Sofia Coppola Biography

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Filmmaker

Born May 14, 1971, in New York, NY; daughter of Francis Ford (a filmmaker) and Eleanor (a photographer and documentary filmmaker) Coppola; married Spike Jonze (a director), 1999 (divorced, 2004). Education: Attended California Institute of the Arts, early 1990s.

Addresses:

Agent —William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.

Career

Actress in films, including: The Godfather (uncredited), 1972; The Godfather: Part II (uncredited), 1974; The Outsiders, 1983; Rumble Fish, 1983; The Cotton Club, 1984; Peggy Sue Got Married, 1986; Anna, 1987; The Godfather: Part III, 1990; Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, 1999; CQ, 2001. Writer of screenplays, including: "Life without Zoe" for New York Stories, 1989; Lick the Star, 1998; The Virgin Suicides, 1999; Lost in Translation, 2003. Director of films, including: Lick the Star, 1998; The Virgin Suicides, 1999; Lost in Translation, 2003. Has also worked at the Paris offices of the House of Chanel, and as a photographer for Vogue and Allure ; co–hosted a Comedy Central show called Hi–Octane, 1993; launched clothing line, Milk Fed, 1995.

Awards:

New York Film Critics Circle Award for best director, for Lost in Translation, 2003; Golden Globe Award for best screenplay, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Lost in Translation, 2004; Academy Award for best screenplay, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Lost in Translation, 2004.

Sophia Coppola

Sidelights

Sofia Coppola emerged from her family's shadow to become one of Hollywood's most surprising success stories. The daughter of auteur Francis Ford Coppola, she was roundly excoriated in her teens for her performance in The Godfather: Part III. Moving behind the lens, however, Coppola has since become an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right. At the age of just 32, she won an Academy Award for best screenplay for her first original work, 2003's Lost in Translation, as well as critical praise for creating a stunningly subtle yet luminous film as its director. "I can't believe I am standing here," a clearly unnerved Coppola said during her acceptance speech, according the New York Times. "Thank you to my dad for all he taught me."

Coppola's film debut came just after her birth in May of 1971, when her father cast her as the infant in the baptism scene that concludes his epic, The Godfather. The senior Coppola is perhaps best known for his adaptation of the Mario Puzo saga about an Italian–American family and the criminal underworld, which regularly appears on lists of the greatest films of all time. As a toddler, Coppola also appeared in an uncredited role in the sequel, as a child onboard a boat approaching New York's Statue of Liberty scene in 1974's The Godfather: Part II. She and her brothers, Roman and Gian Carlo, were often taken along to locations where their father was shooting his films, including the grueling, trouble–plagued Philippines production of his other classic, Apocalypse Now. She also took bit roles (under the screen name "Domino") in The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club, her father's films from the early 1980s.

Most of Coppola's childhood, however, was spent in California's Napa Valley, where her parents owned a vineyard. Both recalled her as an imaginative, persuasive child. Eleanor Coppola, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, told Time writer Kate Betts that when her only daughter "played with her friends, she always wanted them to play her way—her story, her costumes. And I would have to say, 'Sofia, not everyone wants to play your way.' She had that pattern of somehow gathering everyone's enthusiasms, which is very much like a director." Her teen years were at first charmed ones, and included a stint as an intern at the Chanel atelier in Paris, working for Karl Lagerfeld, when she was just 15. "At one point I tripped over the phone wire and disconnected his call," she told W writer Christopher Bagley, "but he was always really nice." Tragedy struck Coppola and her family, however, in 1986, when Gian Carlo was killed in a boating accident. Coppola was at home in Napa Valley with her mother, and recalled it as "a heartbreaking time," she told New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg. "You never really get over something like that."

Coppola's first foray into screenwriting came when she and her father wrote a segment for Woody Allen's 1989 trilogy, New York Stories, which he then directed. Their short film, "Life without Zoe," featured a precocious 12–year–old who lived at the Sherry–Netherland Hotel. Critical reviews were mixed, but journalistic venom came out full–force for the senior Coppola's next project, the long–anticipated final installment of The Godfather: Part III. Actress Winona Ryder had dropped out after being cast as Mary Corleone, daughter of Al Pacino's Michael Corleone, and Coppola's father put her in the part instead. The film was judged a half–baked conclusion after the cinematic accomplishment of the first two, but Coppola's performance was singled out as particularly regretful. "Though Mary is not on screen that much, she is crucial to the action," noted National Review film critic John Simon. "To have a gross–looking, totally non–acting, personality less person impersonating the movie's love interest is a costly impertinence. And to think that, because of daughter Sofia's Valley–girl accent, someone else had to dub her voice! But at least the dubbing is perfect: the voice is as inept as the body."

