The idea that Sofia Coppola, the art house darling who has crafted nuanced, character-focused dramas like "Lost in Translation" and "The Bling Ring," would choose to remake "The Beguiled" doesn't make a lot of sense. After all, the 1971 original (itself based on a novel called "A Painted Devil" by Thomas P. Cullinan) is a trashy Southern Gothic yarn that emphasized exploitation over characterization. But then you realize it makes perfect sense. Not only does Coppola get to shed light on a historically marginalized group (Southern women during the Civil War), she gets to populate it with terrific actors (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Colin Farrell, Angourie Rice) and wrap it up in typically lush production design.
What's more, "The Beguiled" (out now in limited release and everywhere Friday) is easily the most audience-friendly Coppola film -- at my critics' screening there were whoops and hollers, nervous laughter, and audible cringing. She won the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival and she'll probably make multiplex audiences fidget in their seats. That's cool.
It was a blast to talk to Coppola about why she made the film, the movie's boxy aspect ratio, her choices for the best movies of the 21st century, winning the Best Director award, and what's next.
Moviefone: What made you want to remake "The Beguiled"?
Sofia Coppola: A few years ago, my friend Anne Ross, who is the production designer, said, "Did you ever see 'The Beguiled,' the Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film? Because I think you should redo it." And I thought, Oh, I'd never remake someone else's film. So I watched the movie and then I thought it would be interesting to see it told from a different point of view. It takes place in a girls' school with all these women, so I thought, I'd love to do it from the women's point of view.
You're screening this movie with the original at Quentin Tarantino's theater, the New Beverly. So, obviously, you like the dialogue between the two movies.
I just feel like they're companion pieces because they're the same story told from the guy's point of view and now the women's point of view. That one was so '70s. It's such a different style. But I'm excited to see it again because I tried to forget about it while I was making this one and imagine it anew.
I wanted to ask you about the aspect ratio.
Aw, thank you for noticing!
Of course! It's 1.66:1, which you don't see too often these days.
Yeah, we wanted it to feel more confined and claustrophobic, so all of these choices went into that.
Even the title card feels very squished.
Yes, everything is bursting!
And it's shot with a very shallow depth of field. The actors are in focus but not much else.
Yeah, we wanted it to have this gauzy, soft, romantic look.
Can you talk about working with some of these actresses?
When I saw the older film I thought, I want to redo this and Kirstin can be the schoolteacher. And now Elle is old enough, because the last time I worked with her she was 11. And now she's 18. And I've always loved Nicole Kidman. So the idea of getting this group of women together and then the kids, who are 12, 13, was great. I loved the idea of doing a story with so many women at so many different ages and stages of their life.
How did you choose the younger girls?
One of them is Matilda on Broadway and The Thundermans" on Nickelodeon that my daughter watches. I have a great casting team that I work with, and we met so many great young actresses, and it was fun putting together a group that would support the rest of the story.
I just read your list of the top films of the 21st century. What went into choosing your favorites?
Well, it's so hard to pick. There were so many movies from the 1990s that stand out to me. It was harder to think of more recent movies. But I just chose things that I like. I didn't mean it to be the end all, be all.What made you choose "The Incredibles"?
I just love "The Incredibles." I love the fashion designer character. And I love the fact that they're a family of superheroes.
You came very close to doing a version of "The Little Mermaid." We've seen all of these remakes of classic fairy tales. Is that still something that you would want to do?
No. I mean, I love fairy tales. I thought it'd be fun to do something like that. But it didn't work. But who knows.
You talk about watching these movies with your kids. Are there any that you think, I could do a cool take on that?
No, I'd love to make a movie for them. Those Pixar movies are so great because it's so hard to find a movie that you want to watch with your kids. And I love the Studio Ghibli movies. But I don't have any plans.
Do you have any ideas about what's next?
No. We've just been working full stop to finish this and I'm so excited to get it out. And then summer vacation and regroup.
I want to congratulate you on your Best Director win at Cannes. Can you talk about what that was like?
It was so exciting. It was such a surprise. I had left Cannes and I was going to Coney Island with my kids and I got a call and it was so exciting. And then, this past week, I live in New York, and just walking the kids to school people would come up to me and say, "Hey, congratulations." And I felt a lot of encouragement. But yeah, I wasn't there. I had to get home to my children.
From the Cannes screenings, could you tell that people were really into it?
I could tell that people were positive. But you never know. So I don't know why I was so surprised.
Watching it last night, it was interesting to hear a critical audience so vocal.
Did they laugh?
They laughed, they groaned.
Are you excited to make a movie that people would really respond to vocally?
Yeah, it was fun. I really tried to make something entertaining and the plot, I hope, felt the tension and enjoyed it. And laughed. I wanted people to laugh. I hope they see it in the theater because I think it's really fun. For me to see a movie with an audience that can react together is a really fun communal experience.
"The Beguiled" is out in limited release now and everywhere on Friday.