With its stranger-than-fiction details, celebrity victims and teenage perpetrators (two of whom had their own reality show, "Pretty Wild") the so-called Bling Ring was practically tailor-made for Hollywood. And at the centre of this perfect storm in Sofia Coppola's stylish retelling is Katie Chang's Rebecca, the teenage ringleader of a group of kids who break into celebrities' homes to "go shopping."
"The Bling Ring" marks Chang's feature debut, and alongside Emma Watson and fellow newcomer Israel Broussard, they retrace the teens' crime spree, ransacking the houses of Paris Hilton, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan and others by taking advantage of gossip blogs, Google Maps and some seriously lax home security.
With "The Bling Ring" now out in theatres, Moviefone spoke to Chang about her big-screen debut, staging a mock break-in as research, and what it was like filming at the scene of one of the crimes.
Moviefone: So you just graduated from high school, and you're already the lead in a Sofia Coppola movie. Has that sunk in for you yet?
Katie Chang: [Laughs] Not really. I don't know if it'll ever sink in. But yeah, it's been a pretty weird two years.
What's been the bigger adjustment for you, the actual filming of the movie, or everything else that comes along with it, the premieres and promotion and all that?
Oh, the press, for sure. Filming the movie was difficult because it was my first film and I wasn't really ready for that kind of responsibility. But I felt really taken care of and it was a really safe environment, and now doing press, you're putting yourself out there into the world and it's amazing how many things you have to think about. I certainly wasn't prepared for that. Obviously I'm grateful that all that has happened, but definitely the press activity has been very tiring and kind of difficult to navigate.
I'd imagine it's also given you a taste of the other side of that celebrity culture you're exploring in this movie too.
Yeah, it's a little ironic that all of this is happening off of a movie that in some people's interpretations gives a very subtle criticism of wanting to be a part of the celebrity lifestyle. But I think it was special to do this movie and have that, I guess, consequence. Because the thing about Sofia is she's very much like a mom to all of us, she makes sure that we're taken care of and that we're comfortable doing press and we all feel really safe and we all actually genuinely like each other. So it's been fun.
Did you guys get together before shooting at all to develop that camaraderie, or did it just happen on set?
We had about a week before anybody started shooting where most of us hung out and went shopping together. The five of us actually fake broke into a house one night to get the feel for what that would be like. So that was something that Sofia really wanted us to work on, the connection between all of us. I think she really wanted it to be a genuine film, not only because she was casting kids who were actually the ages of her characters, but that they were really friends. And I hope that kind of connection comes off on screen, because when we all watched it, it really did feel like I was just watching all of us friends hang out.
Who came up with the idea to stage a mock break-in?
That was Sofia's idea. We broke into a friend of hers', their house. They knew we were coming, so it was OK, we were allowed to be there. But yeah, they kind of left us up to our own devices. I got an email one night and it said that I had this mission, and I had to figure out how we were gonna get there, what the directions were, so it was pretty fun. Yeah, that was Sofia's idea. She actually came down sick that day, so she wasn't able to watch, but one of her friends followed us through the house with a video camera and taped us doing all these crazy things and stealing all this stuff.
Did anything from that experience translate over to the movie for you guys?
None of the actual footage did, but I think the adrenaline that we got from doing it and also just how much fun we had doing it. Because I don't think any of us really realized that these kids, when they were robbing the houses, they weren't pulling off like an elaborate "Ocean's Thirteen" kind of a scheme. They were just breaking into these people's houses and having a ton of fun and being really reckless. And that's what we felt when we were doing this mock break-in, so we were able to bring that into the actual filming.
It's hard to believe how easy it was for them to stage these break-ins, whether it was taking a key from under a mat or finding an unlocked patio door. What was the most surprising thing for you about the real-life story?
Maybe except for the character of Marc, none of the kids really thought about the consequences of what they were doing. That was really shocking to me, because I would think even if I was caught up in all of that, I would have a moment where I would take a step back and maybe be afraid of what could happen after we broke into somebody's house. I would think that some moral conscience would come into play sometime, but for most of these girls at least, that was never the case. They didn't consider what would happen to them if they got caught.
Does that make it hard for you to portray a character like Rebecca, then?
I mean, yes, because it was hard to justify her mental state and maybe to understand why. But once I got through that, then it wasn't difficult to play a character that didn't consider the consequences. It was actually kind of fun. For once in my life, I could just, in a controlled, safe environment, lose all inhibitions and just be the worst version of myself that I could be. And that was actually pretty fun. [Laughs]
What other kinds of things did you do in terms of research? Did you watch "Pretty Wild" at all?
I did, I watched "Pretty Wild," I watched "The Hills" and "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." I read a lot of fashion magazines, and tried to familiarize myself with the fashion from that year that the kids had actually robbed celebrities, and just tried to also do any research I could about the actual kids and the actual burglaries, and read anything that I could get my hands on about the real-life case.
The interesting thing is that I couldn't really find much about my own character, the girl that my character is based off of, which was difficult. There's a lot out there about Alexis [Neiers] and Tess [Taylor] from "Pretty Wild," and a good amount out there about Nick [Prugo], but not a lot out there about Rachel Lee, the girl that my character is based off of. So I was kind of bummed. [Laughs] But at the same time, that gave me a window to create whatever I wanted to create within the character.
So you didn't have any contact with the real Rachel Lee either while you were prepping for the role, or since the movie came out?
No, I didn't. She's pretty much fallen off the grid, which is probably a good thing. She hasn't done any press, she hasn't made any statements or anything. I mean, if she wanted to meet me, I wouldn't immediately say no, but that might be kind of awkward. [Laughs]
Speaking of awkward, you actually shot in Paris Hilton's house, right? What was that experience like?
It was pretty insane. Her house is insane. And all the natural reactions that we had to it we were able to bring into each scene that we did in her house, which is perfect. We were lucky to be there, it was incredibly kind of her to let this invasive film crew go into her house and take over her personal space for a little bit. But the interesting thing is that the house that she lives in and the house that you see in the film is actually the house that the kids robbed. So we were able to bring a level of authenticity to the film because we were literally retracing the kids' steps throughout the house.
Israel Broussard's character has a really interesting line towards the end of the film about our culture's fascination with a Bonnie and Clyde idea. Do you agree with that sentiment, or is that letting the Bling Ring off too easy?
I don't know if I agree with it, but I do think that our society does have a fascination with people who are doing crazy things. Maybe it's not necessarily just limited to a Bonnie and Clyde set-up, but I think we tend to latch on now to people that are doing insane, crazy things and give them too much credit, which is what happened with the Bling Ring.
"The Bling Ring" is now playing in theatres.