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As a member of a filmmaking dynasty that included such heavy-hitters as father Francis Ford Coppola, cousin Nicolas Cage and various other Hollywood luminaries, writer-director Sofia Coppola parlayed her industry clout into acting, modeling and fashion design before becoming an Academy Award-winning filmmaker with "Lost in Translation" (2003). Prior to becoming a bona fide director in her own right, Coppola had the notorious distinction for being accused by some critics for almost singlehandedly destroying "The Godfather Part III" (1990) with her often stilted performance as Mary Corleone. Though she had appeared onscreen before in various other films - namely ones directed by her father - Coppola effectively ended her career in front of the camera amidst rampant calls of nepotism. After drifting through various other creative endeavors, she made a huge splash by tackling risky source material to helm an inventive and imaginative adaptation of "The Virgin Suicides" (2000), which earned serious praise on the festival circuit while establishing her as a serious filmmaker to watch. But it was her second film, "Lost in Translation," that announced her arrival in earnest. She followed up with the...
As a member of a filmmaking dynasty that included such heavy-hitters as father Francis Ford Coppola, cousin Nicolas Cage and various other Hollywood luminaries, writer-director Sofia Coppola parlayed her industry clout into acting, modeling and fashion design before becoming an Academy Award-winning filmmaker with "Lost in Translation" (2003). Prior to becoming a bona fide director in her own right, Coppola had the notorious distinction for being accused by some critics for almost singlehandedly destroying "The Godfather Part III" (1990) with her often stilted performance as Mary Corleone. Though she had appeared onscreen before in various other films - namely ones directed by her father - Coppola effectively ended her career in front of the camera amidst rampant calls of nepotism. After drifting through various other creative endeavors, she made a huge splash by tackling risky source material to helm an inventive and imaginative adaptation of "The Virgin Suicides" (2000), which earned serious praise on the festival circuit while establishing her as a serious filmmaker to watch. But it was her second film, "Lost in Translation," that announced her arrival in earnest. She followed up with the controversial "Marie Antoinette" (2006), which divided both critics and audiences over its non-political and historically devoid take on the famed Queen of France. Nonetheless, Coppola managed to pursue her filmmaking ambitions on her own terms, without the pressure of having to live up to her family name.
Coppola was born on May 12, 1971 into Hollywood royalty. Her mother, Elaine, was a set decorator and artiste, while her father, Francis Ford Coppola, was an Academy Award-winning director of such cinematic classics as "The Godfather" (1972), "The Godfather Part II" (1974), "The Conversation" (1974) and "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Coppola also had numerous other family members throughout the generations involved in various aspects of Hollywood and other creative endeavors. Her great-grandfather, August, was a pianist, while her great-uncle, Antonio, was a conductor who led operas in San Francisco and New York, and conducted musicals like "My Fair Lady" on Broadway. Meanwhile, her grandfather, Carmine, was a composer and musical arranger who played the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which was led by famed Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. Behind the scenes, her uncle, William Neil, was a special effects technician, while in front of the camera, her aunt, Talia Shire, starred in "The Godfather" movies, as well as the "Rocky" (1976) franchise. Rounding out the famous family was Nicolas Cage, star of several blockbuster Hollywood movies, and Jason Schwartzman, who broke through with his winning lead performance in the indie hit "Rushmore" (1998).
