Sofia gets all her own way

The Beguiled director on Farrell, Kidman and Dunst.

by Richard Mowe

Female power: (from left) - Colin Farrell as the alpha male in The Beguiled with Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst
Female power: (from left) - Colin Farrell as the alpha male in The Beguiled with Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst Photo: Richard Mowe

Director Sofia Coppola has attended the Cannes Film Festival more times than she cares to remember - the first being on father Francis Ford Coppola’s shoulders for the premiere of Apocalypse Now when she was 8.

Sofia Coppola: “To have meetings with the special effects team about wounds was definitely something out of my norm.”
Sofia Coppola: “To have meetings with the special effects team about wounds was definitely something out of my norm.” Photo: Richard Mowe

She has presented most of her own films including Marie Antoinette in 2006 and The Bling Ring in 2013. And two years ago she served on the Competition jury.

Today at her media encounter and before tonight’s (24 May) premiere of her latest film The Beguiled, a revisiting of Don Siegel’s 1971 version with Clint Eastwood, she talked about her interpretation of the Gothic Civil War drama and why she turned the focus more on the female characters.

“I love making low budget films because I can do them the way I want. With big budget productions there are usually too many cooks in the kitchen. With The Beguiled I never intended to remake the Don Siegel film, but rather wanted to go back to the original story and make my own film,” she said.

Coppola, 45, had never previously done a genre film. “That was new for me, but I wanted to keep my own style. Yes there is a bit of gore with the amputation scene [in which Nicole Kidman’s character saws through wounded soldier Colin Farrell’s leg] and to have meetings with the special effects team about wounds was definitely something out of my norm,” she confessed.

Colin Farrell:
Colin Farrell: "I grew up with three very strong women - my mother and two sisters.” Photo: Richard Mowe

With a predominately female cast and crew Farrell was the odd man out but he took it in his stride. “The whole project has been quite a journey with me ending up as the token male. That was OK because I grew up with three very strong women - my mother and two sisters. So I was surrounded at an early age by these incredibly strong women. Sofia is a bit like that and she allows you as an actor to play and explore. She is only the second woman director I have worked with [the other was Liv Ullman, on Miss Julie] but she was great at setting a particular mood.”

Coppola she wanted the solider to be “really masculine” to contrast with the Southern Belles. She opined: “I had met him before, but hadn’t thought of him for this. But when I met him, he’s very charismatic and charming and it felt like he could be the kind of thinking woman’s hunk that we needed. He had to be sexy to them, but also kind of mysterious and complicated.”

She shot the production on film rather than digitally. “A film always looks better seen in the cinema. And Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography can be best appreciated on the big screen. We shot it for the big frame and not a phone. I hope people will see it in the cinema. That experience is such a unique one, especially in our modern lives, to really lose yourself in a film.”

Nicole Kidman:
Nicole Kidman: "I’m turning 50 this year, and I’ve never had more work than right now.” Photo: Richard Mowe

Kidman who has played in the TV series Big Little Lies and Top Of The Lake, has no qualms about working for television. She said: “Sofia was making this film for the big screen and there is way of framing and other technical aspects that you do for a reason if it is intended for cinema.”

The Australian actress, who turns 50 later this year, claims she has never had more work on offer than she has today. “That is partly because I am prepared to work for television which now has a new credibility for quality work.”

She concluded: ““As an actor, I get to work in all the mediums. The world is changing, and we need to change with it.”

The director has worked regularly with Kirsten Dunst since The Virgin Suicides but decided she wanted to cast her against type in The Beguiled as a shy teacher. “Being oppressed is completely opposite to her outgoing personality and I liked the idea of playing around with that.”

Coppola admitted that tonight will be the first time she has seen her completed film on the big screen. “It is always scary to put your film out into the world, but I’m also very excited."

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