Last week's 48-hour press blitz for Marie Antoinette was covered tag-team style by Netscape at the Movies and Cinematical, with the former covering the film's NYFF press conference and the latter covering junket roundtables at Sony headquarters. At both events, the Converse questions came fast and furious. For those who haven't yet seen the film, there's a scene where an impossible-to-miss pair of Chuck Taylor All Star Converse show up at 18th century Versailles. One journalist at the roundtables was so irked by this that she decided to interrogate Sofia Coppola on that and other other points of historical inaccuracy, down to and including Antoinette's panties. Coppola wasn't easily rattled, however. She displayed a relaxed-but-unshakable manner and patiently addressed the charges one by one. The next day at the press conference, however, Coppola was again asked why she decided to include the sneakers. This time she immediately spit back "Because I could." I think that's a pretty great answer.
In addition to Sofia Coppola, stars Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman, who play the blundering King Louis and Queen Antoinette of France, were also on hand to participate in the roundtables and offer their views on the making of the film. Cinematical's official digital tape recorder was strategically placed to capture all of the best and worst questions from the event. Here's a sampling of what went on:
Cinematical: Talk a little bit about your working relationship with Antonia Fraser. Was there tension or disagreements between the two of you over what kind of film you wanted to make and how she wanted her book to be used? "I think she was always aware that a movie is much different than a book. She was never protective and she always said 'I don't own Marie Antoinette. It's open to anyone's interpretation.' She was always helpful in terms of offering her opinion and advice. Sometimes she disagreed with my approach, but she was always encouraging me to do it my own way."
Cinematical: Why did you choose to stop the film abruptly after the Queen is whisked away from Versailles but before she's called to account for all of her supposed crimes? "What happens when she leaves Versailles is a really long story with an escape, and they are imprisoned for many years, and a trial. We weren't making a mini-series and didn't have the time. I didn't want to just abbreviate all of that. So I decided to focus on her years at Versailles, starting with her arrival as a young girl and then her evolution. For me, the ending is her on the balcony, when she transforms into a woman. It would be a different style of filmmaking too -- it would almost be like an action movie, with the escape."
Cinematical: Do you think Marie Antoinette is a sympathetic character? "I think so. I liked in Antonia Fraser's book that she was human and flawed. But I think she was sympathetic. I think she was a sweet-natured person who was raised in a certain way."
Cinematical: Is your father a stylistic influence on your work? "I think we have really different styles, but my interest in filmmaking comes from learning from him. He's always encouraged me to make things as personal as I can and to follow my heart and intuition. I get that from him, but I obviously have a female point of view and a different approach."
Cinematical: Were there any scenes that were a technical nightmare to shoot? I'm thinking in particular of the sunrise in the garden scene. "That was just one of those things where we were rushing before the light changed. But to me it was complicated with the big crowd scenes. Horses and extras and placing everybody. Also some of the ritualistic scenes, coordinating all of that was something new for me."
Cinematical: How long was your first cut of the film? "I don't remember, probably three hours."
Cinematical: The world outside Versailles doesn't exist in the film. There are no cut-aways to peasants starving in the streets or anything like that, until they storm the palace. Was that deliberate? "Yeah, the idea was to tell the story from her point of view. In this bubble, this world, they were so unaware of what was going on outside. I wanted to stay in their point of view and intentionally not show the world outside."
Cinematical: How do you feel about directors doing DVD commentary? Do you have anything against doing one? "I've never done that. Maybe when I'm really old and feel like a master, I'll want to share that, but now I would feel self-conscious."
Best Non-Cinematical Question: Was the Le Petit Trianon sequence in the film an homage to Terrence Malick? "I was definitely thinking of that as an homage to him. She [Marie] went through a period where she found an escape from the court life and was interested in gardening and nature. I think it was an attempt to be in touch with something more real. So there was this whole aspect of her life at Le Petit Trianon that I wanted to show in sort of a Terrence Malick homage."
Most Unexpected Non-Cinematical Question: Why are you only the third woman to be nominated for Best Director? "I don't know. I feel like it's not my job to understand that."