Having been born while her father was making "The Godfather," it was never too soon for Coppola to make her screen debut, playing the baby being baptized during the movies climactic montage that interspersed scenes of the baptism with various enemies of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) getting whacked. Two years later, she appeared in the background as a little girl on a ship that brought Vito Corleone to America in "The Godfather Part II." A decade later, she appeared in several minor supporting roles in her father's movies, including "The Outsiders" (1983), "Rumble Fish" (1984) and "The Cotton Club" (1984). Despite using the stage name Domino, which she thought glamorous at the time, Coppola and her father had already began hearing cries of nepotism. But she began branching out on her own with a role in "Frankenweenie" (1984), a 14-minute short directed by Tim Burton that served as both a parody and homage to "Frankenstein" (1931). Back to work with her father, Coppola took a supporting role as the younger sister of Kathleen Turner's title character in the comedy "Peggy Sue Got Married" (1986), which also co-starred cousin Nicolas Cage. Her charmed life was interrupted by the tragic death of her older brother, Gian-Carlo Coppola, who was the victim of a speedboating accident in May 1986. He was killed when his friend, Griffin O'Neal, son of Ryan O'Neal, sped between two boats and failed to see the tow rope tying them together. O'Neal ducked; Coppola was knocked to the deck and died instantly at age 22.
In the wake of losing her older brother, Coppola began to drift in and out of various creative endeavors without much focus on her true aspirations. After interning for famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld while attending St. Helena High School in Napa Valley, CA, she took photographs for Paris Vogue and Interview, studied painting at the California Institute of the Arts, and modeled for Seventeen and YM. Following a role in the Yura Bogayevicz drama, "Anna" (1987), Coppola worked with her father behind the scenes on the "Life without Zoe" portion of "New York Stories" (1989), with Sofia earning screenplay, costume designer and main title design credits on the segment he directed. But never were the howls of nepotism louder than when her father cast Coppola in the major supporting role of Mary Corleone in "The Godfather Part III" (1990), after original star Winona Ryder dropped out due to illness. Though her Mediterranean good looks were fitting for the role, Coppola's California girl accent was less appropriate, while her stilted turn sparked one of the more vicious rounds of movie criticism in recent cinema history, with some claiming that she singlehandedly ruined her father's movie. Being cast in such a high profile role could have served as Coppola's breakthrough, but her unimpressive and ridiculed performance threatened to cripple any future endeavors.
Her performance in "The Godfather Part III" was a hurdle that Coppola struggled to overcome throughout her career. Understandably, in a move that proved auspicious down the line, she set her sights on goals other than acting, save for a part as Patricia Arquette's lover in the little-seen comedy "Inside Monkey Zetterland" (1992). Joining the ranks of other celebrity offspring like Zoe Cassavetes and Donovan Leitch, and musicians like Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys, Coppola was a noted mover-and-shaker on the young hipster scene, as well as a hot-list favorite often seen in the pages of tabloid magazines. After starting her own clothing line, Milk Fed, which sold exclusively in Japan, Coppola and Cassavetes even hosted their own tongue-in-cheek magazine show, "Hi-Octane" (Comedy Central, 1994), a limited run series that covered music, fashion and lifestyles. She cemented her status as a consistent pop culture presence, enjoying exposure as a music video star with a cameo role in Madonna's "Deeper and Deeper," while moving up to featured turns in "Sometimes Salvation" by The Black Crowes and "Elektrobank" by The Chemical Brothers. The latter, directed by future husband and fellow auteur Spike Jonze, starred Coppola as a gymnast, while The Black Crowes video showed her in the midst of a breakdown.
Coppola began to broaden her range of behind-the-scenes work, beginning with the 28-minute short "Bed, Bath and Beyond," which she shot on video, edited and co-directed along with Ione Skye and Andrew Durham. She subsequently produced, wrote and directed the black and white comedy "Lick the Star" (1998), a 14-minute short that riffed on a familiar Coppola theme, isolation, which screened at festivals while airing on both Bravo and the Independent Film Channel. Following a cameo role as a handmaiden to Princess Amidala (Natalie Portman) in "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (1999). Coppola made a courageous choice for her feature debut with "The Virgin Suicides" (2000), adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides' atmospheric hit novel about a family of teenage girls dealing with their younger sister's shocking death and told from the point of view of a group of neighborhood boys obsessed with them. Oddly structured, sincerely moving and irreverently comedic, Coppola deftly handled the intricacies of the source material while capturing the spirit of Eugenides' fiction. Starring Kathleen Turner as the girls' overprotective mother, James Woods as the defeated father, and hot young players Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett, "The Virgin Suicides" made a strong showing at acclaimed screenings at Cannes and Sundance, while introducing Coppola into the ranks of esteemed new filmmakers.
