Interview: Roman Coppola on Working with Charlie Sheen, the Family Legacy, and A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWANN III
It has been 12 years since Roman Coppola last made a film — the thoroughly underrated CQ — but in that time he has kept busy, co-writing Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom (for which he received an Oscar nomination last month), and working with his father (Francis Ford Coppola) and his sister (Sofia Coppola) as a second unit director on films like Tetro and Marie Antoinette.
In that time, Coppola has also been working on the script for A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swann III, a project which began in 2004 and culminates this weekend with it’s theatrical release.
Last week, we had the chance to speak with Mr. Coppola about the film, wrangling Bill Murray (who Coppola said “shined”), working with Charlie Sheen after his less than “Winning” phase (a “real professional”), collaborating with Wes Anderson, and the ways that his families’ legacy has pushed him.
Here is Roman Coppola.
There are so many stories and urban myths about how it’s so hard to get Bill Murray attached to a movie, did you have any trouble?
Roman Coppola: Well, it’s never easy. He’s wonderfully mysterious and elusive, and I really admire that because, If anyone should be able to just do whatever they want, it should be him. You know, he doesn’t have an assistant, or a phone number. He has a 1-800 number. I had to do the process: call the number, leave a message, and in due time you hear back and he was very gracious to meet up with me and I showed him a script.
What made Charlie Sheen right for Charles Swan? Also, was there a concern that the similarities between his own past issues and the character’s struggles might distract the audience?
Coppola: I needed an actor who could portray a guy who was the right age, was handsome, that had charisma, that was witty, but more importantly, someone that had a soulfulness and real acting ability, and I found Charlie to be my guy.
There’s a lot of people who kinda use the things they see on the internet, or hear about, and kinda seem to think that Charlie is out of control or some chaotic person, but they just don’t know him. He’s a very loyal guy, he’s very generous, very true blue. When he said he would do the movie, there was not one shred of flakiness.
And he was there every scene. He brought wine, he learned Spanish he learned to sing in Portuguese he learned to dance, he did all these things, because he’s a real professional. So, I have a totally different experience from the one that people expect me to have due to, kinda vague things that they’re reading off the internet that aren’t necessarily true.
Well, I mean, to be fair, he has come out and somewhat said that he did “lose control” for a little while there. Was there ever a concern that he would fall back into old behaviors?
Coppola: It wasn’t for me because I was not insured and all the risk was on my shoulders, but the reason I wasn’t concerned, was that I knew Charlie as a boy. We were together on Apocalypse Now, we were pals, and you know, a friendship with someone at that age can be quite enduring. When he said to me: “Hey, let’s do this thing. I’ll be there for you.” That was all I needed to hear.
I don’t think there’s any occasion — I don’t know — that he ever shook any professional responsibilities with the show or his commitments. He’s a very serious, professional guy. He’s super talented.
How long did it take to write the film and was it hard to move away from a collaborative process (Coppola wrote Moonrise Kingdom with Wes Anderson and Darjeeling Limited with his cousin Jason Schwartzman and Anderson) back to a point where it was you and you alone? Was that a struggle? Was that refreshing for you?
Coppola: A little bit of both, it was a struggle. You know, it was something I cooked up quite a few years ago and it took me a while to figure it out. [When] writing alone, you often can… you know, it can take longer. You don’t have those deadlines, you sort of let it slide a bit and unfortunately or fortunately, I don’t know, but… this project, I started writing in 2004 or so and it took me a while to figure out and make it all happen.
When you work with a partner or a group of partners — like Darjeeling with Jason (Schwarzman) and Wes — you have other people there to let stuff roll off, so there’s a virtue to both, of course, and it might work. I’m the kind of person who gets drawn into things that I get excited or get curious over, so I’m working on this project, for example, and Wes said: “Hey, you want to go to India to work on this thing?” and I was like “Yeah, of course”. So I love having that part of my life filled with surprise, were there might be some sort of fantastic adventure right around the corner.
What’s next for you? Are you going to make another film on your own, or are you going to go back and try to find another collaborator for the next project?
Coppola: While I don’t have any precise plans, I’m open to everything. This took a long time to figure out and to get out there so I’m just going to enjoy being done with it and [I’m] ready to pause for a moment. I don’t have anything set. I’m being open-minded, and to me, of course, film is just collaborative by nature, so I don’t really make distinctions in terms of my own thing versus the things with others. Whatever catches my curiosity and feels like it would be a fun adventure.
When you pick projects — especially with film — is there ever any pressure to try and live up to the family legacy?
Coppola: Not really to live up to their legacy, but to do work that I was proud of. There were occasions where I might be offered some job, like a sequel to this or a type of thing like that — I could have done something that was not really a personal type of movie, but more of a commercial endeavor. I do a lot of commercials, television commercials, and also things I’m less precious about, but I did feel that if I’m going to spend my time making a feature film, I want it to be distinctive and something that’s true to my sensibility. I think that if I was a totally anonymous person, I could maybe do stuff and no one would care, but that there are more eyeballs on me. So if anything, it encouraged me to do work that I could really stand behind that was distinctive.
Mr. Coppola’s film, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swann III, is now in theaters and available on VOD.