A magical glimpse inside the mind of Roman Coppola

A recent phone interview offers a brief guided tour

 By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Mere mention of the Coppola name brings to mind some of the greatest films of the 1970s – the first two installments of “The Godfather” saga, “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now” – and then a new generational phase with “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation.” But there’s a member of the Coppola clan, not named Francis Ford or Sofia, who has delightfully flown a bit under the radar, following a path dedicated to personal projects characterized by a willingness to embrace creative diversity. And now, it seems, Roman Coppola has quietly stepped into the spotlight and is ready for his close-up.

I caught up with Coppola by phone during what could be seen as an industry coming out celebration. Besides working the publicity circuit in support of his latest release – “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” starring Charlie Sheen (available through VOD and iTunes) – this past weekend Coppola dashed between the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars where his screenwriting efforts on “Moonrise Kingdom” with partner Wes Anderson were recognized in the original screenwriting categories. Even though he came up short at both events, Coppola proved upholding and extending the family brand is not far from his thoughts.

Looking at all the films you’ve worked on, as a second unit director (“The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” and “Tetro”), writer (“The Darjeeling Limited” and “Moonrise Kingdom”) or director, you seem to have a certain sensibility that shines through. Could you describe where it comes from?

I don’t really think about it consciously, but the things that I’m drawn to evoke a feeling of delight, surprise, play and fun. Growing up I was into theatrical magic. That’s a hobby and interest that relates to who I am. Things that evoke a sense of fantasy and free me up to the potential of what film can do, by taking audiences on a trip not defined by reality. Those are all words that come to my mind. – Roman Coppola

Having worked in the music video world (director of “Moby: Play – The DVD” and “Green Day: International Supervideos!”), what have you brought from that arena to your feature writing and directing?

Well, a couple of things. On a practical level, I’ve experienced a lot of different shooting situations – I’ve shot in the day, I’ve shot at night, I’ve shot in the snow and underwater and I’ve shot with every tool available – so there’s the practical experience from such diversity and even the stylistic diversity, from the naturalist style to the formal style or the theatrical. And then, on another level, I appreciate the sensation of music, of doing videos where you hear a song and meditate on it and see what images come to mind. And my work, my more personal work (features), have a musical aspect in certain scenes, which is evident (in “Charles Swan III”) in the scene at the car wash, which is just visuals supported by music. There are lots of benefits or relationships between film and music. – RC

In terms of the personal, what was the genesis of this journey “Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III”?

Many things. I guess I was interested in making a movie that was very free. My scribblings in my notebook, I was like what if this was a movie with no rules where I could just go anywhere. And then I wanted a character who was just very outrageous. The lead in my film “CQ” was very internalized and private and I thought it would be fun to have a guy who drives around in an outrageous car. Someone who was narcissistic and child-like. And around that time I was going through a break-up and a friend of mine was also, so (the contradictions of) that mental state where you love someone but you hate them because they’ve been mean to you, but there were the great times. That fractured state of mind seemed like it would be interesting to portray in a role and it evolved over time. – RC

What was it like for you and Charlie Sheen to come together for this film? Removed from all of the tabloid stuff that follows Sheen, I’m imagining this meeting of the minds from two powerhouse creative lines. 

The truth is, when you talk about Charlie and I and the family history, well that means something (else) to me because I was buddies with Charlie when we were boys together. That was during “Apocalypse Now.” Years have gone by since then, but I have affection for him as a pal. I have that rapport with Charlie, but it’s not so epic as “the film family” thing. We’re friends and I always felt Charlie is a very talented guy. I can’t speak to the “episodes,” but in our work together he brought his charm and was fantastic. To my mind, in order to enjoy something, one has to be willing to open up to it. What I’m saying is I hope people come to the experience (of the film) with an open mind and embrace the reality of Charlie as an actor. -RC

There’s a playful beauty to the minds of Charles Swan, Charlie Sheen and, most of all, Roman Coppola that is more inquisitive and searching than anything close to the oddball insanity one would expect. And Coppola’s quite right – all it takes is a willingness to be open to the possibilities.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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