Sofia Coppola Took A Huge Risk In Writing Lost In Translation For Bill Murray

I still remember seeing director Sofia Coppola'sĀ "Lost in Translation" in the theater way back in 2003. I was completely enamored with the film, which still remains a favorite. I've loved Coppola's work since "The Virgin Suicides," and while I've accepted there will never be a movie made about my life, if there were, I'd want her to direct it. She captures the importance of all those moments that seem small, but are actually monumental, and she does it to an incredible soundtrack ā€” I am listening to the music of "Lost in Translation" as I write this.

"Lost in Translation" centers on the unexpected and largely unrequited romance between Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson). Bob is a movie star whose career seems to be on the decline, as he struggles to fight off a midlife crisis while doing commercials in Tokyo. Recent college graduate Charlotte is in the city with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi), who has little time for her. Though at wildly different stages in their lives, Bob and Charlotte are similarly adrift. They are also both quite lonely and find solace in each other while in a city that feels so foreign to them. Parts of the movie were inspired by the sense of isolation Coppola felt during her marriage to fellow director Spike Jonze.

While the city of Tokyo and a perfect soundtrack largely contribute to the film's success, much of "Lost in Translation" hinges on the chemistry between Murray and Johansson. In fact, Coppola wrote the part of Bob Harris specifically for Murray. She couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. However, only having one actor in mind wound up being a huge risk for the young director, who only had "The Virgin Suicides" under her belt at this point.

How do you track down Bill Murray?

It's easy to see why Coppola wrote the part with Bill Murray in mind. The problem was ... she had yet to track down the star by the time they began production and she adamantly refused to make the movie with another actor in the role. Coppola told Little White Lies:

"It was really nerve-racking. We went to Tokyo and were spending money in the hope that he would show up. I don't even know how we got our financing without a contract. I was determined and probably spent a year trying to track him down. People were trying to give me other options but I was set that I wasn't going to make the movie if he wasn't doing it and I really wanted to make this movie, so I had to find him."

The director finally caught a break when a friend of hers ā€” who was also Murray's old writing partner ā€” gave the actor Coppola's script. The auteur continued:

"He brought so much. I was having a hard time at that stage of my life and I'd wish Bill would show up and take me on an adventure. I imagined him emerging in that world. A lot of it was just found moments with Bill improvising. The scene in the sushi restaurant with the black toe? That was just Bill riffing on the situation."

The late '90s and early '00s proved to be the beginning of something of a second act for Murray, with his roles in Wes Anderson films and "Lost in Translation" playing a huge part in that career Renaissance. It's impossible to imagine anyone else portraying Bob Harris with the same level of wit, charm, and quiet heartbreak as Bill Murray. We may never know what Bob's final words to Charlotte were, but we'll always have Tokyo.