Roman Coppola, son of Francis, brother of Sofia, has made—written, directed, and produced—a movie called A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. The movie stars Charlie Sheen, son of Martin, who Roman first met on the set of father Francis’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now (father Martin was playing the lead). Charles Swan III also stars Roman’s cousin, close friend, and fellow Wes Anderson collaborator (they worked together on The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom), Jason Schwartzman, alongside Bill Murray, another Wes Anderson regular, whose career took a most elegant turn when he starred in sister Sofia’s Lost in Translation. The movie’s supporting role actresses include the lovely, indelibly Renee, Patricia Arquette, who was once married to Roman’s other cousin, Nicolas Cage, as well as Canadian newcomer Katheryn Winnick, who looks like a Morph Thing of Scarlett Johansson and Judy Greer.
True to its cast breeding, Coppola’s movie is set in a glamorous yet quirky Los Angeles of the past. Charles Swan III (Sheen) is a macho graphic designer whose “true love” (Winnick) leaves him when she discovers a drawer full of naked pictures of former lovers. After that initial conflict, some funny scenes between some great actors unroll, one after the other, until the credits roll. Schwartzman plays a crooner/comedian and confidante to Charles named Kirby. Arquette is Izzy, Charles’s new age-y sister with a dropped book deal. And Bill Murray is… Bill Murray, more or less. The characters interact against a heavily stylized LA-scape of retro kitsch insignias, saturated “seventies” tones, and attractive female extras. The result is a boozy blend of Californication and Bored to Death (got that TV pacing), with surreal, Fellini-esque flights of fantasy, Wes Anderson brand nostalgia, and 21st century bromance (Superbad, The Hangover) appeal.
Critics are having fun with the similarities between the movie’s protagonist, Charles, and the actor who plays him, Charlie Sheen. Both are high society creative burnouts with a taste for alcohol and women. But on the afternoon of my sit-down with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman (in the industry, we call this a “two-on-one”), the most stunning semblance was between writer/director/producer Roman and his title character: same tinted aviators, same retro suit jacket, same skinny knit tie, same reclined posturing. I sat directly across from Roman, trying to see through the wash of his lenses. Jason was to my left (my good side, yes!). I wanted to know what the boys got out of making the movie. Here’s what our “two-on-one” sounded like…
This first one’s for you, Roman. I wanted to talk a little bit about process.
Roman: Oh god. No, I’m just kidding. Go ahead.
Is the film that you came out with, does it look like…
Jason: Are you from Canada?
How did you know?
Jason: I just know. Keep going.
Did the film turn out like you imagined when you were writing the script? What things changed along the way?
Roman: That’s an interesting question. In a way, the film is not at all what I imagined, but it’s kind of as close as I could get. That might sound resigned, or a little bit discouraged, but it’s not. Because that’s just kind of the ratio of fantasy to reality. I had originally imagined all this far out stuff; you know, there’s this guy, and his home looks exactly like this, and his office, it’s a circular penthouse. And the reality when you make anything, whether it’s a movie or anything else, is that the imagination, or, my imagination is such that I have a hard time reconciling it with reality. So, I guess what I’m saying is…
Jason: He’s not fun on blind dates.
Roman: To be honest, the movie is quite different than I initially pictured, but I’m very satisfied with what I was able to do. The movie looks beautiful and I’m obviously very pleased with the cast.
That’s one of the big themes of the movie—reality not keeping up with fantasy.
Roman: Perhaps it is….
Do you connect very closely to your protagonist?
Roman: I do, I think, you know.
Your glasses are reminding me of him. Your whole look today actually…
Roman: There are certain cues, certain things, that we have in common. I would be very reluctant to say it’s a self-portrait. It’s more like a kind of fantasy portrait, an imaginary exercise, of mine. Like, if I could drive any car, I would drive a Cadillac like the one in the movie. You start to transpose these fantasies and make a character out of that. With Moonrise Kingdom [which Roman co-wrote with Wes Anderson], people would ask me if the movie was about things that happened to me. Was it part of your life? And the answer there, like here, is no—these are the things you wish would happen. In that way, it’s very personal, almost autobiographical. But, at the same time, none of this happened in real life.
Filmmaking is an avenue where you’re able to exercise those kinds of fantasies.
Roman: Definitely. And those are the kind of movies I particularly love. Fellini would be kind of the highest degree of that. And films like All That Jazz or Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.
Obviously, you brought together a phenomenal cast. I was wondering if you had these actors in mind when you were writing the characters, especially—let’s bring him into the conversation—Jason’s character.
Roman: Jason was always in my mind. He’s someone who has been aware of this project since I started writing it. I’ve been working on the movie for a bunch of years.
Jason: Eight years.
Roman: I mean, not every day, obviously.
Roman: I thought Charles should have a confidante like Jason is to me. But he’s gotta be a more extravagant version of Jason; give him a huge afro, make him a stand up comic. Bill [Murray] was always someone I hoped and imagined in the role. Charlie… I didn’t write that character for Charlie Sheen because the character was always more of a specter. But as I was finishing the script, I was randomly in touch with Charlie, and he said, “Hey, we have to make a movie together!” I’m super proud that I was able to get him to do it. It wasn’t easy, he’s a person that can be hard to pin down, but he totally came through for me.
And the character’s name was Charles before you cast Charlie Sheen?
It’s fun to watch Charlie Sheen, who is so notorious, in this role, being called by his own name…
Roman: It’s interesting, he has this weird history, because in his last TV show his name was Charlie, and in his new show he’s Charlie; it’s just his persona. There’s something about Charlie that has that ring, that personality, I don’t know what it is.
Was there much improvisation on set? Certain scenes felt really spontaneous.
Jason: Not really. Roman wrote a very succinct script. It was very well plotted out. The movies is like a glimpse inside one guy’s mind. And our mind’s thoughts can be very chaotic. I can walk down the street and think about baseball and then what’s-the-best-place-to-eat-corn. The movie captures that kind of thinking. It’s an acknowledgement of how great Roman is because you see the movie and it feels spontaneous and wild and insane and holy shit what’s going to happen next! And, actually, everything is so perfectly figured out. It’s amazing to be able to do that, to kind of pull the wool over one’s eyes like that.
Roman: I’m flattered. I wanted it to have that feeling.
Jason: But what’s also amazing is that Roman’s up for anything. Roman can make anything happen. So, if all of a sudden, someone is like, “I wanna have fire come out of my mouth for one line,” Roman could find a way to do it. Terrible answer. Or really bad question.