Roman Coppola talks to Screen about his new film A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III and how he found working with his old friend Charlie Sheen.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swann III, which had its world premiere on Thursday at the Rome Film Festival, is Roman Coppola’s second feature after 2001 drama CQ.
Hollywood bad-boy Charlie Sheen stars as a temperamental graphic designer struggling to get over the break up with his beautiful and similarly highly-strung girlfriend, played by Katheryn Winnick.
The supporting cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
A24 releases in the US in February. Independent handles international sales.
Why did you want to make a film about a break-up?
I experienced a break-up, so that was the origin. A friend of mine also broke up with his wife at the same time and we’d talk about our feelings. When you deal with that kind of situation you want to turn it into something constructive if you can.
There are many films with this subject told from a woman’s perspective so I wanted to show a male perspective.
I was also drawn to this character. He was partly inspired by that famous Maxell advert of a cool-looking dude in a chair being blasted by wind, which for me suggested his own personal struggle.
It’s a visually striking film. What were your reference points?
There were many. One of the films that really impressed me was Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz. It has a similar flair and a similar character.
70s LA was also an inspiration. I remember as a kid visiting the city and being struck by the playful, sexy imagery on the billboards lining Sunset Boulevard, including album covers for artists like Robert Palmer. I tried to put that in the film.
One of the biggest inspirations were the album cover designers of the time whose art I used in the film. People like Charles White III,whose name suggested the title. They were the great airbrush artists behind the imagery that made up West Coast pop culture at that time.
To what extent is this film a glimpse inside the mind of Charlie Sheen?
To some extent. There are a lot of corollaries. Of course, as an actor you bring a lot of who you are to a role you’re interpreting but Charlie is actually quite different in many ways.
He’s charming and charismatic, like the character, but this character has fine clothes, sensual things, exotic things, and Charlie is more of an all around America guy. He loves baseball, t-shirts etc.
They do share traits and that’s part of the reason I chose him. But most importantly I chose him because he’s a really fine actor. He has that ability to display feelings transparently and he’s incredibly expressive. It’s fun to be able to showcase someone’s talents, especially someone who hasn’t been in a movie for some time. I’m proud of his performance. He really stuck his neck out for me.
Was it a risk for you considering how unpredictable he is?
A lot of financiers were not comfortable with the choice. They were nervous. We weren’t able to get him an insurance policy and we couldn’t bond the picture so I had to take the risk. I was liable. I was comfortable doing that because I have been his friend for so many years. We have known each other since we were 12 years-old, when our dads worked together, so we had this old friendship. He told me he’d be there and I’m so pleased it worked out.
It seems a very personal film.
I hope it is. I used my house, my office, my cousin, my old friend Charlie, and others including Bill [Murray] and Patricia [Arquette]. There was a great camaraderie.
Was it nerve-wracking opening yourself up like that?
I guess I didn’t that about it like that. There are many of those types of films and they are often the films I admire. All that Jazz has a lot of self-portraiture, for example.
What were the main challenges?
The main challenge, and I think most directors would agree, is to wrangle your cast. To get through to agents and coordinate schedules etc. Bill Murray, for example, is someone who doesn’t have an agent, which I respect, but that makes him quite hard to reach sometimes. I had a verbal agreement from him that he’d do the film but a few weeks before his scenes I hadn’t heard from him so that was a little nerve-wracking.
Why did you choose to use so much music?
That’s funny. The last track of the song is called So Much Music. Well, when I first got the tingle for the film I was listening to Liam Hayes’ music. I wrote the first scenes of the film to one of Liam’s songs. Then I became friendly with him and we developed a great creative interaction. In the film, Liam’s voice acts as Charlie’s internal voice in a way.
But there are other movies out there with a great deal of music from one artist, like Cat Stevens on Harold and Maude, for example. I was drawn to that.
Why the long gap between features?
I’m a distractable person. Things come your way and you take certain adventures. When someone like Wes asks if I want to write a project and go it India it sounds fun. I worked with the Strokes and other bands and have done live TV programme so time flies by.
Part of it is also that CQ, which now has a certain appreciation, was not a successful movie at the time. In Hollywood it becomes difficult to make another one if the first doesn’t make much money. The climate is very tough right now and it’s very competitive. So I found fun things to do in the meantime until I had that project that I couldn’t say no to and I ended up making it in a kind of scrappy way because that was the only way to make it.
How do you feel about the ultra VOD release in the US? [The film will be released on VOD one month before theatrical]
It’s a whole new world out there. We are getting a theatrical release and that means a lot to me. But the reality is that people want to watch movies in many different ways today, and many of those people are big Charlie Sheen fans. I’m not a snob. However people want to see it is fine by me.
I’m helping on Wes Anderson’s new film [The Grand Budapest Hotel], but not as a writer or producer. Making Charles Swan was invigorating. It was fun to work in that way again and made me think I would like to do it again. I’m not sure what yet. I’ve had a couple of ideas bubbling but I’m biding my time.
Will you be working on any upcoming projects with your sister and father?
I always do. Sophia is finishing Bling Ring, which I’m a producer on, and I helped out on Somewhere. She’s cooking up some new things which I’ll be involved on. My dad is working on a writing project and I’ve always helped out on his things. There’s no immediate next thing, though.