Sofia Coppola knows girlhood better than anyone. She didn't want to be an actress but quickly found her calling behind the camera, and Hollywood hasn't been the same since. Here's her inspiring story.
Sofia Carmina Coppola
Born in NYC, Sofia was the youngest child and only daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola and documentarian Eleanor Neil. From a very young age, Sophia was taught that "family is very important."
Sofia’s dad even filmed her birth in 1971 when it was unusual to do so, and when the doctor revealed she was a girl, “he almost dropped the camera because he was so surprised.” Every aspect of her life was documented, which she revealed to The Talk when she said, “Film is our family business.”
The Big-Hitting Coppolas
It wasn’t just her mum and dad that regularly made headlines; Sofia’s entire family is involved in the illustrious Hollywood game. Through her dad’s Coppola side, actors Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage are Sofia’s first cousins, and her aunt Talia Shire also has a commendable acting career.
Wasting no time to put her talents to use, Sofia’s first acting role came when she was only a few months old. At the end of The Godfather (1972), the baptism of Michael Corleone’s nephew is a pivotal moment in the film, and Sofia played a young Michael Rizzi. Talk about child stardom!
Never Too Early to Start
With a stacked list of recognizable names, it wasn’t too tricky for Sofia to get her start. But, it wasn’t her beginnings that defined her. When Sofia was just 3 years old, she was sick of her parents arguing and yelled, “Cut!” Her parents knew Sofia was destined to direct, but it would take some time for her to discover it.
Other than her infant appearance in the first Godfather installment, Sofia’s dad included her in as many films as possible. When she was only three, Sofia played an immigrant child on the same ship carrying Vito Corleone from Sicily to New York City. Funnily, growing up on film sets, she found the film industry “lame.”
Finding Her Feet
Even when she wasn’t acting in her dad’s films, she followed him worldwide to film them. While he was shooting Apocalypse Now in Vietnam, Sofia spent her days on set, shadowing costume and makeup departments and drawing her surroundings. She told the Gentlewoman, “We grew up in that world. We were drawn to it.”
When Sofia was 15, her parents arranged an internship with Chanel, as she was then more interested in fashion than filmmaking. While Sofia recalled it being “chic,” working purely in fashion didn’t entirely scratch an itch. She told the Financial Times she didn’t fully know it, but movie-making “combined all the things I like.”
When Sofia was eleven, she adopted the stage name 'Domino' "because [she] thought it was glamorous." Many of her earlier appearances in her dad's films have been forgotten due to her stage name. Sofia, or Domino, appeared in many Hollywood films, including The Outsiders and Peggy Sue Got Married.
While Sofia was always around as an extra face on set for her dad, she enjoyed making shorts with her brother, Roman, and cousin, Jason, far more. Sofia told IGN, "[making films] is just an extension of when we were kids -- Jason and Roman and I would make little movies together."
A Sudden Loss
At just 15, Sofia discovered her brother had died in a freak speed motor boating incident. Her older brother, Gian-Carlo, was 22, and his fiancee was two months pregnant with Sofia’s niece, later named Gia in her late father’s honor. Like her aunt Sofia, Gia would also become a filmmaker.
"Those weren’t carefree years for me," Sofia told the Hollywood Reporter. “I felt, when my brother died, my teenage years got interrupted. I was going through a trauma. Therapy helped - it was really important for me to be healed - but it becomes a part of who you are.” However, Sofia would soon turn her grief into creativity.
'90s 'It Girl'
Throughout the 90s, Sofia earned herself a reputation as a cool girl. She even admitted to Interview that traveling to film internationally with her father suited her because “[she] was a little too cool to be a teenager.” With an interest in fashion, films, music, and cars, Sofia became one of the ‘It Girls’ of the early '90s.
She told W, “I guess I know a lot of cool people. Some of that’s from my dad and stuff. Some I just met ’cause I have a lot of interests.” Sofia’s fashion was recognized as quintessential '90s chic, and being good friends with Karl Lagerfeld, Calvin Klein, and Marc Jacobs didn’t hurt either.
Even with a famous father and access to plenty of cash, Sofia had decided she was “not going to be cool for a living.” Stemming from her contacts in the industry, ‘cool girl’ Sofia kind of fell into modeling. Sofia told ES Magazine, “I try everything once. I think the more things you try, it gives you a little more awareness.”
Around that time, Sofia launched her own fashion line of twenty pieces named Milk Fed. She told W in 1994, “I always wanted to be a designer, but I didn’t think I knew enough.” Although the brand was only sold in Japan, she still “wanted the clothes to be able to be worn on every kind of figure.”
The Godfather Part III
In 1990, 16 years after Part II was released, Sofia’s dad decided to complete the Godfather trilogy with the third and final film. Winona Ryder was cast as Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary. However, Winona dropped out of the project from nervous exhaustion, depriving the movie of an essential character.
In desperate need of a replacement, Francis asked Sofia to play Mary. Sofia told The Talk, “It was hard because I was 18, and the last thing you want to do at that age is listen to what your parents say. My dad was directing me, so it was awkward because I am not naturally an actress, but I just wanted to try everything.”
Beaten Down but Unbruised
The critics panned Sofia's performance in The Godfather Part III, and the Coppolas were accused of nepotism and sabotaging Sofia's future prospects. Even the film's poor box office performance was blamed on her, and many critics used Sofia's performance to bash her father.
Francis later said, "She is not an experienced actress; that is not her career goal." Sofia told Entertainment Weekly, "I never wanted to be an actor. It's not my personality." She received the Worst Supporting Actress at the Golden Raspberry Awards, also known as the Razzies. Sofia, however, decided to move on with her life.
