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Roman Coppola's new film, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, is a character study of a self-obsessed and creative man who's dealing with the aftermath of a break up. For Coppola, whose pedigree is well-documented (son to Francis Ford, brother to Sofia, cousin to Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage), Charles Swan is a new chapter in an already successful career. Known chiefly for his screenwriting work (he's Oscar nominated this year for Moonrise Kingdom), Coppola decided to direct the film as well.
Coppola is the second writing partner of Wes Anderson to chart his own directorial course after working with the auteur (Noah Baumbach is the other). The influence is obvious. Charles Swan boasts frequent Anderson collaborators, Schwartzman and Bill Murray, and the look and style of the film recalls Anderson's sensibilities. However, directing isn't anything new for Coppola. He made his bones directing music videos in the '90s and his first film, CQ, debuted at Cannes in 2001. Not to mention, and we're just speculating here, he's probably picked up some things from his family over the years.
We sat down with Coppola at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco to talk about A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, casting his friend Charlie Sheen in the lead, his influences as a writer/director, his favorite Coppola family films, and his thoughts on his first Academy Awards as a nominee.
The thing that really struck me about your movie was the performance you got out of Mr. Sheen. I know you guys have been friends for a long time. You met on Apocalypse Now, and you've stayed friends?
We met during Apocalypse Now as kids, we were 11-years-old or so. We were pals and over the years I'd run into Charlie here and there, but when you make a friend when you're 11-years-old that's a friend you're always going to have. That was how we'd known each other. So many years would go by and I would see him, but whenever I'd happen to run into him it'd always be a nice thing because we shared that early friendship.
How was it directing a friend?
It was great particularly because I had his back and he had my back. You know, when I wanted to cast Charlie, there were a lot of people that were uncomfortable with that choice. They felt it would be difficult to get insurance, which it was. It would be difficult to get a completion bond, which it was. But, I had this instinct based on my rapport with him, if Charlie says he's gonna do this and come through, he's gonna do it and come through. So I knew that and Charlie had my back too. He wasn't going to let me down. If he had to stay up late learning lines, or learning how to speak Spanish or whatever it was, he put that extra effort in. So I think it was very beneficial and we had each other's trust. I think that was a really valuable asset.
Just from knowing Charlie Sheen, can you tell us your favorite Charlie Sheen story?
I met a driver—I was actually going to Bill Murray's house with the script trying to show him the role to interest him—and it was this driver that Bill liked so much and recommended to me. Bill is a very generous tipper so I asked the driver, I said, "Who's the most generous tipper you've ever had?" Just out of curiosity, figuring he'd say, "Bill," because he's his usual guy and he goes, "Oh, Charlie Sheen." That was humorous because he had no idea I was planning to use Charlie Sheen in this movie. What that says to me, and I can attest to it, he's incredibly generous. He's given me...a beautiful lighter recently, and a watch. He's just a guy who's super-generous, very outgoing. He's very true blue. If he says he's going to do something, he'll do it. He's not a B.S. artist. He's not going to say something he doesn't believe and I think that's why all that public stuff that people responded so much was he never lied about anything. He's very straightforward and that's a fantastic quality.
Hollywood history is littered with movies that take place inside the mind and I just wondered what films, for you, were a reference point in making this one?
I'll tell you, but I'm curious to know the ones you're thinking of.
Well, Kurosawa comes to mind, Dreams. I thought about Eternal Sunshine...
No, that's interesting, I totally agree. It's true there are a group of movies that I love and I keep kind of coming back to. One is Stardust Memories, the Woody Allen picture. All That Jazz is one of my favorites and relates to this movie in certain ways. Annie Hall is a similar story about a breakup and coming together told in not any logical order but the order in which it occurs to the character. So these are all things that I admire so much and my movie aspires to relate to, or be part of that style.
I know Wes Anderson doesn't put the camera in certain positions, he won't do certain shots and I wondered if you're that way also as a director? Are there certain shots, or angles, that you want to stay away from?
I'm very open. Wes is a very particular filmmaker and it's true that he has a certain way of seeing things and a shot that's maybe at an acute angle or with a longer lens, whatever, he tends not to do. He's not drawn to it. It's not interesting to him. I don't really have those kinds of prejudices or restrictions I'm very open to whatever might come my way or might occur to me, but I do have some biases. I tend not to like hand-held photography. You don't see it in my work, particularly, unless it's really called for. I don't like steady cams. I admire—there's great movies with great steady cam shots, It's an incredible tool— but I don't use that as a tool generally-speaking. Moving crane shots and that type of thing, I tend not to use...
Are you nervous at all about the Oscars?
Well it's thrilling to be up for an Oscar. It's totally mind-blowing and, you know, it's a weird sensation because you want to be positive and think "Oh yeah, maybe I can win." And people say, "Good luck," or "You're going to win," and you want to embrace that. At the same time, you don't want to be disappointed or expect anything and so it's a curious mental state where you just want to be optimistic enough to invite something to happen where you might win and also be relaxed enough to not expect anything, to appreciate that being nominated is a huge honor and is something to savor so I'm in that state of mind.
Did you go to the Oscars growing up with your father?
Here and there, I attended a few times and it's always exciting. It's the ultimate movie celebration and anyone who loves movies, the Oscars is a big part of your life, watching that every year.
What's your favorite film of your father's?
People ask that and I tend to say Rumble Fish because it's not one of the obvious things to say and I love that movie. It was a really big part of my life. I was 16 when we made it. I was part of the film. My brother was involved. I was involved in a very deep way and so, not only is it one you just admire as an abstract film, the experience we had making it and, looking back on it, it's so daring. It's so imaginative and cool and beautiful and so many great virtues it has. That's one that really stands out for me.
Check out our full interview with Roman below. We've noted the time stamps for each of our questions under the video.