhelmed and kind of a young 16-year-old," Dunst admits. "But when I met Sofia, I felt at ease, and I knew that this would be something special."
Once filming began, Coppola tried to imbue her set with a casual, summer camp vibe, and although the shoot was only a few weeks, the young cast hit it off immediately, celebrating birthdays and playing laser tag as a form of Lisbon family bonding. (Woods, they all agree, was the most competitive and took laser tag extremely seriously.)
"I think it helped that you guys were close to that age, and that everyone was close to that age," Coppola says. "That was a pet peeve for me: I never understood why growing up, the teenagers in movies looked [old]. Like in Grease, they're all like in their 30s. They never look like teenagers in our real life or at school. I didn't relate to them very often. I think there's such a huge difference between a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old, and because the story was really about that moment, I wanted to try and capture what that looks and feels like. So it just seems obvious that you'd have actors that are at the same age as the characters."
For the teen heartthrob Trip Fontaine, who pursues the "stone fox" Lux, Coppola cast a young Hartnett. "It was the most calm and inviting arena to do anything," the actor says. "It felt like nothing I'd done before." One of the ways Coppola put her young actors at ease was by playing the film's '70s-inspired soundtrack on set, like when Trip struts through the high school hallway to Heart's "Magic Man."
"I remember being in screenings early on [and] editing, like, Is the movie working?" Coppola remembers. "And as soon as Trip Fontaine makes his entrance, I'm like, okay, the audience is with it. It's going to be okay."
One of the scenes that required perhaps the most coordination was the kiss between Trip and Lux, after she bursts out of the Lisbon house and climbs inside his car. "The lights in the house would go off, and then I'd have to run out," Dunst recalls. "It was such a long-winded thing to get in the car, jump on Josh, his wig would fall off… Then I bit him once, I remember. It was just a mess."
The Virgin Suicides debuted to solid reviews at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999, with critics praising Coppola's hazy aesthetic and insightful look at teenage girlhood. But the film barely made a blip at the box office, and it wasn't until years later that the director and cast realized that it had continued to resonate.
"I think the dreamy aspect of it and the way that Sofia filmed it, it really struck a deep chord in people's psyches," Hall says. "When people who are our age and our generation talk about it, and when younger people talk about it, it's a very defining film for them."
And teenage girls weren't the only ones watching: Cook remembers that when she joined the cast of Criminal Minds in 2005, all her costar Matthew Gray Gubler wanted to talk about was her role as a member of the Lisbon family.
"He's obsessed with this movie, and he fangirled so hard over The Virgin Suicides," she says with a laugh. "He was like, oh my gosh! Mary's joining our cast!"
Now, 20 years on, The Virgin Suicides has cemented its place as a teenage classic, getting a Criterion Collection release in 2018 and continuing to introduce new audiences to the tragedy of the Lisbons.
"The fact that it's been over 20 years is just mind-blowing," Cook says. "Virgin Suicides is that experience that I keep finding myself chasing, you know? It was this amazing experience that was so collective and such a learning experience for me."
"I think it was the beginning of me finding confidence as an adult," says Hartnett. "Everything's changed since then. It's been almost 22 years since we shot it. That's so many lifetimes; it's absolutely insane. It was a transformative experience for me, and I've always said if anyone cares to ask, it's probably my favorite filming experience."
"To be part of a movie that would be my favorite movie during that age…" Dunst adds. "You couldn't ask for more."
Watch the full Around the Table video above.
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