In 2008, a group of LA teenagers nicknamed ‘The Bling Ring’ burgled the homes of celebrities. The group stole over $3 million worth of designer goods before bragging about their crime on Facebook. After almost a year they were caught, charged, and true to Hollywood, a reality TV show soon followed along with a Vanity Fair article. Then there came a movie about the robberies – this movie is The Bling Ring directed by Sofia Coppola.
“I remember hearing about the robberies on the news,” says Coppola, “but I didn’t pay much attention to it. When I read the Vanity Fair article, the kids’ quotes, their perspective… I thought it would be a really interesting story. And then I met the journalist, read her transcripts and thought more about how it could be made into a movie. It had so many elements that were perfect – this heist element, the kids, the bad behavior…and all that around something so timely about our culture. It was just a very contemporary story – how difficult it must be to be a teenager now, how hard to figure out your identity and to have this pop-culture overload, and how that must affect you. It couldn’t have taken place ten years ago.”
Once scripted, the toughest task for Coppola was casting the impressionable teens. Among the fresh faces she found is one that is actually very familiar, a celebrity in her own right – English actress Emma Watson. “I actually hadn’t thought about her for that part because she is so different than that character,” says Coppola. “That character could have so easily become a cartoon or a spoof. It was important to me that she felt real and Emma had a smart approach to her. When she did an audition for the first time I could see her transform into that character and I was really surprised. I thought she did a really good job of being that California girl, and the accent was really well done. Especially because it’s really specific to that region.”
Watson is a huge fan of Coppola’s work and admits that she would have played any role the director had assigned to her. She found it tough to like her character, Nicki, based on ‘Bling Ring’ member Alexis Neiers. “I found her quite difficult to begin with,” says Emma. “It was difficult to empathise with her, it was difficult to put myself in her shoes, but that was the challenge of the part and that’s what made it so fun – figuring out how to understand her and how to make her feel real.”
Emma’s preparation involved intense accent training and hours of watching the reality TV show Pretty Wild, which featured Alexis. But she says she purposely stayed away from meeting any of the real ‘Bling Ring’ members.“I based my work on Sofia’s script. I wasn’t trying to do an impersonation of anyone. Sofia met them, but I just didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t want to judge anyone. And by the time it got to Sofia’s script, she was on the reality TV show, so she was already doing a hyped-up version of herself. When it got to me, it was four times removed from who she is in real life anyway. Nicki is like a cocktail of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton.”
Watson’s performance impressed critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where fittingly, The Bling Ring held a splashy premiere with the cast dressed head to toe in enviable designer clothing. Emma smiles at the irony of it all, but says, unlike the real teenagers, she baulks at the idea of being famous. “It’s always really freaked me out, the celebrity aspect of what I do, and as a result I am really careful about my privacy. It does makes it difficult to be spontaneous, because I’m constantly thinking through every step. ‘Am I ok in this environment, can I say this without it being interpreted as this?’ It requires some thinking to navigate it. But that’s ok because I’ve found a way to manage it. I try to focus on my work. I never go to any public event unless it’s solely related to my work and I try to live in places that are quiet. Pretty much I just don’t go anywhere trendy. Ever!” she laughs.
BY ALICIA MALONE
Alicia Malone is BRAG’s LA Correspondent. Read more of Alicia’s film stories and red carpet interview at malonesmovieminute.com
The Bling Ring opens in cinemas on Thursday August 8.