'The Beguiled' Director Sofia Coppola On Making Gothic Drama And Avoiding The Original [Interview]

With The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola has made her first adaptation and remake. The filmmaker's retelling has little in common with Don Siegel's 1971 film, though. Coppola was more interested in adapting Thomas P. Cullinan's A Painted Veil than remaking Siegel's movie, which features a drastically different depiction of the all-girls school, led by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), and their guest, the soldier (Colin Farrell).

Coppola's compassion as a filmmaker brings out different themes and ideas from Cullinan's story. The characters feel more real, which makes the few sinister turns in The Beguiled more visceral. There's the beauty we expect from Coppola, but she also brings fear and terror. The filmmaker behind The Virgin SuicidesLost in Translation, and The Bling Ring recently told us about crafting her southern gothic film during a brief conversation.

Below, check out our Sofia Coppola interview.

Los Angeles was such a major part of your last two movies. How was the experience of getting to focus on primarily one location with The Beguiled

I loved it, especially when I think about The Bling Ring and running all over to so many locations. It was so weird to be in just one place and to just focus on the acting and the story. I really loved working that way.

You shot in the house in New Orleans, right?

Yeah, we went and shot in New Orleans. It was actually two houses we shot. We shot the interiors in town in New Orleans, and then we went outside of town to Napoleonville to shoot in the plantation, which was a real plantation.

Was there anything from your research that influenced the house or costumes?

We did a lot with the sets and the costumes, to just kind of transform the place. I can't think of one in particular. They had to cover up the light switches and things.

The use of natural light is great, by the way.

Philippe Le Sourd, the cinematographer, I think did such a great job to make it feel real and authentic to the time, with natural light and the candles. We used more candles than they would have at that time, but we wanted to make it authentic to that time.

I know you two haven't worked together before. What sort of atmosphere did you two want to create?

We spent a lot of time together with the art department and costume department to decide about the look of it. I wanted it to feel like this gauzy, feminine, soft world that doesn't seem threatening at all, so when the story shifts, it comes out of nowhere.

From the start of the original film, the house feels threatening. Did you look at Don Siegel's movie for inspiration at all?

No,  I knew about the story from the original film, and then I tried to put it out of my mind and go back to the book and reimagine it in my own way, so I tried to forget about it. I love the original movie, but it's so different. This is really the take looking from the other side. I wanted it to be very soft and feminine, starting in this world of an all-girls school, as opposed to his, which started with the soldier meeting them. I'm going to have to watch it again, now that I'm done [with this]. I haven't seen it in a while.

Beguiled picThis being your first genre piece, were there any specific ways you wanted to build tension with the camera?

Yeah, it was interesting to think about how to do something in the southern gothic genre but still felt like my style. I think what I like about the story is how it twists and goes in an unexpected direction, so it was about how to do that visually, so in the beginning, it's not threatening and it looks like a fantasy. Then it turns into something unexpected, I think.

Working in that southern gothic genre, did your process change at all or ever feel different?

I think when I was writing the script it was different because it was a more intricate plot than I've ever been used to. I pushed myself to write more dialogue and embrace a little bit of gore, just do things I haven't done before.

What about this story did you think required more dialogue than your past work?

Well, the story is so much about communications between them and the sparring. A lot of it is in looks, too. You always have to give yourself challenges, I think.

I don't think the movie's final image is going to leave me anytime soon.

Thank you.

For that final piece of music, you sent [Pheonix frontman] Thomas [Mars] photos while shooting so he could start working on that final piece of music, correct?

I think when we filmed that scene, I sent him the footage. But when we started to shoot, I sent him a few pictures of the girls on set in front of the porch, just to give them an idea of the atmosphere. Then I sent them that shot, and then they sent me that music. They sent a few things, but that one worked so well. I was glad to have that tension.

While you're writing, do you have your final shots very clearly in mind or are they sometimes dictated by location?

A lot of times the way the scenes are set up are by the location, but that image of the last scene I wanted to see them through the bars, so I had that in mind while writing, hopefully to go out with a strong image. Even just being in the location then [for other scenes], and seeing those beautiful trees, I knew I'd want to have a little girl sitting in a tree, to really show the location and how lush it is there. Another image I knew I really wanted to see was Nicole Kidman holding the candelabra when she asks for the anatomy book. That was something I was excited to see.

Did you write the script with her in mind?

I did. I wrote the script with her in mind. I was picturing Nicole Kidman as Ms. Martha, so I was really happy she said yes to doing the part. Then she brought so much more then. It was exactly what I imagined, but more. She just brought so much more to it.


The Beguiled is now in theaters.