Second time around with Bill Murray brings trust to Sofia Coppola’s film set
Children of famous parents sometimes struggle to escape those long shadows. To find their place in the sun, some leave the family business. Not Sofia Coppola.
With her second directorial feature, as a self-described “kid” (she was 32 when it came out), the daughter of Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola won the original screenplay Oscar for 2003’s “Lost in Translation.” She has since racked up acclaim including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (for “Somewhere”) and the director prize at Cannes (for “The Beguiled”).
Now that sunny spot has become so comfortable that she has made a film about a woman with a famous father, starring a woman (Rashida Jones) with a real-life famous father, and reuniting Coppola with a kind of famous father figure from early in her career.
“Felix is a very debonair man. He’s a specific kind of character that my dad isn’t like,” she says of the role Bill Murray (who was nominated for an Oscar for his work in “Lost in Translation”) plays in her new Apple TV+ feature, “On the Rocks.” “But definitely, Rashida and I talked about the fun of having a charismatic father that takes you on adventures.”
“We’ve both gone as [our father’s] date to some location or work trip,” Coppola said of the two relating to the film’s primary relationship. “I went to Cuba with my dad and met Fidel Castro when he was speaking at the film school. That’s unique, having a father like that. But I also think there’s a universal aspect; you have bigger-than-life characters in all families.”
Murray’s Felix is the cultured rapscallion, the Teflon-coated père to Jones’ Laura in Coppola’s sophisticated relationship comedy set in a New York similar to Woody Allen’s but more active and modern. Happily married, Laura begins to wonder if husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) might be having an affair. Felix rematerializes in her life and drags her along to solve the mystery, as only one with his effortless charm and endless connections can.
“I had a friend whose husband was going on work trips, and [she became] suspicious. Her father, who is a playboy, said, ‘We’re going to’ — they went and spied on him. It was such a crazy story. I always remembered the nugget of that. I thought, you could hang all these other aspects on that in a fun way,” said Coppola, thinking of screwball comedies and the “Thin Man” gentlefolk mysteries.
“Maybe I could make something that was playful and fun but dealt with this exchange between the two of them, with contrasting points of view and also the uniqueness of a father-and-daughter relationship.”
As Felix, Murray delivers one of his richest, most lived-in yet uniquely charismatic performances. Coppola had been hesitant to reunite on screen because of “Lost in Translation’s” legacy. Things may have shaken loose for her after he asked her to direct his Netflix special, “A Very Murray Christmas” (2015) — which also happened to feature Jones.
“I started writing the part, and I didn’t think of him right away. And then I realized he’s so lovable ... he has so much heart. The character could be very unlikable, so it needed that,” said the writer-director. “His charm and sense of fun and magic is something that the character has, and he brings it to life. When he’s heartfelt, he’s so sincere and can be so moving ... I’ve never seen him play a father before, a parent, to show that tenderness.”
Coppola is now a member of a fairly exclusive club: directors whom Murray chooses to work with repeatedly. He still surprises her, as he did with his vulnerability in one of the most painful moments in “On the Rocks”: “I think the scene in Mexico where he’s talking about a former love, and he really opens his heart up in a way that was striking, because you don’t usually see that side. It was moving.”
It was Murray’s chemistry with Jones that sealed the casting for Coppola.
“I’d done a short scene with them on the Christmas show we did with Bill, and that’s when I first saw them together, and they had such great chemistry. I know that Bill really has regard for her, so I thought that would come through. They’re both just so intelligent and funny.”
Coppola was aware of how their working relationship had changed since their 2003 collaboration and how she had sort of grown up behind the camera.
“We’d just met, and I was kind of a kid. He believed in the project and was totally there for me. But now we have a history together; I felt like there was probably more trust and we have a rapport. I trust my instincts more than when I was starting, because I’ve seen how how things evolve; it looks like a mess and then somehow it turns into a movie,” she said.
This time, the challenge for her was writing a dialogue-heavy comedy. “It’s always fulfilling to do something scary that you haven’t done before. But every time I do a movie, I always feel like I don’t know how to do this. Then you get into it and figure it out, and it’s always an adventure.”
From the Emmys to the Oscars.
Get our revamped Envelope newsletter for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes insights and columnist Glenn Whipp’s commentary.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.