Friday 23 March 2018

'I didn't want to do another movie with Bill Murray - there was too much pressure' - Sofia Coppola

Acclaimed director Sofia Coppola tells our reporter why she's collaborated with the star actor on a new Christmas show, and why working with Miley Cyrus was a far more pleasant experience than she expected

Bill Murray and 'A Very Murray Christmas' director Sofia Coppola.
Bill Murray and 'A Very Murray Christmas' director Sofia Coppola.

Miley Cyrus. Chris Rock. George Clooney. Amy Poehler. Jason Schwartzman. The list of names sounds like what you might come out with if you threw a shepherd's crook into the Golden Globe Awards, but this motley crew of stars have something in common. They are reviving that most time-honoured of festive staples, the Christmas variety show.

Yet make no mistake; this isn't your common-or-garden yuletide jamboree. Presiding over the lot is actor Bill Murray, with the help of co-writers Sofia Coppola and Mitch Glazer. Directed by Coppola, A Very Murray Christmas is a star-packed and thoroughly modern musical.

Featuring Bill Murray playing himself, the musical charts Murray as he worries that no one will show up to his TV show due to a terrible snowstorm.

Through luck and perseverance, guests arrive at New York's Carlyle Hotel to help him dance and sing in Christmas spirit. Shenanigans and a fair few surprises naturally ensue.

The project will roll out worldwide tomorrows on the streaming platform Netflix. Given that Sofia Coppola is involved, the entire project boasts a stylish, modern sheen and a knowing wink.

On managing to wrangle the star-packed cast, Coppola reflects: "(It's) because everyone loves Bill Murray. When we were putting the show together, we just started calling people. We only shot it in a few days, so people could come for a day if they wanted to become part of it.

"We thought of people who were friends (of Murray's) and people we were fans of and wanted to work with.

"George (Clooney) is friends with Bill Murray and we knew he would look good in a tux. He added a very dapper element - he's a good sport and fun to have around."

While it was a dream for Coppola to work alongside comedic greats like Maya Rudolph and Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus proved to be something of a pleasant surprise on set.

"I was really surprised by her," Coppola says. "We were all impressed at the whole different side you don't see. She was this really polite, hardworking girl with a sweet side. She sang Silent Night and put her heart into it."

Working with comedians and pop stars is certainly a step to the left of Coppola's comfort zone, but still… such is her cred that if she asks, they will most certainly come.

Murray, too, proved a huge and popular draw, and the pair's latest collaboration has fans chomping at the bit for a Lost In Translation redux.

"(Bill and I) have become friends over the years, but I never wanted to do another movie because there was too much pressure and people felt too attached," reflects Coppola. "It felt outside of our regular world to do something fun."

Though fans of Coppola's are doubtless thrilled that she has reunited with her Lost In Translation star Murray, it is still an unexpected career turn for the director.

Her first two feature films, 1999's The Virgin Suicides and 2003's Lost In Translation, singled her out as one to watch in Hollywood's famously vicious piranha tank.

She shrugged off the shackles of her family name (her dad is Francis Ford Coppola) with considerable élan, striking out with her own singular directorial style. Marrying fellow director Spike Jonze in 1999, the power couple became the acme of Los Angelean cool, not to mention the great white hope for indie cinema.

But in more recent times, now happily married to Phoenix singer Thomas Mars and a mum of two young children, Coppola appears to have lost her way professionally. 2010's restrained feature Somewhere was met with less-than-feverish acclaim, but 2013's The Bling Ring - starring Emma Watson as a socialite who breaks into A-listers' houses - was slammed as a triumph of shouty style over substance.

Adding insult to injury, Coppola reportedly walked off the set of the live-action remake of the much-loved story The Little Mermaid earlier this year, citing creative differences with Universal and Working Title.

As we meet in Paris' Mandarin Oriental Hotel, on the fashionable Rue St. Honoré, it becomes quickly apparent that Sofia Coppola is a simmering mass of contradictions. In person, the 44-year-old is a restrained sort, thinking long and quietly before she speaks.

Where her movies are bombastic, often audacious, she is slight and dressed simply. Wearing a crisp shirt, sweater and skinny jeans, it's a minimalist style that works neatly in her adopted home of Paris, but is at odds with her maximalist moviemaking.

I ask her about her departure from The Little Mermaid, and a look of mild alarm flashes momentarily in her eyes.

"I don't want to say too much," she offers. "I was working on that and then just felt I couldn't make something on it the way that I want to work, with the big budget and certain parameters…"

On reflection, it stands to reason that Coppola would use a platform like Netflix for her latest venture. The digital company is renowned for giving directors and filmmakers a chance to work out a vision at their own pace.

Within reason, Netflix impose neither budgetary nor creative constraints, leading to some bold, original successes.

"Movies take so long that it was fun to pull something together like this in a fun spirit," Coppola says. "I do feel there's a lot more creativity in TV than in the big-budget film world," she adds.

"Things got a lot harder than it was 10 years ago. There's a bigger distance between the studios and they're much more conservative. The bi-budget movies have to fit into all these kinds of boxes.

"I still love movies and I love watching (TV) series but I don't have an idea that I want to do a series. But I like the idea of places like Netflix and Amazon where there are no parameters and it can be anything.

"Luckily places like (this) are more open-minded. I feel like there will be more exciting things coming out."

Coppola's fans are chomping at the bit to see which direction her career will take. For now, she is tentatively fleshing out a film idea at an early stage. What's more, she says she is always on the lookout for an interesting tale to turn into movie magic.

"I'm working on something based on a story a friend told me," she reveals. "It's a mystery (to me) what stories I connect with. Sometimes it's things I read. I guess I feel my way along and hopefully it turns into something."

When it comes to hoping for more cinematic greatness, she's not the only one.

'A Very Murray Christmas' is streaming on Netflix from December 4 onwards

Irish Independent

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