LOS ANGELES — Sofia Coppola’s latest film, Somewhere, follows fictional movie star Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff) as he drifts drunkenly through life in a rented apartment at the infamous Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip. Given Coppola’s Hollywood upbringing, surely Marco has a real-life counterpart — but she’s not naming any names.
“I based him on people I’ve met and people I know and stories I’ve heard from the Chateau Marmont — kind of a combination of a bunch of people,” Coppola says. “There’s maybe a dozen people that I took pieces of. I don’t want to get out-of-context and make someone feel bad. So yeah, you can imagine, right?”
One thing she didn’t see coming, though, is how many friends have seen it and have assumed they are one of the dozen sources. “It’s funny, the few people that I wasn’t really thinking of said, like, ‘Oh, it’s based on me,’” she says with a laugh. “So many actors have lived at the Chateau.”
And some, like John Belushi, have died there. The hotel is steeped in Hollywood history, something Coppola knew she could only capture by shooting in the actual location. “Luckily they let us film there,” she says. “My producer said, ‘OK but what’s the back-up plan.’ I was like, I never have a back-up plan.”
Coppola and crew rented out the entire fifth floor of the hotel, using it as both production offices and the set, and did their best to work around other guests at the Chateau, which was open for business during the shoot. But that was nothing new for Coppola. “From shooting in the Park Hyatt [for Lost in Translation], I was used to having to sneak around and stay out of the way,” she says. “When we shot with Benicio del Toro in an elevator, that was the only working elevator, so we would shoot a scene and we’d have to hop out, let the guests use it.”
In the film, Marco is suddenly faced with minding his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) after his ex-wife leaves town unexpectedly. Coppola drew on her own experiences of having a famous father for some of the story’s scenarios, but she insists Somewhere is not her childhood on screen.
“It was very different than in the movie. He’s not like the dad in the movie,” she says. “But I was familiar with sometimes being a kid and being brought to worlds that kids aren’t usually around. Like, I put in him teaching her craps from a memory I have of being in a casino with my dad and him explaining craps.”
One of the biggest challenges Coppola faced with conceiving Somewhere was taking the character of a wealthy but dissatisfied movie star — we first see him driving his Ferrari in circles aimlessly — and make him someone audiences can sympathize with. The secret, she found, was in casting Dorff in the role.
“It was important that you have someone who has a lot of heart, or else we won’t care,” she acknowledges. “The character is so flawed and, yeah, he’s spoiled. I could see how you wouldn’t care about him unless there was someone who was genuine you could connect to.”