My Name is Gia Coppola Part 2
What does purebred Hollywood look like? Here it is: two cats, many pizzas & a passion for driving, fashion, film and fun...
“There’s something about people looking at me that I’m not comfortable with yet,” Gia Coppola says dreamily. The 31-year-old filmmaker and photographer has just confessed that she doesn’t particularly like having her picture taken. You’d never know it from the photos: Coppola looks cool, confident, effortlessly chic. Her sultry, aloof smile suggests she could work the cameras in her sleep. Not so. Being performative “feels unnatural,” she says. We’re at Marvin, a French bistro and wine bar in Los Angeles, but Coppola orders chamomile tea. She’s dressed in all-black-sneakers, loose slacks, oversized Ska T-shirt and looks more like a teenage boy than the sylphic creature I’d seen on Google image. Several strands of her shoulder-length hair are pulled back with a small clip. Her bangs are parted in the middle and just long enough to tuck behind her ears. She wears a lot of delicate gold rings and a Victorian-style band that she bought at an antique store in Joshua Tree. Her mother’s friend once described her to Harper’s Bazaar as a “modern-day, punk-rock Audrey Hepburn.” Coppola has an “appreciation” for fashion “because it’s definitely an art form and it can say so much about personality or feeling,” she tells me. But she doesn’t really like “dressing up.” Generally, “day-to-day,” she wants to be in sneakers; she doesn’t wear make-up; and she doesn’t do her hair because “I don’t know how.”
The theme of this shoot is something like A Day-In-The-Life of Gia Coppola, she explains. How does that go? Well, her refrigerator was leaking everywhere the morning the crew arrived, so they couldn’t leave her house until a plumber came and ripped it out of her kitchen. “It was hissing in the middle of the night and then exploding everywhere when I woke up.” She laughs: an airy, nervous titter that endears me to her immediately. From there they all went to her mother Jacqui Getty’s house, where Coppola grew up. They had lunch at In-N-Out Burger; drove up to the Hollywood sign; went bowling on Hollywood Boulevard; and played video games at an arcade. Coppola punctuates this list of activities with self-deprecating anecdotes. For example, she was so hungry by the time they had lunch that she had two burgers, then fell into a food-coma while they were up by the Hollywood sign—which, by the way, she didn’t know how to get to. “I’m not sure how well those photos will turn out…” Another burst of nervous laughter. Coppola tells me she “doesn’t mean to be” self-deprecating. Indeed, it becomes clear over the course of our conversation that this is something she’s working on: not putting herself down. She begins more than one sentence with the disclaimer, “not to be self-deprecating, but…”
You’d think Coppola would be used to the limelight by now, her last name being what it is. Her grandfather is the auteur Francis Ford Coppola, which makes filmmakers Sofia and Roman Coppola her aunt and uncle. Actors Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage are her cousins. “My family is in the film industry,” she says casually, as if seven Coppola family members hadn’t won a collective eight Oscars. “But growing up in L.A. was never about that for me.” She’s referring to the public scrutiny she got her first taste of five years ago, when she became the youngest descendant of the Coppola dynasty to get into the family biz. But she insists she had a relatively normal childhood; that growing up as a Coppola meant “cooking and talking about art and being who you wanted to be, not focusing on external pressure.”
Coppola is named after her father, Francis Ford’s eldest son Gian-Carlo, who was 22 when he died in a speedboat accident. His girlfriend at the time, Jacqui de La Fontaine, was only a few months pregnant with Coppola, whose full name is Gian-Carla Coppola. She inherited her dad’s cleft nose and her mom’s warm smile. “We’re kind of like sisters,” she says of her mother. Her filmmaker grandparents were also “very involved in my childhood, so they feel like my parents in a lot of ways.” Indeed, Francis Ford Coppola accompanied his granddaughter to the 2013 Telluride Film Festival for the debut of her first feature, Palo Alto, a compelling portrait of adolescent angst and aimlessness that Coppola adapted from a short story by James Franco. Coppola had spent five years making the movie. “I thought I was just going to make something and put it online,” she says. That naïveté turned out to be a gift: When Coppola was writing and directing Palo Alto, she “never had any insecurities about it being ill-conceived or not good enough.” That changed once she started promoting the film, and even more so when the festival circuit was over. “After I was suddenly thrown into being seen with Palo Alto, I was scared,” she tells me. “I didn’t know how to be creative because I was putting so much pressure on myself, so I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next.”
