LOS ANGELES, June 22, (Agencies): The intersection of Sofia Coppola and Nicole Kidman didn’t start with “The Beguiled.”
They’d met at parties in passing and had even tried to work together once on a project that fell apart. Coppola loved Kidman’s wicked humor and Kidman loved Coppola’s cinematic style and vision. So Kidman didn’t hesitate to say yes when Coppola asked her to play the part of Miss Martha, the headmistress of a girls’ school in the Civil War-era South that’s thrown into disarray when they decide to take in a wounded Union soldier, in her retelling of “The Beguiled.”
In fact, the two share more than might meet the eye — both are married to touring musicians, both have daughters around the same age and both have been having an incredible year professionally. Coppola became the first woman in 56 years to win best director at the Cannes Film Festival, and Kidman is enjoying widespread praise of both her film and television work.
The two women gathered recently in Los Angeles to discuss their film, out Friday, the awkwardness of directing a sponge bath, and the reinvigorated support of women in Hollywood.
The remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Is it a good time for woman in Hollywood?
Coppola: I think right now I feel like there’s a lot of talk about it with “Wonder Woman” being a big success, that’s really exciting, and with our movie getting attention — it’s a female cast, a female story.
Kidman: And that it’s seen from the female perspective. I mean, this is very much from the vision of Sof, so that you see the film in terms how the women view it — the female gaze and not some … It is important. There’s a shift and there’s definitely some change happening. Is it enough? No. But you know we’re all doing what we can, and we’re fortunate to have the opportunities.
AP: Miss Martha’s sponge bath of Colin Farrell’s character could have easily taken a different tone with a different director.
Kidman: I love how demure it is. Well, it’s like it could have been much more. I just like how it’s very real.
Coppola: It could have gotten really over the top. But I love that we really focus in on you taking in his body. She hasn’t been around a man in so long. I think I was the most embarrassed shooting that scene. I’m sitting off camera and I was like, “Nicole, now can you wash his inner thigh?”
Kidman: And I’m staying completely in character. Colin is out, but not really.
Coppola: And I’m like turning red like asking her to wash his inner thigh and all my gay guy friends are like, “Couldn’t you have just moved that cloth over there? We wanted to see more!” It was funny, but you were all business.
AP: Sofia, why did you walk away from directing “The Little Mermaid”?
Coppola: I just didn’t feel like I could do it exactly as I wanted. It’s a big budget so it becomes a lot about business.
Kidman: I want to see you do that though.
Coppola: I wish I could have done that one. But I decided to do a project that was smaller, that I could really have creative control over every aspect … Does that make sense?
AP: Have you ever walked away from something, Nicole?
Kidman: Many times. But for an array of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of family … There are so many life issues that come into it when you’re working. We both have children and that’s a big commitment, isn’t it? … At one point, I think I was pregnant with Sunday, and I was like, “I’m going to give up acting, I’m done. It’s too much. And the baby and that’s it.” And my mom was like, “Don’t do that. Take some time off but don’t give it up.” She said, “Keep your toe in the water” because she said, “You’re going to want that as you get older.” And it’s also healthy, if you have a creative spirit and you’re artistic, there does have to be a place for that.
Coppola: That’s true, if not it doesn’t get expressed…
Kidman: It can manifest in different ways.
AP: There seems to be symmetry between this film and “Big Little Lies.”
Coppola: When I saw the ending of “Big Little Lies” I thought there was a similar solidarity … I think that is sweet how the women protect each other. And I think that is something about women. Don’t you find that with your friends?
Kidman: Definitely. They always say there’s a men’s club but there is definitely a woman’s club in terms of the secrets that are held and the way in which we interact. Particularly when you get older, I think your female friends become more and more — I mean, obviously we live longer!
AP: Do you feel like there’s a culture-wide re-evaluation and newfound appreciation of women like you who have been doing incredible work in Hollywood for years?
Kidman: I feel a warmth. I don’t know if that’s the time we’re in or a need for it, but there’s definitely, instead of tearing you down there’s more encouragement and support. I don’t know if that’s real or if I’m just sensing it, but it’s a lovely thing to be a recipient of and to be able to offer it as well.
Coppola: There’s more openness to our stories.
LOS ANGELES: Philippe Le Sourd didn’t have to lobby for “The Beguiled” to be shot on film. Producer Youree Henley and Sofia Coppola, writer and director of the Civil War-era thriller, set to be released June 23 by Focus Features, had chosen film over digital before the French cinematographer joined the project.
Le Sourd was pleased. “I think everything should be shot on film,” he says.
Not that there weren’t challenges. The DP, Oscar nominated for Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” which he also shot on film, acknowledges the difficulty in finding the right lab and the right process for celluloid. “But to bring alive on film was a good fight,” he says.
Le Sourd used an Arricam Lite camera outfitted with vintage Cooke S2 and Panavision Ultra Speed lenses to shoot the movie, which revolves around a group of young women and their headmistress at a Southern girls’ boarding school who secretly shelter a wounded Union soldier. He pull-processed the Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 stock, allowing for a tonality he says he would not have been able to capture with digital. “I was reaching for something almost like a gray light, trying to awaken the soul of the darkness that you would feel in the middle of the Civil War,” he says.
Shot on location in Louisiana, the opening sequence of the film depicts a young girl gathering mushrooms in a forest that feels foreboding even in daylight when she encounters an injured enemy soldier. “One of our references was Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon,’” Le Sourd says. “We tried to make this forest mysterious, almost like a cemetery. We go with her into the darkness of the Civil War.”
The bulk of “The Beguiled” was filmed in a plantation house that became the film’s Farnsworth Seminary. It wouldn’t have had electricity, so Le Sourd maximized the use of daylight and candles; he deployed studio lights sparingly. “I tried to use the most naturalistic approach, avoiding backlight,” he explains. “If you look at a Vermeer painting, you see that most of the light is candlelight or window light. That was my approach.”
LOS ANGELES: Nicole Kidman says she considered giving up acting when pregnant with her daughter Sunday Rose but her mother convinced her to keep going.
Kidman said recently that her mom simply told her to keep a toe in the game. Eight years later, Kidman is glad to have gotten the advice, and is enjoying a run of critically beloved works including the HBO miniseries “Big Little Lies” and Sofia Coppola’s reimagining of “The Beguiled,” which hits theaters on Friday.
In “The Beguiled” Kidman plays the headmistress of a girls’ school in the Civil War-era south that’s thrown into disarray when she takes in a wounded Union soldier played by Colin Farrell.