The Daily Telegraph - Review
‘I thought I could make a blockbuster my own way…’
Sofia Coppola tells Robbie Collin about the ‘Little Mermaid’ film thatat got lost at sea – and the Seventies sleaze-fest that inspired her comeback ck
For 18 increasingly tense months a little while ago, Sofia Coppola’s next film was going to be The Little Mermaid. This wasn’t part of the conga line of live-action remakes coming off the Disney studio lot, but a standalone project at Universal Pictures that stuck to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, without a calypso-singing crab in sight.
Andersen’s story of a lonely rich girl’s flight from her gilded cage sounds like ideal material for the director of Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. And for a spell, Coppola thought so too. She’d got as far as lining up Maya Thurman- Hawke, the now 19-year-old daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, to play Ariel, and had even shot some test footage with the film’s British production company Working Title: her plan was to shoot all of the film’s underwater scenes in open water.
“That would have probably been impossible,” Coppola laughs over a pot of tea in Claridge’s, where she’s promoting her actual new film, The Beguiled, an elegant, mischievous, erotically electrified work of southern gothic. “But they indulged me. We did tests. It was crazy.”
Alas, it wasn’t to be – and the 46-year-old filmmaker pinpoints a comment from a studio honcho as one of a pile of final straws that led her to abandon the project. “I remember being in a meeting and some executive asking, ‘ What’s going to get a 35-year-old man into this movie?’,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Into The Little Mermaid?’” (Mere italics can’t capture the bone-dry amusement of her tone here: for that, the letters would have to be flat on their faces.)
I ask Coppola how easy it was to – “Walk away?” she jumps in. “It was hard. I’d spent a lot of time working on it.”
On her previous films, she’d enjoyed enough creative freedom to work with a specific audience in mind – not quite the auteur-as-god regime enjoyed by her father, Francis Ford Coppola, during his Godfather and Apocalypse Nowencompassing hot streak, but good enough. “But when you do a big-budget movie, there are a lot of other cooks in the kitchen,” she says. “I was a little naive going into it, thinking that I could do it in my,” – she pauses – “singular way.”
If you’ve seen even one Sofia Coppola film, you’ll know what she’s talking about. Her six films to date, starting 18 years ago with The
‘An executive asked me, “What’s going to get a 35-year-old man into this film?” ’