Mortified, Coppola steered clear of Hollywood for a time. She took classes at the California Institute of the Arts, appeared in a few music videos—including an early Black Crowes production—and co–hosted a 1993 cable television show with her friend Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of another cinematic legend, John Cassavetes. The show, Hi–Octane, featured the pair driving around the Los Angeles area in a vintage muscle car and interviewing their celebrity friends. She also learned photography, got a photo agent, and did work for French Vogue and Allure, but felt like she was floundering, career–wise. "I became a dilettante," she confessed to the New York Times ' Hirschberg about this time in her life. "I wanted to do something creative, but I didn't know what it would be." In 1995, she started her own clothing company, Milk Fed, with a friend from grade school, Stephanie Hayman. The company became such a success in Japan that it gave Coppola a certain degree of financial freedom.

Coppola's varied interests in music and fashion eventually led her back into film. She was friends with designer Marc Jacobs, who introduced her to Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. They, in turn, introduced her to her future husband, video director Spike Jonze, but Moore also gave her a copy of Jeffrey Eugenides acclaimed debut novel, The Virgin Suicides. Coppola was enchanted by the story of five sisters in a posh Midwestern suburb who commit suicide one by one. The story is narrated in flashback by one of the boys that knew the ethereally lovely Lisbon sisters, and when Coppola heard about a screenplay adaptation in the works that would add a bit more sex and violence to the story, she decided to write her own. She did so, quietly, without telling anyone and landed the project and the director's job as well.

Coppola had actually made her directing debut with a little–seen 1998 indie film called Lick the Star, but The Virgin Suicides was her first her major studio release. The work earned laudatory reviews, with critics noting she seemed particularly skilled in creating a pitch–perfect period piece of 1970s teen life. "Coppola has carefully preserved the spirit of her source and, for the most part, succeeded in her efforts to find a visual idiom appropriate to the lush melancholy of the novel's language," remarked A. O. Scott, the New York Times critic. Esquire called it "hypnotic," with its critic asserting "the film has a deeply photographic quality, like a romantic, super-saturated snapshot capturing the surrealism of 1970s suburbia. Entirely absent of the mocking condescension of films such as Welcome to the Dollhouse or the glibness of American Pie, it is one of the most authentic portraits of adolescence in years."

The Virgin Suicides was not only a tour–de–force of a movie, but also served to redeem Coppola's reputation in Hollywood after the Godfather debacle. Scott, writing in the New York Times, conceded that any filmmaker who tackled the Suicides story was working with a project with some holes, for Eugenides' novel had little in the way of character development or plot. As director, Scott noted, Coppola was required to make a film that would "hold the viewer's interest through moods, associations, and resonant images. That she has done so is impressive, and The Virgin Suicides should quiet the buzz of skepticism that has preceded this film. Yes, Ms. Coppola is the daughter of one famous director and the wife of another, but she is also an assured and imaginative filmmaker in her own right." In the profile for W, Bagley asserted that though Coppola had enjoyed a few "quasi–careers" that included "muse to Marc Jacobs [and] all–around poster girl for low–key West Coast cool," her filmmaking debut "was so assuredly deft and original that it lent an instant credibility to her new calling and, retroactively, to her old ones."

Coppola's forays to Tokyo, Japan, inspired her next screen project, the luminous Lost in Translation. She and Hayman, her business partner, traveled there often for Milk Fed, which was manufactured in Japan and had its own Tokyo store called Heaven 27. They preferred to stay at the ultra–modern Park Hyatt, and Coppola wrote a screenplay about two drifting Americans who meet in its hotel bar. She was determined to film only at the Park Hyatt, and equally determined to have actor Bill Murray play the lead—that of an aging Hollywood star who comes to Japan to appear in a whiskey commercial for a $2 million paycheck. While there, he meets a young, moribund American woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, whose flighty fashion–photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi, who provided the wistful narrative voice–overs in The Virgin Suicides ) leaves her to fend for herself in the strange city.

