As part of AFI FEST’s Conversations section, Sofia Coppola will sit down for a moderated, in-depth discussion of her latest film, THE BEGUILED, on Saturday, November 11. The film is set at an all-female Southern boarding school during the American Civil War. When the women bring an injured Union soldier into the school to recover, everything in their precariously balanced and removed world is turned dangerously upside down. AFI spoke with Coppola about the film.
AFI: This film features such a great cast of women. What was your casting process like? Did you write specifically for Kirsten Dunst or Elle Fanning, as you have previously worked with both?
Sofia Coppola: I wrote with Kirsten, Elle and Nicole in mind. It helped me a lot when writing the dialogue or picturing their gestures and interactions.
AFI: The role of Cpl. John McBurney is such an important character in the film. How did you come to cast Colin Farrell? What was your process in working with him? Was there anything you did differently with him than with the rest of the cast?
SC: Yes, that character had to be a hunk and believably attractive to all of them, and also intelligent and manipulative. When we were rehearsing, we rehearsed mostly with the group of women and didn’t include him, so he was new to them as a group as much as he could be.
AFI: This is your first foray into genre storytelling, with the more gruesome moments that happen in the film. What was that like? Did you enjoy exploring the darker side of human nature?
SC: Yes, it was fun and challenging to write in this genre but still keep my sensibility. I tried to push myself with the story, the dialogue and the gore.
AFI: There are some great moments of humor in the film, and this really plays out when you see the film with an audience. How did you work with your actors to bring out this humor on set?
SC: We all saw the humor in the situation, and I think it’s in the script, and then the actors really bring it out in their delivery and subtlety.
AFI: The environment and landscape in the film are so evocative. Can you talk about both the house and Southern setting, and how they function as characters in the film?
SC: Yes, that setting brought so much to the film, and the way our cinematographer, Philippe Le Sourd, portrayed it. There was a lot of work done by the art department to show that it was dilapidated and these women were clinging on to a way of life that was gone. I saw them almost likes ghosts, and [that they] were always reminded that they’re not capable to run the mansion in the way it used to be. And there’s something so dark and haunting about those oak trees with moss, like the nature is aggressive and almost moving in on their delicate world.
AFI: This is the first time you’ve used only period music or score. Was that liberating or challenging in any way?
SC: I wanted to focus on the tension, and music usually relieves tension, so it was interesting in this situation to keep it raw and focus on the sounds of nature and cannons in the distance. I wanted it to feel as real and naturalistic as it could, since the story is so over the top.
AFI: Are you a filmmaker who draws from other works while making your films? Were there any literary or film works that influenced the tone or style of THE BEGUILED?
SC: I watched THE INNOCENTS with Deborah Kerr, and TESS for the photography, and some Hitchcock. We looked at women’s journals from that time that wrote about what it was like to be isolated after the slaves had escaped and the men were off fighting.
On Directing: Sofia Coppola Takes Place November 11 at 11:00 a.m. at the TCL Chinese Theatres. Get tickets here.