But it was Coppola's sophomore effort, "Lost In Translation" (2003), that catapulted her into the ranks of the industry's most respected directors. Working from her own somewhat autobiographical screenplay, Coppola crafted a moody meditation on alienation set in modern Tokyo, where a slumming 50-something Hollywood star (Bill Murray), on location filming liquor commercials while avoiding his fading marriage, encounters a drifting young wife (Scarlett Johansson) left to her own devices by her career-preoccupied director husband (Giovanni Ribisi in a role much-rumored to be based on Coppola's husband Spike Jonze, whom she divorced shortly after the film's release.) The two loners find a common ground in their alienation and form a strong emotional bond that borders on romantic love. Although there was not much story to speak of, the film radiated thanks to the winning performances of the two leads, particularly Murray, whom Coppola doggedly pursued for several months before he accepted the role. Meanwhile, her assured direction and visual style established her as a visionary helmer in her own right, with the film earning an abundance of critical accolades. Coppola herself took home a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and became the first-ever American woman nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director. She also was nominated for Original Screenplay and as one of the producers of the film, nominated in the Best Picture category. Because her grandfather Carmine and father Francis each won Oscars, her Oscar victory in the Original Screenplay Category made the Coppolas the second three-generation family of Oscar winners after the Hustons (Walter, John and Anjelica).
Following her divorce from Jonze, Coppola entered into a short-lived companionship with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino before becoming involved with Thomas Mars, lead singer for the French alternative rock band, Phoenix. It was with Mars that she began having children, starting with her daughter, Romy, who was born in November 2006 and was named after her brother, Roman, also an accomplished filmmaker. Meanwhile, Coppola directed her next film, "Marie Antoinette" (2006), a controversial take on the famed French monarch that gave the much-despised queen (Kirsten Dunst) a highly-stylized and contemporary spin. Completely devoid of any political context, the film instead chose to focus on the queen's loneliness and isolation, which leads to her decent into decadence. "Marie Antoinette" split most critics down the line after making a heated debut at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, where it was alternately booed and given a standing ovation. Back stateside, the film failed to garner much attention at the box office, taking in a paltry $15 million at the box office. After directing her first commercial for fashion house Christian Dior, she moved on to her next feature, "Somewhere" (2010), which focused on a bad-boy actor (Stephen Dorff) living at the famed Chateau Marmont, who is forced to re-examine his life following the unexpected arrival of his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). Even prior to its release, Coppola received warm praise from critics, some of whom compared the effort to "Lost in Translation."
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"I couldn't have worked at Chanel when I was 15 if I'd grown up on a farm."---Coppola on the opportunities afforded her by her famous lineage, quoted in USA Today, February 3-5, 1995.
Coppola on using the teenage perspective in "The Virgin Suicides": "Your memory of being young is very simple and I wanted it to look like that. I wanted the movie to be from a kid's point of view, a kid's world. You can get away with obsessiveness then, I feel like when you're at that age, everything is really melodramatic, everything is a huge deal." --to director Wes Anderson in Interview, October 1999
On her much maligned turn in "The Godfather III": "After that, I definitely did not want to be an actress." --quoted in Time, January 24, 2000
Mark Ebner: With "Virgin Suicides," have you finally found your metier?
Sofia Coppola: Directing? Yeah, I think so. I spent most of my 20s worrying, "Oh no. I don't know what I want to do" and "I'll try this and try that." It's really huge to find something that you really enjoy, something that you can really contribute something to. And I really love doing it, and I feel like it's something that combines so many other things that I love.
--From Salon magazine (www.salon.com), February 1, 2000
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