Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Searching for "Somewhere" with Sofia Coppola, and Decadent Donut Bread Pudding

Sofia Coppola loves stories of atmospheric ennui. A director of tone poems rather than straight narrative films, her latest offering, Somewhere, delves into the tormented soul of Johnny Marco, a hard-partying actor (Stephen Dorff) holed up in LA’s legendary Chateau Marmont. Adrift in a world of empty adulation, he begins to reassess his life after an unexpected visit from his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). The movie won Coppola the top honor at the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion, earlier this year, making her the first American woman (and only the fourth American filmmaker) to earn the prize, leading many to believe an Oscar could be next.

Speaking with Coppola at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, a venue she used in her film for a fictional press day, the director is a sea of quiet calm in the middle of a media maelstrom. Wearing a navy and forest green plaid shirt and black skinny jeans, loose shoulder-length brown hair tucked behind her ears and a thin gold wedding band glinting from her finger (she married Phoenix front man Thomas Mars in December 2009 and the band’s music serves as the film’s soundtrack), Coppola says she wanted the film to follow in the footsteps of “Shampoo and American Gigolo. I wanted to do like an L.A. movie of today.” The meant incorporating a number of driving shots, palm trees, mini malls, harsher bright lighting and a 1990s, Helmut Newton version of the Chateau, before it got Lohan-ed and became a paparazzi mecca.

“When I was writing, I was thinking about when I’d spend time there when I was in my twenties,” Coppola says, her quiet, deliberate speech lulling the room into an easy silence. “I feel like in a lot of ways it hasn’t changed, but there weren’t weekly tabloid magazines and so people didn’t go there to be photographed and stuff. I think of the Chateau Marmont as being this iconic Hollywood place with so many interesting people staying there and lots of stories. It has this decadent feel.”

In an effort to fully embodying his character, Dorff moved into the hotel and lived whatever experience the script called for leading into the next shoot day. “He stayed in a room, the same room that we shot in just a floor up, so he was in character the whole time,” Coppola smiles. “It was funny, in the morning he’d come to set and tell me all the Johnny Marco moments that he was living in the hotel. He would stay up late and be kind of trashed in the scenes that we needed him to be. But then, as he evolves, he’s fresher and you can really see it.”

Coppola says, while writing Somewhere, Dorff sprang to mind. “I knew him a little over the years and I just thought that he would be the right guy for this part. He’s such a great actor, but we haven’t seen the more sensitive side to him. I also knew from life that he’s such a sweet guy and the character is so flawed that he could be unlikable. It needed someone with a lot of heart to make you want to watch him for a whole movie.” As for Fanning, Coppola says Elle came in during casting and, instantly, “I was taken with her.”

Asked if she felt the need to direct a child actor any differently than an adult, Coppola shakes her head and replies, “I don’t think so. I think with actors, you want to be sensitive to them because you’re asking them to be vulnerable and she’s smart so I never felt that she was a kid. I guess you’re aware. You don’t want people to be talking about something inappropriate around an eleven year old, so I felt protective, but I felt protective of Stephen and all my actors.”

When the subject of the film’s quiet sense of internal struggle as opposed to overt conflict is raised, Coppola offers a happy nod of the head and says, “A lot of times in movies it takes a big, dramatic event, like a disaster, being held hostage, for the character to change and I feel like in life that there are moments that seem like small things that strike you and motivate you to change.”

Somewhere opens today, December 22.

When I moved to LA, I fell in love with the Chateau. I used to study for finals in the lobby and write letters to my future self sitting in the garden, sipping chamomile tea from antique china before swiping a Granny Smith apple from the front desk which I'd have as breakfast the next day. One of my favorite outings would be when Ana, JP and I would be spend an evening tucked into their divine bread pudding, talking about boys, dreaming of what we'd be when we grew up and praying for a Keanu Reeves sighting.

Here's to the glory days...

Donut Bread Pudding
Makes 6-8 servings
5 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8-10 stale donuts of your choice, sliced or torn in half (glazed works beautifully but you can substitute croissants, muffins or stale bread in a pinch)
1 cup fresh berries, preferably raspberry or blueberry

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl whisk together all ingredients except donuts and raspberries. In a large shallow baking dish, arrange halved donuts glaze side up and sprinkle with berries. Pour custard mixture over donuts and soak for 15-20 minutes, pressing down gently once or twice.

Place baking dish in a larger one and fill halfway up the sides with hot water. Tent larger pan with aluminum foil making sure there’s room for the pudding to expand. Punch several small holes in foil so steam can vent and bake for 45 minutes, uncover and bake another 35-40 minutes or until custard is set, pudding puffs and is golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

1 comment:

  1. I really thought SOMEWHERE went nowhere..It was so empty and self indulgent that I really had the idea that Sofia was not on the set. Steven Doriff is not Bill Murray which tends to long dull moments.
    I asked myself how SOMEWHERE own a film festival like VENICE. I really feel that Taratino helped his friend win the prize. I was very disappointed with SOMEWHERE and even more shocked to see it in try to get a nod with the WGA. There is no story........