Interview: Writer/Director Sofia Coppola on 'Marie Antoinette'

Writer/director/producer Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst on the set of "Marie Antoinette.". © Columbia Pictures

When writer/director Sofia Coppola met with the LA press to discuss Marie Antoinette, the Oscar-winning filmmaker was seven months pregnant with her first child. Coppola is expecting a baby girl with boyfriend Thomas Mars from the French rock group Phoenix and after she wraps up doing for publicity for Marie Antoinette, she plans on taking a little time to relax and focus on the baby. Coppola also plans on getting back to writing and maybe directing something on a much smaller scale than this $40 million production.

About.com spoke to Coppola about the appeal of Marie Antoinette, filming on location, the period costumes, and more.

The Appeal of Marie Antoinette:

When I was reading the [Antonia Fraser] book I thought it would be interesting. There hadn’t been a film about Marie Antoinette since the late 30s and it’s such a visually interesting world I think to create in a film. I like to see a movie where you get lost in another world and 18th century France with the wigs and the costumes is so different than our daily life, I thought it would be interesting to show that. So just when I was reading the book, I thought about it as a film. And also for me it was a challenge personally. How do I make a period film that isn’t in the genre of period films but in my own style? That was a challenge for me.

I was more interested in seeing what we could relate to about it and just on the human level. That, "Oh, people still go through these things." I know what it’s like to go into a new family after you’ve been married, whatever, just on a human level.

But then I think it’s interesting to look at how differently they lived and how at that time, all the rituals that went into their lifestyle. That, to me, is interesting also. I tried to show the differences and some similarities just to be relatable. I think it’s interesting to look at both.

On Being Granted the Opportunity to Shoot in Versailles by the Director of Versailles:

I explained my approach for the film. I think he read the script. They were very positive and encouraging. He liked that I was attempting to tell the story from her point of view and really opened Versailles to us, so I feel lucky. I thought it would be more difficult but the people that worked at Versailles were very open to our production.

I always like going on location and you get immersed in another world and culture. I feel like being in the real Versailles affected everyone working on it and the actors. I just think there’s more authenticity than if we built it. I mean, even the fact that you were seeing the real gardens outside the windows I think feels less artificial than if you built everything. It would have been really difficult to recreate the hall of mirrors and all these real places.

Working Around Existing Structures:

The hall of mirrors was actually under construction half of it so we had to cheat, reverses and things like that, but I think what we got in return was the chateau Versailles becomes a character in the movie. I think it would have been really hard to [recreate it]. We couldn’t have recreated it on that level. It would have been more fragmented. I’d seen a little bit of the movie with Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette, which has a very kind of Hollywood/artificial feeling to it.

I wanted this one to feel as naturalistic and authentic as possible.

Someone asked me the other day what our Plan B was and I thought, "I never have a Plan B." I always have something in mind and then you’re just determined to convince people to let you do it, so I’m not sure. We weren’t able to shoot there every day because it’s open as a museum, so on the days we couldn’t, we got chateaus that were of that same period and dressed them. I guess we could have done more of that.

Page 2: The Music, the Dialogue, and Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette

 

The Contradiction of Using Anachronistic Music and Authentic Settings and Period Costumes:

What I was trying to do was make it impressionistic of what it would feel like to live there at that time, so I wanted it to be a style of acting. The setting is as natural as possible, and that’s the real place as opposed to an artificial movie set so in that way it was the style we were working from. But then we take artistic license in altering things to convey more what it would feel like at that time, using music that gives the emotional quality that I wanted the scene to have as opposed to what actually might be the song [from that period].

A combination to create the impression of what it might have been like.

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette:

She was the one that came to mind when I was reading the Antonia Fraser biography. When they described her personality I thought this was something that Kirsten could portray. She has the bubbly, silly, not serious side, but then she has the real depth and substance for when she evolves. I felt like she had both and also that she could carry the whole film. And being German, she looks like how they described her.

Creating the Costumes:

It was amazing working with Milena Canonero. It was so much fun to go to her costume shop. There were all these Italians selling these dresses and feathers. It was important to me to build a lot of the costumes that just weren’t the standard ones that they use for everything. So yeah, it was always fun to come to set and see how they all came together.

Deciding on the Where to End Marie Antoinette’s Story:

In the early draft, I wrote to the end of her life and then I realized that I was really rushing it. That’s a whole other movie. We weren’t making a miniseries; we only had two hours so I had to focus on what I want to tell. Then I decided to just focus on her time in Versailles and start the film with her arrival in Versailles, end it with her departure at the Revolution.

For me, the end of the story is her personal evolution and the scene on the balcony of her coming into her own and implying what happens. But it’s a really long story of her in prison and a trial, and I felt like it was another movie.

 

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Murray, Rebecca. "Interview: Writer/Director Sofia Coppola on 'Marie Antoinette'." ThoughtCo, Jan. 2, 2016, thoughtco.com/sofia-coppola-on-marie-antoinette-2426359. Murray, Rebecca. (2016, January 2). Interview: Writer/Director Sofia Coppola on 'Marie Antoinette'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sofia-coppola-on-marie-antoinette-2426359 Murray, Rebecca. "Interview: Writer/Director Sofia Coppola on 'Marie Antoinette'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sofia-coppola-on-marie-antoinette-2426359 (accessed November 25, 2017).