'The Beguiled': Sofia Coppola on Taking on a Genre Movie and Why It's Not a Remake (Q&A)

Sofia Coppola Q+A Getty - H 2017
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs

The Cannes veteran also tells THR of casting Colin Farrell as ‘the thinking woman’s hunk' and sticking with indies after exiting Universal's live-action 'Little Mermaid.'

Cannes could be considered a home away from home for Sofia Coppola. She first attended the festival in 1979 with her father, Francis Ford Coppola, whose seminal Apocalypse Now was in competition, and returned with him in 1996 and 2001. She brought her own films in 2006 (Marie Antoinette) and 2013 (The Bling Ring), and was on the competition jury in 2014. "I have so many memories there. My birthday is around this time of year, so I always associate it with birthdays," says Coppola, 45. "I always enjoy going. It’s hectic, but exciting and scary — all of these things."

She returns this year with the Civil War-era drama The Beguiled, a reimagining of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel, which also was the basis for the 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name. Coppola’s version stars Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Coppola’s frequent collaborator Kirsten Dunst, who play a group of women whose isolated existence at an all-girls boarding school is interrupted by the arrival of a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell).

Ahead of the film’s debut in competition, Coppola spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about why she was reluctant to make it, working within the Southern Gothic genre and dealing with gore for the first time.

What was your relationship with the 1971 film The Beguiled that starred Clint Eastwood?

Anne Ross, my production designer, a couple of years ago told me, “You have to see The Beguiled. You need to make a new version of it or make a remake.” And I was like, “I would never remake a film.” But I saw it, and it just stayed in my mind. I thought it’d be interesting to tell the same story, but flip it to the women characters’ point of view — the idea of these women cut off during that time, left behind during the war.

Why did you say you’d never remake a film?

I just didn’t see any reason to. If someone already made the movie, it doesn’t appeal to me to make someone else’s movie. But I just thought the premise was so interesting or loaded, and it would be interesting to tell this story from the other side.

What were you looking for in the male lead, and how did you end up with Colin Farrell?

The soldier had to be really masculine and a contrast to these delicate Southern ladies. And I just met different actors, and Fred Roos, my great consultant, suggested Colin. I had met him before, but hadn’t thought of him for this. But when I met him, he’s very charismatic and charming and it felt like he could be the kind of thinking woman’s hunk that we needed. He had to be sexy to them, but also kind of mysterious and complicated.

How did this film challenge you compared to your other projects?

I had never done anything like a genre film, so I had to do that but still keep it in my style and world that I like to work in. And maybe having a plot. That was kind of new for me. (Laughs.) It’s more of a story that moves along. And there’s a little bit of gore, which is new for me. Me having meetings with the special effects team about wounds was definitely something out of my norm.

What parts of the book or movie did you feel you had to keep for your version?

It’s funny because I was talking to my cousin the other day about that because he loves the old The Beguiled. He’s like, “That turtle throw, when he throws the turtle.” And I was like, “Yes, we have the turtle throw.” That’s a very pivotal moment in which I always remember Clint Eastwood throwing the turtle. So we have that moment. And then there was a lot — like the incest backstories and voiceover in the first one — that I decided to skip. And there was a slave character that we took out because I didn’t want to treat that subject lightly. And I wanted the women to be abandoned and really on their own.

You were at one time going to direct Universal’s live-action The Little Mermaid, but ended up leaving over creative differences about casting. Has that experience affected the way you think about doing bigger studio movies?

Yes. I think when the budget gets really big, the business aspect of it is really more front and center, so that’s less appealing to me. Whereas with a low-budget, I’m able to do whatever; I have more creative freedom.

How do you feel about debuting a film at Cannes again?

I’m excited. It will be the first time I see this film finished on that big screen at the Palais. ... It’s always scary to put your movie out into the world, but I’m excited to see it there.