Eleanor Coppola talks to The National about starting on her debut movie Paris Can Wait at the age of 81, and the pressure of being the ‘other’ Coppola
Eleanor Coppola on making her new film Paris Can Wait
There must be a certain amount of pressure when your surname is Coppola and you decide to make a film. When your husband is Francis, of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now fame, and your daughter is Sofia, the first American woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (for 2003’s Lost in Translation), you clearly have some rather large shoes to fill.
Eleanor Coppola is no stranger to filmmaking, but with Paris Can Wait she takes her first steps into the world of fiction, in which her family members have reached such heights. Eleanor has previously made only documentaries, most notably 1991’s Heart of Darkness, shot behind the scenes on the notoriously fraught set of her husband’s classic Apocalypse Now.
At the age of 81, however, Eleanor has finally taken the plunge, and I wonder if perhaps the fear of being compared to her family’s achievements is part of the reason for the delay. “Honestly, I’d never thought of making a fiction feature, I’m a natural documentarian,” she says. “They just came naturally to me, and it was easy to fit into my life as they were often about my family and their work.”
Having made a career out of documenting what her family experienced on set, it’s fitting that it should be a life-changing experience of her own that finally tempted Eleanor behind the camera on her own fictional movie: “I had this experience of taking a trip to the South of France and Paris, and it just took me out of my speedy American lifestyle of just living on my iPhone and racing from point to point,” she explains. “I had the chance to just stop for lunch or go and see a museum and it was a profound experience. I realised I’ve been racing through my life without pausing to take in the moment.” Eleanor decided to use her own French road trip experience as the basis for her film, embellishing the story where required and “just adding anything I wanted that would make it more entertaining”.
Having finally embarked on her debut journey, Eleanor does admit that the family name weighed heavily on her at first. “Initially I thought ‘everyone in my family is an award-winning filmmaker. What am I doing?’ But of course you have to get past that fear,” she says. “At this stage in my life what have I got to lose? I’ve already got my own little niche as a documentarian, and no one else in the family is in that arena. If it’s a failure who cares? If it’s a success it’s not really going to affect my career either, so just do it.”
With those initial fears of the Coppola curse conquered, the director admits that having such a legendary filmmaker on hand to offer advice and assistance proved crucial once production was underway – although she admits that initially her husband didn’t really encourage her to make the film. “I wanted to make this entertaining film with no sex or violence, and he honestly didn’t think I’d ever raise the money, so he didn’t want me to have my heart broken,” she admits.
Once shooting was underway, however, it was a different story. “He stepped in and helped out so much with so many things that I really didn’t have the experience and know-how to do,” she says. “Since it was my French actor’s [Arnaud Viard] first time acting in English, Francis got hold of a dialogue coach to come and help him every day. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
There were further problems with the film’s casting – Nicholas Cage was initially linked to what would eventually be the Alec Baldwin role, while Viard was not the original choice for his role either, but Coppola insists the cast she ended up with proved the best for the task at hand. “When you’re casting there’s always dropouts and stepping in, it’s just the nature of the business,” she says. “But I think in each case, when someone dropped out, the person that came in was better. Alec Baldwin is so on point; he really couldn’t be better.”
Coppola’s film could also benefit from the fact that Baldwin is currently very much Hollywood’s man of the moment thanks to his popular Donald Trump impressions on Saturday Night Live. Coppola could never have predicted his new-found popularity when shooting started in 2015, but she concedes that his current position won’t hurt her own ambitions. “I spoke to Alec the other day and said, ‘Wow, you’ve got hotter than ever, that’s a real favour you’ve done me, and the film. Thanks Alec.’”
Paris Can Wait is in cinemas this weekend