Worst Non-Cinematical Question: Why did you show Marie wearing panties to bed at night when they weren't invented yet, and why were there pink Converse being worn at Versailles and why did Kirsten grip her coffee cup in a totally modern way? [long pause] "As far as her underwear goes, they didn't wear underwear at that time, but I guess that was wardrobe trying to keep her dress from being transparent. So that's why she wore underwear." But they show her naked while getting dressed. "Yeah, well, I guess she wasn't comfortable not having underwear on in that scene. But it wasn't meant to be a noticeable element in the story. As far as the Converse, that girl just had it on there and we just left it in for fun, to be playful in this teenage world. Some people go with it, some people don't." And what about the coffee cup? "It wasn't intentional. I guess we overlooked that."
Cinematical: Did you ever consider donning a French accent for the role? "I never considered a French accent. She would have had an Austrian accent with a weird French accent on top of it. And a British accent would be weird to do, because that kind of wouldn't make sense. I think [Sophia] took her accent cue from Milos Forman, to not really make us have accents."
Cinematical: Did you spend a lot of time with the author of the book, Antonia Fraser, in preparation for the role? Did she give you any tips on physical mannerisms, things like that? "No, not much. She came on the set to visit sometimes, but I didn't spend much time with her. I had her book, and that was a lot, but no."
Cinematical: Aren't three Spiderman films enough for you? "If it's enough for Sam, it's enough for me. If it's not enough for Sam, then it's not enough for me, either."
Cinematical: What was the most difficult scene in the film to shoot, from your point of view? "Umm...I never think about these questions, so let me think.....[long pause...Kirsten turns red...struggling for an answer]....What was the most difficult scene to shoot.......I can't think of one. I'll try to think of one for you."
Best Non-Cinematical Question: The big, dramatic moments in Antoinette's life come at the end, with her trial and beheading. Were you satisfied as an actor with having the film end before those moments? "Well, that was the script and the story from the beginning. I think both sides are interesting, but we concentrate on the more child-like Queen and only at the end does she kind of face her destiny. Maybe somebody will tell a story about her years in prison, but I never felt disappointed or cheated. There's plenty to do in this film." Would you consider a sequel? "A sequel? I don't know if that's Soph's style. I can't see her doing MA:2."
Most Unexpected Non-Cinematical Question: Would you ever consider playing a gay character? "I would not be opposed to that at all."
Worst Non-Cinematical Question: [After a question about King Louis' sexual frustrations] Do you think sexual intimacy is important in a relationship? "My opinion on that doesn't matter for the character."
Cinematical: What do you think the source of Louis' sexual frustrations were? Did you have your own ideas about that, for the character? "Well, there's debate. The more I researched this character and the more historians I spoke to and meeting with Antoina Fraser, people debate him. They have different conclusions about who he was and why he did things. The idea that's supported in the film, and I can get behind it, is that he was an awkward gentleman who was put in an arranged marriage at a very young age with someone who was just as nervous as he was about coming to this new place. He was put into bed with her and was expected to produce an heir in front of people. It wasn't a great environment, and he was just naturally an awkward person."
Cinematical: Do you care about the French reaction to this film? I mean, they see Louis as a tyrant who was rightfully overthrown. How does that criticism affect you, if at all? "First of all, I know the film was made with respect for these people. Sofia loves these people, and some part of her needed to make this movie, and I don't think she would want to make a movie that points fingers and has a "message." She emotionally related to these people and wanted to make an Impressionistic film that wasn't a genre movie or period piece. In terms of how the French feel about Louis, I was portraying a version of him that I could relate to. That's what I was asked to do, and I did my best. I wasn't trying to point fingers or draw comparisons. I just did a version of him, and I hope people like it. I didn't want to piss anybody off."
Best Non-Cinematical Question: How did Sofia help prepare you for a character that has almost no dialogue, in a film that has very little dialogue itself? "I went to Sofia's apartment and just went over each scene. I would say "She just asked me if I liked this..." and then we would write dialogue. I memorized lines that I wouldn't say. Sofia also encouraged me to take time before I answered. A lot of directors always say "Can you do it faster?" Sofia was always saying "Take longer. Don't try to please her. Don't try to make her feel comfortable."
Most Unexpected Non-Cinematical Question: If you could travel back in time and live at Versailles, wouldn't that be great? "Sometimes I felt like it would have been a wonderful time to have been alive. But it would be hard to go back, medically. Just having a cavity would be really bad. The lack of sanitation. I would go for the 1950s or 60s."
Worst Non-Cinematical Question: What is your diet like? Do you try to eat healthy? "I don't have a real regiment. I definitely don't eat McDonalds or anything like that, but everything else is fair game."
For more Cinematical content on the movie, you can read Ryan's review or Jette's review, or the review James wrote after Cannes.