Writer/director Sofia Coppola’s new movie Somewhere won the Golden Lion Award for Best Picture of the Year at the 2010 Venice International Film Festival. It tells the story of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a successful actor who lives at the legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood. He drives a Ferrari and has a constant stream of girls.
Comfortably numbed, his life drifts along, until one day his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo [Elle Fanning], from his failed marriage, arrives unexpectedly at the hotel. Their experiences together encourage Johnny that it’s time to grow up and decide how he wants to live his life.
It’s an interesting world that this movie takes place in. You spent your life with on foot in show business, was there something personal in terms of how the story developed?
Yeah, definitely, I always try to write about what’s on my mind and what’s close to me and put myself into the characters. So I feel all my films are personal, especially this one and Lost in Translation, because they are original stories and come from me completely.
I’m familiar with that world, I feel like there’s such an interest in pop culture with celebrities, I felt there is a whole generation that just thinks it’s [good] to be famous, because of these reality shows, and I was just curious to look at the other side of that and how fulfilling the world that comes with that is.
Why was the Chateau Marmont Hotel such a perfect location?
To me the Chateau Marmont is such an iconic Hollywood place, so many actors have lived there. So when I thought about this character, as a starting point in the story, I thought, of course, he has to live at the Chateau Marmont. You see pictures in the tabloids of some actor on the balcony and there’s an endless list of now movie stars that have had their time living at the Chateau Marmont.
Stephen told me when he got his first big job that he went and stayed at the Chateau Marmont afterwards. So I think it’s where that guy would live, and it has so much history and mystique that I wanted to shoot it there.
It’s also a hotel where a lot of actors have died.
I think it has a dark and decadent side, which adds layers to the story, and it becomes a character. It does have a lot of ghosts and stories and decadent fun things and dark moments.
It’s always had a decadent appeal. I went there as a kid, before its latest incarnation. I remember in the 1990s, there were stories of actors or rock stars trashing their rooms. These stories became fragments of scenes when I started writing this script, connecting them to the Johnny Marco character.
How cooperative was the hotel?
They were great. Luckily I knew the manager for many years from spending time there when I was younger. When I was in college in the early nineties my friends and I would go there sometimes to hang out and watch people, because there were always interesting people around. And I knew the owner, so I sent him my script and asked him to consider it, and I was glad that he felt like I was going to portray it in a way close to the hotel.
How did you think of Stephen Dorff for the role?
He just came to mind when I was thinking about this character, I knew him a little over the years, we never spent a lot of time or were that close, but I knew he was a sweet guy, and I felt like this character is so flawed and could easily be unlikable, that it needed someone with a lot of heart and someone sweet for that to come through and for the audience to connect to him.
I think he’s a great actor, and we haven’t seen that side of him.
How did Elle Fanning come to your attention to play Cleo?
I was in L.A. meeting with [executive producer] Fred Roos and he told me that he had seen Elle at a screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which she had a part in and which he said she was great in, and that in person she just had something about her – and that we should meet her.
I was thinking, ‘Oh, she’s going to be this professional Hollywood kid, and probably not what I had in mind.’ I wanted a kid who would feel real, and a contrast from the showbiz world.
But we met Elle and were really taken with her. She was at the exact age I wanted. Fred wanted us to meet all the young actresses out there, and I did but I kept comparing them to her; ‘She’s not Elle.’ You want to watch Elle: she stands out, she has this sparkle, she is full of life, and she brings so much to Somewhere.
I tried not to interfere too much with what she was doing, because she’s so good and was so instinctual.
What does the title, Somewhere, mean?
It’s funny; Somewhere was a temporary title, but it just stuck. Since I wanted the movie to be like a tone poem of this time in this guy’s life, it reflected his knowing he needs to go somewhere – but he doesn’t know where exactly.
The movie is set in modern-day Hollywood, but it’s not really about the film business, you don’t see him working as an actor; anyone can relate to the universal themes of family and personal crisis.