Lost in Translation won unanimously positive reviews. The New York Times 's Elvis Mitchell called it "the first grown–up starring part that Mr. Murray has had," and "one of the purest and simplest examples ever of a director falling in love with her star's gifts." David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, also assessed it in glowing terms. "Not much happens, but Coppola is so gentle and witty an observer that the movie casts a spell," Denby wrote. "She captures the sleek pomp of a luxury Japanese hotel, with its intimidating high–tech look, its abundant staff mysteriously stepping out of the shadows and offering unwanted assistance in beautifully mangled English." BusinessWeek critic Thane Peterson hailed her as one of American film's new visionaries. "At the moment, Coppola is the only woman in a band of young auteurs who represent the best and brightest of Hollywood's next generation," Peterson declared, and listed her only rivals as Paul Thomas Anderson ( Punch Drink Love ), Wes Anderson ( The Royal Tenenbaums ), and her husband, who had a hit with Adaptation the year before. Yet the Business-Week writer further noted that the men of the bunch "tend to fall back on quirkiness to make their movies distinctive.… Coppola doesn't bother with that sort of thing. She just comes straight at you with an unabashed art film that unfolds at a languid, European pace—but is also sufficiently unpretentious to appeal to a wide audience."

Coppola, taking a cue from her father, enthusiastically mixes her professional and personal lives. Her film soundtracks are supervised by Brian Reitzell, drummer for the French band Air whom she knew when he played with the cult–favorite L.A. punk outfit Redd Kross. Another old friend, Lance Acord, became Lost in Translation 's cinematographer. Her brother, Roman, served as its second unit director, and in turn she appeared in a brief but glamorous cameo in his 2001 paean to Sixties Euro–cool, CQ. Ribisi's photographer character, meanwhile, was said to bear an uncanny resemblance in mannerisms to Coppola's husband. She and Jonze, born Adam Spiegel, wed in a 1999 Napa ceremony at which Tom Waits sang and an all–star guest list from the worlds of film, music, and fashion intersected. The couple had a home in Los Angeles, but Coppola spent much of the summer of 2003 in New York City editing Lost in Translation, prompting rumors that their union was on the rocks. Their split was announced later that year.

Coppola avoids publicity and the outspokenness for which her father is known. His battles with Hollywood studios over the years were legendary, and in some cases even involved litigation. Coppola's style is a more reticent one. She recalled in the New York Times interview with Hirschberg that her famous parent "came on the set of The Virgin Suicides and told me, 'You should say "Action" louder, more from your diaphragm.' I thought, 'O.K., you can go now.'"

Sources

Books

Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, volume 30, Gale Group, 2000.

Periodicals

Back Stage West, September 11, 2003, p. 8.

BusinessWeek, October 21, 2003.

Cineaste, Winter 2003, p. 26.

Daily Variety, November 12, 2003, p. A14.

Entertainment Weekly, October 3, 2003, p. 51.

Esquire, May 2000, p. 146.

Independent (London, England), January 2, 2004, p. 8.

Independent Sunday (London, England), December 21, 2003, p. 9.

Interview, April 2000, p. 46; October 2003, p. 54.

Nation, January 7, 1991, p. 22.

National Review, January 28, 1991, p. 65.

New Republic, March 27, 1989, p. 24.

New Yorker, September 15, 2003, p. 100.

New York Observer, September 29, 2003, p. 29.

New York Times, April 21, 2000; August 31, 2003, p. 35; September 12, 2003; February 3, 2004, p. E8; March 1, 2004.

Observer (London, England), February 13, 2000, p. 6; May 21, 2000, p. 8.

Time, September 15, 2003, pp. 70–72.

USA Today Magazine, January 2004, p. 59.

W, September 2003, pp. 350–54.

WWD, June 16, 2003, p. 7.

Online

"The Coppola Clan's Best Director?" Salon.com , http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/int/2003/09/23/sofia_coppola (September 23, 2003).

"Lost in Translation," Salon.com , http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/review/2003/09/12/translation (September 12, 2003).

"Sofia Coppola," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm00010681 (February 11, 2004).

Carol Brennan



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