SCREEN GENES

Gia Cop­pola tells Don­ald Clarke why she joined the fam­ily business

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Gia Cop­pola

‘They were all very in­volved in rais­ing me and in giv­ing me clues as to who my

fa­ther was’

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