At the Rome Film Festival earlier this month, Roman Coppola premiered his second directorial film “A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III” starring Charlie Sheen. Coppola’s debut, “CQ,” was eleven long years ago, but it’s not like he hasn’t been busy in the intervening years, producing sister Sofia’s “Somewhere,” co-writing “Moonrise Kingdom” and "The Darjeeling Limited" with regular collaborator Wes Anderson and even directing second unit for his father, of whom you may have heard. All this alongside a thriving career in commercials and music videos as well. We had the chance to sit down with Coppola in Rome and quiz him about how he strikes this unusual balance, his new film and his future plans, among other things. Here are seven things the ensuing conversation taught us.
1. Though it may seem like a no-brainer for the actor, persuading Charlie Sheen to take the lead in “A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III” was far from simple. And the problems didn’t end when he said yes.
Roman Coppola: When I finished the script I was very clear in my mind that I wanted him to be in it. So I approached him and he was quite interested but was not able to commit to it. He was a little cagey, he was, frankly, a little nervous to take something on that is -- I won’t say challenging because it’s not that exactly, but Charlie is on a TV show, he reads the cue cards and whatever, he doesn’t have to push himself that hard as an actor. And he knew that what I was bringing him was something where he really had to do the work, he really had to be there, be present and commit to something and learn Spanish and learn to dance; to really and truly perform as an actor in a deeper way than he had recently.
So there was a process where he didn’t say no, but he didn’t really say yes. It took him a moment to really feel comfortable saying “I will do this.” I kept being very dogged about it and it was also during the time of all the zaniness in his life. But I never wavered from my belief that he was the right guy for the role and I think that meant something to him, because a lot of people had walked away.
I think, and you should ask him I don’t want to say anything that's not for me to say, but I think by not agreeing he kind of hoped it would go away and he wouldn’t have to worry about it. But I didn’t go away and he felt that. That I was so certain that I was willing to keep asking and keep pushing and keep nudging, and that meant a lot. And so then he felt that that was a real basis for him to meet me somewhere.
And then he said he would do it and I told my colleagues, “Charlie’s gonna do this” and there was a lot of “Is he gonna really come?” [and] “Can we get insurance?” and there was another battle to have people believe that it was a real thing that would result in anything good. But I was very determined…financing is very difficult, particularly for something as unusual as my piece, particularly starring Charlie Sheen, given that you can’t bond him or insure him, so it was very challenging.
Fantasy-wise a great deal [of the character is me]. If I could have a pet without having the trouble of worrying about it, I would have a toucan. And if I could have any car I would have a ‘41 Cadillac just like [the one in the film]. It’s my fantasy life manifested, so that was very personal. In other ways I’m very different from that character, but there are qualities of mine that are amplified. But I wanted to make a portarit of a very outrageous, dynamic, crazy, playful, childlike character and so I drew from the things that I related to, but also other people I know and totally fabricated things. It’s a mixture.
3. The film occasionally pokes gentle, insidery fun at the advertising world but Coppola is not one of those directors who resents that industry.
I do work in advertising so some of the lingo like “collecting scrap” or “cheese pull” that’s stuff I’ve heard. It’s a fun thing to poke fun at. And advertising is interesting -- Charles [has a] story of how he intended to be an artist and ended up doing commercial art. There’s always that aspect of illustrators versus artists and commercial work versus personal work.
In a way [that’s true for me also] yes. I do a lot of commercials to support myself and now I’ve done this personal work. But I don’t feel like “Oh I’ve given up my personal creativity to do commercials” because I bring a lot of my personal creativity into what I do. But it’s also a means to do other things that are highly creative. So I don’t have that problem of “I’m stuck doing commercials and should be doing this” because I tend to do a lot of things that I’m proud of and that are creative expression.