LOST IN TRANSLATION - Q&A with director Sofia Coppola, actress Scarlett Johansson and producer Ross Katz
Movie Interview by S Felce
Sofia Coppola wanted to make a movie about Japan and wanted Bill Murray to play the lead role. That's all she knew when she start writing the script for LOST IN TRANSLATION. Together with the female star of the movie, Scarlett Johansson and producer Ross Katz, Sofia Coppola meets the English Press at London's Dorchester Hotel. Softly spoken and a bit shy, Coppola answers briefly to all the questions and leaves the more outgoing Johansson to talk about her memories while shooting the film.
(To Sofia Coppola) Bill Murray gives this film one of his best performances of the year. Did you think of him playing the lead role as soon as you wrote the script?
SOFIA: I actually wrote the script with him in mind. I wanted to work with him and see him playing a romantic role and actually this combination of being really funny, sweet and sad.
(To Ross Katz) How did you come on board LOST IN TRANSLATION?
ROSS: I think I am one of the biggest fans of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and fortunately I was working on a film whose director had the same agent as Sofia's, so he put us together and then I was just anxious to work with her. She is amazing and I think that being a fan of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES just helped to put it all together.
(To Scarlett Johansson) What was it about this movie that struck a cord with you and made you want to play Charlotte? It seems that you and Bill Murray play these characters so well because you understand the limbo in which they find themselves - the clashing of culture, the jet lag, everything that goes with travelling...
SCARLETT: Sofia and I met in a restaurant in New York and she told me she had this idea that was shaping into a script with Bill Murray in it and if it wasn't Bill Murray she wasn't going to do it and it was based in Tokyo. It had two appealing things for me - Tokyo and Bill Murray - so I asked her to send me the script when she had finished with it. Not much time later the script arrived. I knew straight after I finished reading it that it was a project I wanted to be part of. It was such a beautiful script. Everything was there. It was only 75 pages, a lot of it was very visual, and the dialogues between Bill Murray and me were like a... ping-pong! I had one line. He had one line. It just read so well, like a great novel and when I finished it I was sad and I was happy. I just knew I could play it!
Sofia, is there much of yourself in the character of Charlotte, as for your experience of travelling to Tokyo as a young woman?
SOFIA: The story is personal to me in all the characters, from Scarlett's character to Bill's character. I was definitely thinking of myself in my twenties when I didn't know what I wanted to do, I had just finished school.
Sofia, LOST IN TRANSLATION is being produced independently. Do you think that if the movie had been produced by a major studio it would have been different?
SOFIA: It was important to me that the film was made according to the idea I had in [my] mind and the only way to do that was to make it low budget.
Scarlett, what did you like best and least about Tokyo?
SCARLETT: I was really tired when I was there. We were shooting one week during the day and one week during the night and it was very surreal. Also, because we were staying at the same hotel it was really strange for me to go downstairs in my pyjamas for a scene. The days I had off, which was one per week unfortunately, I tried to do what everybody else was doing: going for a walk, eating out, going shopping but I didn't do any tourism. I was too much involved in what I was doing.
Were you intimidated by the fact that communication was almost impossible?
SCARLETT: Oh yes! Nobody in the hotel spoke any English apart from a Swedish manager so there was a lot of sign language.
Sofia, you had a double experience having being to Tokyo in your twenties and then back now as a lady in charge.
SOFIA: I have been actually going there at least once per year in the past eight or nine years. It is still an adventure as I don't speak any Japanese so every little thing like buying some groceries becomes a big deal! It was definitely challenging shooting in Tokyo, even if it can also be frustrating. But I really wanted to shoot there so the enthusiasm keeps you going. I think that Tokyo is overwhelming with its mixture of modern and ancient.
(To Sofia) Do you feel part of this new so called Renaissance of young and fresh directors?
SOFIA: It is hard to see yourself as part of something. I am always interested to see my colleagues' new works but I don't feel part of something.
Scarlett, how spontaneous was the karaoke scene?
SCARLETT: Sofia wanted those songs so I had to learn the words a couple of days before. It was funny because the translation on the karaoke screen was sometimes different and the words were not the same I had learnt! So I had to improvise.
(To all) Since you were in the land of karaoke, did any of you go to a karaoke bar and improvise a song?
SOFIA: We all went to a karaoke [bar] and we learnt that Scarlett has a fantastic singing voice!
Scarlett, which song was your favourite to perform?
SCARLETT: I did a very good Cher impression!!
(To Ross) What about you?
ROSS: I had to pay homage to my hero David Bowie so I used him as my victim's choice.
(Looking at Sofia)
SOFIA: Ehm..I prefer to watch!
(To Sofia and Scarlett) Do you have a favourite scene in the movie?
SCARLETT: I like the sequence of Billy and me in the bedroom, when we start watching LA DOLCE VITA on TV and then we lie in bed falling asleep. I think it is a very telling scene. It is the first time our characters are serious and they are not just joking. They are really trying to figure out their life. Also Bill's character tries to make a connection.... it is really touching.
(To Sofia) Maybe it is difficult for you to choose as it is your 'baby'?
Sofia: I am very happy about the scene Scarlett was talking about.