Gia Coppola tells Donald Clarke why she joined the family business
Gia Coppola is at her granddad’s place. Fair enough. The weekend is looming. The weather is still nice. Why not spend some time with the older generation.
“We’ve got a bit of an Indian summer,” she says. “I’ve been eating healthy food. We have a nice garden with fresh vegetables.”
She must surely drink a bit of the wine as well? “Yes. Umm. A bit.” Even if you have yet to hear of Gia – whose first film, Palo Alto, opens this week – you will have already guessed that grandad is Francis Ford Coppola and that she is, at the time of our phone call, relaxing at the family’s vineyard in the Napa Valley.
As the Kennedys are to US politics, the Coppolas are to film. Her aunt Sofia directed
Lost in Translation. Her cousin Jason Schwartzman is part of Wes Anderson’s stock company. Her other cousin, Nicolas Cage, is Nicolas Cage.
Hers is a sad story. Gia’s father Gian-Carlo Coppola, a
I always felt comfortable behind the camera. So, this became an extension of that. It was good to collaborate and not have to be so lonely
budding producer, was killed in a speedboat accident a few months before she was born. Her mother, Jacqui de la Fontaine (who later married into the even more frightening Getty dynasty), always made sure Gia saw plenty of her paternal family when growing up.
“I think that was a hard experience for my family,” she says. “But the odd chance that had me born after he died added a bit of light to their lives. I am so thankful that I have this bond with them. They were all very involved in raising me and in giving me clues as to who my father was. That was why I got interested in photography, I think. He was always interested in that.”
The Coppola legacy
One can’t help but feel a little sorry for her mother. It was she who raised Gia, but all interviews start and end with consideration of the Coppola legacy.
We can see what she got from that side of the family. Palo Alta – a study of Californian youths starring Emma Roberts and James Franco, author of the source book – has the sleepy ambience of aunt Sofia’s films, and Gia herself speaks in Sofia’s hesitant, slightly unengaged monotone. So what did she get from mom?
“My mom has such a big heart,” she says with uncharac- teristic animation. “She is so funny and has always put me before everything else. She used to work as a costume designer and I think I learned a lot of my personal taste from her. I look at pictures of her when she was young and we have the same style.”
It’s hard to mentally accommodate her caution and apparent introversion with the hugeness of her grandfather’s personality. One imagines that, at family dinners, Sofia and Gia are overwhelmed by Francis’s chatter.
“Is that how it comes across?” she asks. “He’s actually not really that loud as he comes
across. He is actually quite quiet. But he is extremely intelligent and if you touch on a subject he’s interested in, then he can really talk. But otherwise he’s very calm. Really.”
The family business
Not surprisingly, Gia Coppolla initially resisted the notion that she might become a film- maker. After a slightly tempestuous secondary education, she eventually ended up studying photography at Bard College.
The story goes that Franco was instrumental in pushing Coppola towards the family business. A friend for about five years, the multi-hyphenate was impressed with her photos and suggested she work on an adaptation of his 2010 short story collection Palo Alto. She did some costume work on Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. She helped out with her grandfather’s Twixt.
Eventually Franco edged Coppola towards making Palo Alto into a feature. It’s an accomplished piece of work: drifty; funky; elegiac for the passing of youth.
“I always felt comfortable behind the camera. So, this became an extension of that,” she says. “It was good to collaborate and not have to be so lonely. There’s more elements to play with.”
Time moves fast in youth culture. Gia Coppola is only 27, but, when you’re shooting a film about teenagers, that makes you a veritable fossil. Franco picked up his experiences for the book as a youth in the early 1990s (the late Jurassic period in other words).
The film does, however, feel very connected to the zeitgeist. Though concerned about dislo- cation and alienation, Palo Alto remains optimistic about what lies ahead for today’s kids.
“I felt like his book had really great dialogue that I related to from my own friends,” Coppola says. “It’s often in incomplete sentences, but those sentences can get at an inarticulate frustration that says more than you are actually trying to say. When the actors came in they would give me notes. That helped. It kept it fresh.”
Among those actors, we find the impressive young Jack Kilmer, son to Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley. I had read that Jack acted as a conduit to the happening youth culture (if we still say “happening”, which we almost certainly don’t).
“He was 17 when we made it and having him as Teddy was right,” Coppola says. “I guess he is a very interesting, special kid with a neat perspective. We were captivated from the start.”
The film is swarming with second-generation talent. Emma Roberts is, of course, daughter to Eric and niece to Julia. Nat Wolff is the son of top jazz pianist Michael Wolff and Polly Draper, star of Thirtysomething. What chatter there must have been.
“I didn’t really realise there was all these second-generation people in it,” she says. “I didn’t cast them for that reason. I just thought they were the right people for the job.”
Coppola trails off in that characteristic Californian fashion. Another call is coming in. “I guess I have to go then,” she half whispers. The Coppola estate reclaims her. Palo Alto is out now on limited release Review, page 10
‘They were all very involved in raising me and in giving me clues as to who my