Sofia Coppola is no stranger to filmic explorations of fame, privilege and self-loathing in the modern age. In her newest movie, The Bling Ring, she considers the case of a gang of well-off L.A. teenagers whose obsession with celebrity took them to some unexpected places — including the homes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, where they stole millions of dollars' worth of jewelry and clothes and shoes.
Emma Watson, who plays an air-headed gang member named Nicki, has been in the limelight since the age of 13. Famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, Watson has a few thoughts on the irony of being a celebrity playing a celebrity-targeting burglar.
"I definitely have my part in that ... tabloid culture, whether I like it or not," she tells NPR's Scott Simon. "I've been in the public eye for almost 10 years now. So there was something ... slightly ironic for me, being in the other seat. And it really made me look at it all in a new light. L.A. especially is ... fed so much of those images — so much fashion, so much reality TV — I can see how easy it could be to become obsessed."
But her parents prepared her carefully for the pros and cons of notoriety, Watson says.
"My parents were always realistic with me about what fame meant, that basically it has these amazing upsides, opportunities, experiences," she says. "But at the same time, it restricts your freedom in some ways. I'm not able to just do whatever I want, spontaneously."
Watson and Coppola joined Weekend Edition to talk about teenage impulsivity and adapting a real-life event and telling a story that, as Coppola puts it, "is so contemporary, it's really a story that could only happen today."
Coppola on the specificity of Watson's accent
"I was so impressed that Emma didn't just do a California accent; that she got really specific with the Calabasas accent. All us Californians were really just blown away."
Watson on mastering that particular sound
"I watched hours of The Kardashians, and The Simple Life, and The Hills, and then I worked with a dialect coach, too. That was part of what was so fun for me — not just the accent, but also the way of speaking is so different. It's much more nasal and much more pronounced."
Watson on improvisation and preparation
"Sofia really encourages improvisation, so that meant I also had to think like the character. That's what the journaling was about, not just memorizing the lines; think like Nicki. I actually did a blog as Nicki, with a Tumblr page. It had a pink leopard skin background and tons of shoes."
Coppola on how audiences might respond
"I really tried to make the movie in the experience of the kids, so the audience goes along on the ride. And then by the end of the film, they can think about what's important to them. And I tried to not tell them what to think; I tried to leave it for the audience to decide how they feel about it."
Coppola on why her characters don't question their ringleader
"It's a gang mentality. I mean, if you remember anything about peer pressure, or being that age, you want to be part of the group, go along. You do things you'd never do now, on your own. So I think they were caught up in the excitement. ... No one wanted to be the drag."
Watson on the parenting choices that fueled her character
"Nicki ... could come in at 4 in the morning, and the biggest reprimand she would get would be for her mother to say, 'Oh well, try better next time.' For Nicki there's never any real consequences in her life for anything that she does. And if you don't experience that in your home, then in the larger world, if you steal something, I just think — they genuinely believed there weren't going to be any real consequences."
Coppola on whether teens might get the wrong idea about Bling
"I give teenagers more credit. I think that they're smarter and more sophisticated than people [think]. Of course they're not always thinking about the consequences — and that's what happens in the story. But, you know, we show what they did, and then they go to jail. And ... if you look into the real kids and see what happened to them, it's really sad."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BLING RING")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Girls, time for your Adderall.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) We know.
SIMON: Sofia Coppola's new film "The Bling Ring" follows a group - a gang, really - of L.A. teenagers from wealthy families who live for shopping, parties, drugs and getting close to celebrities, or at least where they live.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BLING RING")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Paris Hilton is hosting a party in Vegas tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as character) Where does she live? You think we can find a way in?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as character) Come on. Let's go to Paris'. I want to rob.
SIMON: They break into Paris Hilton's house then Lindsay Lohan's and other TV stars, stealing three million dollars worth of jewelry, designer shoes and clothes, cash and almost Paris Hilton's chihuahua. Eventually, they're caught and they're sent to jail. "The Bling Ring" is based on a true story. It opens in theaters this weekend. Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed the film, stopped by our studios along with Emma Watson of "Harry Potter" fame. She plays one of the teenagers, and as Coppola says, she vaguely remembers hearing about this group of kids who rob celebrities' houses.
SOFIA COPPOLA: From the plane, I'm looking at Vanity Fair's article called "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" and it was about these teen burglars. And just thought somebody has to be making a movie of this. It just had all these elements of (unintelligible) and exciting and also disturbing. And I thought it's so contemporary. It's really a story that could only happen today.
SIMON: When you said had all the elements, what if they'd been half a dozen kids from Watts?
