Israel Broussard hit the jackpot when Sofia Coppola cast him as one of the leads in her celebrity culture exposé, The Bling Ring. The 18-year-old actor, who grew up in rural Mississippi, hardly had a credit to his name when Coppola trusted her instincts and awarded him the role of Marc, an LA newbie who falls in with a vacuous group of girls who get their kicks by robbing the homes of the rich and famous. He’ll next be in MTV’s next Supervideo for the new M83 song “Claudia Lewis,” opposite Lily Collins and directed by Bryce Dallas Howard. We spoke to Broussard about the life changing experience, working with Coppola, and adjusting to his newfound fame.
You grew up in rural Mississippi. How rural are we talking?
Well, the specific town I was raised in was pretty rural. There was one busy road there, no stop signs, no streetlights— just a road that kept going out in the countryside.
What was it like going from there to L.A.?
It’s hard to explain. I didn’t really enjoy my time in Mississippi. I felt like I didn’t belong. So when I got to L.A. it was new and different, but it just felt right. It wasn’t really a culture shock, I just finally felt at home.
Why did you feel like you didn’t belong?
First of all, I lived there my entire life and don’t have an accent, that’s a dead giveaway. I didn’t fit in with any of the other kids. The most I would do was ride my bike around, climb trees, and go in the woods, I wasn’t really a part of the redneck lifestyle, if you will. There was no fishing or hunting for me, it was just pedaling my bike down the road and going swimming every once in a while.
Was that because of how you were raised?
I don’t know. I think I was insecure growing up and didn’t have much self-confidence. My sisters were alright. They had their friends, they were popular, and then there was me. Maybe it was just because my step-dad was very strict growing up. I lost my dad at a very young age. It could’ve been anything, but I just didn’t feel right.
How did you get into acting?
My sister wanted to be an actress and I sort of tagged along. We auditioned for a few plays, and I would get the part and she wouldn’t. Then we worked through this talent scout agency called ProScout, and I would get the callbacks and she didn’t. When I got to L.A., it just felt right, so I didn’t really want to go back. I think feeling appreciated, being hired for a role, even if it was a commercial—it helped my self-confidence.
What was your first meeting with Sofia Coppola like?
I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know who she was. I knew she was a big deal, but I hadn’t seen any of her work.
You didn’t make a point of watching her movies before meeting her?
I look at people as people and their credits come after. Even with Emma Watson, I still haven’t seen Harry Potter. I feel if I know more I’ll treat them different. There’s a lot of pros and cons to that. Sofia was quiet, and normally in casting sessions that isn’t a good thing, depending on who the casting director is and what kind of role you’re going out for. Finally she started talking and she immediately made me feel comfortable. She’s a soft speaker in the way she talks and she really makes you listen. I did my little audition, and we talked about what I liked to do, where I came from, and I got back on the metro and came home.
When you got the part, did it hit you how life-changing it would be?
No, not at all. My mom was very excited, but I’m a kind of a go-with-the-flow-guy. Of course I daydream and what not, but I think of the best and I think of the worst. My mom always told me not to count my chickens before they hatch, so that’s the way I looked at it.
Were there nervous on that first day?
By the time we started filming we were pretty comfortable with each other. The first day of rehearsal was a little forced, only because it was scheduled.
Did you doubt yourself as an actor?
Oh, plenty. There’s always self-doubt with me, but I think that’s what keeps me pushing harder. The minute I start thinking, I’ve got this, I start messing up, so I really have to keep it level. Doubt can be a good thing.
How did Sofia let you know that you were giving her what she wanted, and vice versa?
That was the weird thing—I never knew. Since she’s so quiet, she’s got the slightest bit of enthusiasm in her voice and it was hard to tell if she’s happy or what. It was kinda scary but I knew if there was anything I needed to change she would of told me, she gave me a lot of freedom.
How does it feel to finally be moving on from The Bling Ring?
It’s bitterweet. I’m glad it’s over, but at the same time I don’t want it to be. I’ve grown up so much since we started filming and I’ve worked with some pretty amazing women. I’m happy it happened.
What’s next for you? How are you going to parlay this success into a career?
I don’t want to join the rat race. I’m in this business for the art. If I wasn’t an actor I would want to be in music. I’m in it for the art and I don’t see the point of trying to film a movie if my heart’s not into it because you’re not going to get the best performance not only out of myself, but the people around you.