You may have a hard time placing the name Roman Coppola. His surname, no problem. But compared to the rest of his filmmaking family -- his father Francis-Ford ("The Godfather" visionary), his sister Sofia (who won her first Oscar for the melancholic "Lost in Translation"), his cousin, Jason Schwartzman -- Roman has mainly been behind the scenes.
The 47-year-old got his start in the business, not surprisingly, at a young age. He spent his youth on the set of his father's films, playing with discarded, faux-mutilated flesh during "Apocalypse Now" with an equally-young Charlie Sheen. He eventually carved out a niche directing music videos, and while his feature film "CQ" earned luke warm reviews, he's left his mark on some of your favorite indies (he was a second-unit director on "The Virgin Suicides," "The Life Aquatic" and "The Darjeeling Limited"). This past year, he joined his film-royalty family, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay for "Moonrise Kingdom."
Now, Coppola is center stage with "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," his first feature since 2001. The movie sees the no-less-notorious Charlie Sheen falling down the rabbit hole of self-destruction -- and salvation -- after a devastating break up. Here, Sheen is flanked by an afro-wearing Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Below, Copolla talks about his new film, defending Sheen and getting pranked by Murray.
I read that getting insurance for this film was a little bit of an issue. Why did you decide to stick with Charlie Sheen?
Well, to me, it was such an obvious thing. I had sensed that Charlie would really be good in this movie and when the insurance company was not into it, it just kind of baffled me. I’ve known Charlie since we were boys together so when he looks at me and says, "Hey, let’s do this thing. I want to do it." It’s a done deal. He’s going to be there for me; he’s not going to be a flake or not follow through so I think the insurance company failed to get some good business and I saved some bucks because I couldn’t get an insurance policy and I couldn’t get a completion bond. Thank god, because I saved two percent of my budget for not giving it to that worthless function.
Your film deals with a self-destruction, did you at any particular time think, perhaps this is hitting a little too close to home?
Not really. I didn’t think about that. A lot of that stuff in the press was kind of over-blown, which is just the way it works. I think if anything, and it’s not my place to make judgement, but I think [Sheen] was needing to get focused on something that was worthy of his creative intention and that’s why I kept dogging him about making this movie. I think it was something he really valued, [to] dive into some creative work. I feel very lucky and I feel very grateful to him and I feel embarrassed for the people who thought he wouldn’t be good in the movie, because he’s great.
Was he dodging it at all or was it a timing issue?
He was dodging it a bit -- it was a little bit of both. You know, knowing him well, I think he was avoiding it a bit that I was asking him to really dig deep, to give a performance that really had to access his full acting, his well-spring of talent, to be charming, to be witty, to learn spanish, to dance, to sing in Portuguese, and this was all stuff that was a little daunting and so I had to nudge and push because he needed that.
There are a lot of musical numbers here, where do you think the art form of the music video is going?
[People] say it's dying away and some say, no, it’s alive and well. I’m just not so present and part of it directly...it’s out there in a different form now. Of course it's on the Internet. In the past, when I was doing it more prevalently, you had a nice venue where you could do things. I'm sure it's alive and well, just in another space.
When did you first meet Bill Murray?
I first met him on set of Sofia’s film ["Lost in Translation"] and I was helping doing second unit, so I shot some scenes with him. There was this scene were he comes into the airport and he’s looking out the window, and he’s seeing Tokyo and he’s kind of drowsy from arriving at the airport and I shot that second unit. [After we shot the scene] I said, “OK, we got that, so you can open your eyes and look around a bit more” and he was snoring. He was asleep. And I’ll never know to this day if he was pulling my leg. And then of course, 10 minutes later he kind of woke up and I don’t know if it was a faux-wake up or not.
In terms of getting him involved with this project, how did that go? He is notoriously difficult to get in touch with.
He is very elusive and I think that’s so cool. He doesn’t have an agent, doesn’t have an assistant. And so, like everyone, you call the 1-800 number and you leave a message...So I just kind of bided my time and when we sort of had it going I presented it to him and he said he would do it and I didn’t hear anything back. I didn’t know where he was; I didn’t know what his sizes were. But the day before he showed up.