COPPOLA: Sure. So, that would be an exciting story too - a whole different story - but the fact that these kids didn't - weren't robbing because they needed anything - they were middle-class kids that were doing it for other reasons, I thought was an interesting element.
SIMON: Sofia Coppola, I gather you had the actors who portrayed the kids keep journals as their characters.
COPPOLA: Oh, when we were rehearsing together, I asked them to do some journals of the character, and just get into what the characters were into because, you know, the real kids were so different than the characters they were playing.
EMMA WATSON: I actually did a blog as Nicki because I thought that's what she would do. I made a Tumblr page. And it had, like, pink leopard skin background and it had, like, tons of shoes and clothes and...
COPPOLA: I forgot about that. It was really good.
WATSON: Yeah and it was (unintelligible). It was really fun.
SIMON: Emma Watson, I have to ask where'd you get that Southern California accent?
WATSON: I watched hours and hours of the Kardashians and "The Simple Life" and "The Hills". And then I worked with a dialect coach too. But that was part of what was so fun for me, was not just the accent but also the way of speaking is so different. It's much more nasal and much more kind of pronounced. And...
SIMON: OK. Can you do it for us who those who haven't seen the film yet?
WATSON: What do you want me to say?
SIMON: I don't know. Something like...
WATSON: Oh my God. You sound so hot. You sound really awesome.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BLING RING")
WATSON: (as Nicki) Oh my God. This is so (unintelligible). So cute. It's so cute. Oh my God.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: (as character) Check it.
SIMON: Why do none of these kids look at each other at one point when they're adorning themselves with high-end stuff, why don't any of the kids look at each other and say should we be doing this?
COPPOLA: It's such a game mentality. I think, I mean, if you remember anything about peer pressure being that age, you want to be part of the group and go along and you do things you'd never do now or on your own. So, I think that, you know, they were caught up in the excitement that they all wanted to - no one wanted to be the drag.
WATSON: Yeah. Particularly, what I loved about Sofia's script is that Nicki the character that can come home at 4 in the morning and the biggest reprimand that she would get would be the next morning for her mother to say, oh well, you know, try better next time kind of thing. For Nicki, there's never any real consequences in her life to anything that she does. And if you don't experience that in your home, then in the larger world, if you steal something, I just think they genuinely believed there weren't going to be any real consequences.
SIMON: Sofia Coppola, did you grow up with kids like this or did we all grow up with kids like this?
COPPOLA: No. When I grew up, nobody talked about designer handbags. I didn't know about that. It was really a different time.
WATSON: I definitely remember being at school and a friend of mine bringing into class Paris Hilton's book, which is like a guide to being an heiress. And...
SIMON: Oh, useful for all of us, isn't it?
WATSON: Very useful. I mean, who doesn't - so I definitely grew up around it. And, I don't know, my dad - I mean, my dad wouldn't even my brother and I watch television at all until we were, you know, much, much older. And he wouldn't let me have Barbie dolls. He was, like, I don't know. I guess he wanted me to use my imagination more, so.
SIMON: But is it - I mean, when you were growing up - that was all of just a few years ago - is that harder now?
WATSON: What do you mean?
SIMON: Harder, I mean, unless you throw your kid in a root cellar.
WATSON: Yeah. I mean, I guess it is. And I guess, you know, as well you also have to trust that they'll figure it out themselves. And I think it's really just tempering that culture with other ideas, too, so that, you know, getting fed one kind of idea and one kind of image, you know, I think as long as there's a balance then you can usually figure it out for yourselves. I don't think anyone's (unintelligible) in the basement.
SIMON: Sofia Coppola, are you drawn to teenagers? And, by the way, this is your second, if not your third, if you count the French Revolution picture - film you've made with teenagers.
COPPOLA: Am I drawn to teenagers? I like the tradition of teen films and when I was growing up, and I loved the John Hughes movies. But other than that, I didn't relate so much to the characters of young people. There were usually actors in their 30s playing teenagers. So, I like the idea of trying to make something sensitive and artful for young audiences.
WATSON: I think, as well, I think what's so interesting about - is actually this story and about, you know, kind of coming-of-age films is that they are people trying to find themselves. And so they go on such a journey, their characters have such arcs, they're kind of experiencing life for the first time. So, you see the story through new eyes.
COPPOLA: You know, I always liked, the actor. I always liked stories where the struggle or the transition is more internal on the character, as opposed to outside forces. So, I think that's the age where that's the most exaggerated. And I think that's something interesting to look at.
SIMON: Well, I want to thank you both very much. Sofia Coppola, who is the director and writer; Emma Watson, who is one of the stars of "The Bling Ring", which opens this weekend. Thanks very much for being with us.
WATSON: Thank you.
COPPOLA: Thank you.
WATSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.