Coppola was painfully shy as a kid and struggled in school from a young age. She went to a private high school in Los Angeles, but was miserable because she felt so academically disadvantaged. (“I’m definitely dyslexic and have learning disabilities.”) It was around this time that she developed an interest in photography, which stemmed in part from a desire to know more about her father. “I had his old camera and that was my connection to him,” she says. She was an introvert, so expressing herself visually came more easily to her than articulating her thoughts in speech and writing. Going to college was of little interest until she learned that the photographer Stephen Shore was a professor at Bard College in New York City. Studying with him was “life-changing; it made me really enjoy learning for the first time.” Coppola moved back to Los Angeles in 2008, after graduating from Bard. She made her first foray into filmmaking with a short, promotional video for the fashion designer Built by Wendy and went on to make other narrative-style shorts for fashion brands like Opening Ceremony, Diane von Furstenberg, and Rodarte. “I found it really exciting because it felt like an extension of photography, only more collaborative,” she says.
Then came the chance encounter with James Franco, at a party in Los Angeles in 2008. He was looking to turn his short story collection into a movie and asked Coppola to direct it after seeing some of her photographs. Palo Alto received mostly positive reviews, with many critics drawing comparisons to her aunt Sofia’s movies. “I wouldn’t say we have the same style of filmmaking,” Coppola objects. “I’m definitely inspired by everything that she does, but we have very different personalities and styles.” “I grew up watching her make movies in a way that felt very tangible to me,” she concedes. “Seeing her direct in comparison to how my grandpa directs… He’s louder. She’s more soft-spoken and directs in a way that’s unique and feels right to her.”
I ask her one of many requisite questions journalists ask of female directors and actresses today: Has the #MeToo movement made her look at the industry differently, post-Weinstein? “I think the movement is great and I’m excited that everyone is being heard, but it does make everything a little scary in that you want to make sure you’re saying the right things and handling things appropriately.” Of course she thinks we need more stories told by women, she adds. But she doesn’t like how women directors are categorically segregated from men, and she thinks the political climate right now isn’t necessarily helping to bridge that divide. “I don’t think you need to have a female protagonist just because you’re a woman director. I want to direct horror films. I want to get into the male psyche. Because film is an opportunity to do research about something you don’t understand.”
She wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to write another feature. Palo Alto was “someone else’s writing. I was adapting it, but that’s just mixing and adding things, like a collage.” She started writing this new script shortly after finishing Palo Alto, and it’s been a bitch. In the beginning, whenever she worked on it, “I’d hate it and hate myself and never want to look at it again.” I tell her that I do know, and that one of the hardest things about being in any creative field, really, is that being skilled and talented isn’t enough to make it big. You can’t just be good at it; you have to be able to juggle and do backflips, too. You have to sell yourself and your work aggressively, across multiple mediums. You have to be comfortable waving your arms in the middle of a crowd and making a scene to get people’s attention. “Yeah, that’s made me feel really disheartened about our culture,” she murmurs. “If you’re not the loudest person in the room, who are you? I’m not a loud person. I want to be creative.”
A few weeks after we met, I ask Coppola’s assistant if we can speak on the phone briefly, because I want her to clarify something she said back in Los Angeles about why she’s still not comfortable “being seen.” Part of it is just being a shy person, she’d said when we met at Marvin, and maybe the fact that she grew up spending so much time around adults had something to do with it. She’d gotten used to not being the center of attention, because she was the youngest in the family for so long. And now… “As I’ve gotten older and had to put myself out there more, I don’t have a choice but to be less shy. It’s part of my job now. And I think having to come forward and understand who I am and how to define that is scary and confusing, but also really cathartic. I guess I was just trying to understand what that was for me—what I wanted out of life.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: Jonas Unger
TALENT: Gia Coppola
STYLING: Markus Ebner
Photographed in spring 2018 around Hollywood, Los Angeles.
This editorial appeared first in Mytheresa’s The Album Nr. 1 2018.