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Sofia Coppola doesn't shy away from success

Her father Francis Ford Coppola always encouraged her to be creative
/ Source: The Associated Press

Creativity was practically a household chore when Sofia Coppola was growing up.

“All the kids were encouraged by my wife and myself to have artistic interests. We had summer creativity camp in which they would all do one-act plays or do various projects and endeavors,” her father, Francis Ford Coppola, the Oscar-winning director of “The Godfather” films, said.

Sofia once worried that she dabbled too much. She liked photography, designing clothes, painting, writing. She even overcame her intense camera shyness to try acting in “The Godfather: Part III” — not that her uneasiness wasn’t obvious.

But a few years ago all her passions coalesced and she joined the family business as a filmmaker.

She now has a handful of Oscar nominations for “Lost in Translation,” her sophomore feature-film effort, with bids for best director (making her the first American woman nominated in the category, and only the third ever) best picture and best original screenplay. Star Bill Murray is a contender for lead actor.

Surprised by her own successThe 32-year-old with the crooked smile and withdrawn mannerisms has a vastly different behind-the-camera style than her father, more intimate and comedic and less epic and moody, but still credits him with inspiring her.

“Being around him, seeing him working — it looked like fun, it looked exciting,” Coppola, who traveled the world with her family to exotic locations for “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather” films, said a few weeks before the Oscars. “I can’t imagine anything more interesting than making a movie. ... But it’s pretty overwhelming because I wasn’t expecting any of this.”

With “this,” she gestures to a crowd of friends, supporters and admirers at a party in the ritzy Los Angeles sushi restaurant Koi to celebrate the DVD release of “Lost in Translation.”

Coppola squirms a lot, and seems uncomfortable with attention. “I’m trying to enjoy this whole part of it and then take this part of it in,” she says during this awkward phase of the night. “Then I want to get back to writing.”

But later, when the strangers dissipate and she’s left with mostly family and friends, her shyness fades and she steps onto a small stage to sing a karaoke version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give it Away.”

Art imitating lifeIn person, Sofia Coppola is as polite, pensive and unpolished as the lonely American played by Scarlett Johansson in “Lost in Translation,” who strikes up a reluctantly platonic romance with an older fellow stranger — the aging, dejected actor played by Murray.

There are other similarities to her real life: many say the flashy photographer who is married to Johansson’s unhappy character bears a resemblance to Coppola’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Spike Jonze — the director of “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich.” They were married for four years, but filed for divorce about three months ago.

While Coppola acknowledged that real people and events are the genesis for some of her story ideas, she said most of what’s onscreen is from her imagination.

She first tested her directorial instincts with the 1998 short film “Lick the Star,” about an unhappy 7th-grade girl, and soon after adapted a screenplay out of Jeffrey Eugenides’ book “The Virgin Suicides.”

With help from her father as producer, she turned that story of five doomed sisters into her directorial feature debut in 1999. Critics loved it — a sharp turnaround from 14 years ago, when the teenager filled in for last-minute dropout Winona Ryder as Al Pacino’s daughter in “The Godfather: Part III.”

She was scourged by reviewers for her stiff performance, but now describes it as a painful but half-remembered experience.

Although she never took another major role, Sofia did a brief turn as a mistress in 2001’s “CQ,” a sci-fi movie send-up written and directed by her brother, Roman. (Another brother, Gian-Carlo, died in a boating accident in 1986.)

A role meant for Murray“Lost in Translation” evolved from her time living in Tokyo while launching the hipster fashion line MilkFed in the 1990s.

“I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years, how to articulate it, and then after I wrote the script we made it in a year,” she said. “I wrote it with Bill Murray in mind, and I wasn’t going to make the movie without him. But it was just hard to track him down because he’s very elusive.”

Murray doesn’t return most phone calls, has shirked most of his agents and managers, and is notoriously difficult to pin down to a project. But Coppola managed to convince him.

Murray — who subscribes to the philosophy if you don’t have anything nice to say, speak your mind anyway — has delivered uncharacteristic flattery toward Coppola throughout awards season, describing her as gutsy and innovative.

“She went to another country, with only a handful of people who spoke her language and produced what I think is a unique film that will last a long, long time,” Murray said from a Rome movie shoot via a video presentation at the Directors Guild Awards.

As she embarks on her next film, her dad hopes to be along for the ride, whether as a producer again or just a proud papa.

“I’m sure she’ll be interested in my two cents,” he said. “But she always takes whatever I may offer and makes it her own.”