Retirement from Acting
Sofia spoke to ES Magazine about her sense of displacement after Part III. "Something I remember from my early twenties was that kind of existential meltdown when you can't figure out what to do. It was overwhelming, all the different options and what other people want you to be and what your family wants you to be."
Stuck between creativity and a fear of pushing herself or being criticized for her family name and connections to the industry, Sofia spent her early 20s unsure what her path would be. After the Godfather, she told the New York Times, "I wanted to do something creative, but I didn't know what it would be."
Change of Direction
While taking a break from acting, Sofia explored being behind the camera. Sofia wrote a piece for the Guardian where she said, “I never thought I would be a filmmaker. It wasn’t something I ever planned.” After a few years of acting, modeling, and fashion design, Sofia had finally found something that fit.
At last, Sofia had caught the directing bug. She told Interview, “I never studied directing, and I never really thought about doing it, and then I just found myself in that situation and tried it.” Sofia added, “It’s hard to be around my dad and not be curious about filmmaking because he thinks it’s the ultimate medium.”
Lick the Star
Sofia found her love for directing when she wrote, directed, and produced the short film Lick the Star. She told the Talk, “Once I made my first short film, I just knew.” The 14-minute black and white short, filmed on 16mm, followed four girls who devised a plan to poison the boys at their school.
For her later work, Lick the Star laid the groundwork for the themes of girlhood, maturing, and embracing femininity. It also marked an important beginning in separating association from her father. Sofia began to build a resume, a network of creative contacts who trusted her, and a proper chance to break the nepotism curse.
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia was given a novel called The Virgin Diaries by a friend, and after devouring the book and relating to it, she wrote a script and desperately tried to acquire the rights. Sofia told Nowness, "I really didn't know I wanted to be a director until I read The Virgin Suicides and saw so clearly how it had to be done."
Sofia gathered all the film contacts she could muster, and it marked her first collab with Kirsten Dunst. Given the film is about grief and loss, Sofia told ES, "The death of my brother obviously had a huge impact on my life." She told NYT, "I think some of that sadness [from Giancarlo's death] went into The Virgin Suicides."
‘Do It Herself’ Director
Sofia had finally proven she wasn't simply a nepo baby; she had natural talent. Her article for the Guardian wrote, "Although [her dad] wasn't there on set very much, he really mentored me." Sofia later told Vogue, "I learned through osmosis…and didn't realize I knew how to do it from all those years with my dad."
She was now confronted with the challenge of separating her art from her father's. Sofia told The Talk, "I am proud of my dad and where I come from, but I have my own way of working my style." She told the Sunday Morning Herald, "I just feel like I have a feminine point of view, and I'm happy to put that out there."
Sofia & Spike
When Sofia was 21, she met director Spike Jonze on a music video shoot, famous for his work on Being John Malkovich, Her, and Jackass. Back then, neither Sofia nor Spike was recognized as directors for being fashionable and involved in music video production. The duo were friends for years before realizing their affections.
Spike and Sofia married in 1999. Despite both being creative, she told Indiewire, “I don’t think we really like to get advice from one another.” After years of “being apart” due to their schedules, the couple called it quits in 2003. Sofia has since described it to Vanity Fair as “sort of [her] young relationship.”
Lost in Translation
After the success of The Virgin Suicides at Cannes, it wasn’t long before Sofia returned to the books. After returning home from the press tour, Sofia began writing a new story. She told Focus, “I spent a lot of time in Tokyo in my twenties, and I really wanted to make a film around my experience of just being there.”
Bill Murray starred alongside a 17-year-old Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. Sofia wasn’t even sure if Bill would show up to the shoot. She told the Rolling Stones, “He wouldn’t even tell us his flight number - he booked his own travel.” Luckily for Sofia, he did. And now, audiences are blessed with the classic film.
Lost in Translation remains Sofia’s most commercially successful film, profiting $118 million on a $4 million budget. Critics and fans have assumed Sofia’s relationship with Spike influenced the film’s conception. She told the Guardian 2009, “There are elements of Spike there, elements of experiences.”
Not only was the film a commercial success, Lost in Translation received critical acclaim. Sofia became the first American woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, won the award for Best Original Screenplay, and she was the second woman ever to receive three different Oscar nominations in one year.
After Sofia and Spike ended their four-year marriage in 2003, the Virgin Suicides director quickly began a relationship with writer-director Quentin Tarantino. As the filmmaker behind Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill, the duo were seemingly a match made in heaven.
Despite the couple's eventual breakup two years later, Sofia and Quentin remained good friends. At the Venice Film Festival 2010, Sofia's film Somewhere received the Golden Lion, the festival's most prestigious award. The selection drew criticism as Quentin was the jury's president, but he has insisted his choice was honest.
Ready for her next directorial challenge, in 2005, Sofia began working on a film that chronicled the life of Marie Antoinette. The film was shot in the Palace of Versailles and given unusual access to its highly protected interiors. With access to a larger budget, Sofia invested enormous energy into production design.
In a modernized retelling, the American actors used their natural accents, grunge punk music filled the soundtrack, and a pair of pink Converse can even be seen in the film. Rather than focusing on telling history accurately, Sofia said, "It is not a lesson of history. It is an interpretation documented.”
Teenage Rebellion: Girl Edition!
Sofia was defined by her focus on women’s perspectives, coming-of-age in loneliness, and the search for maturity and independence by this point in her career. Sofia’s films have been targeted at younger audiences; she told Rookie, “I feel like kids are more sophisticated and thoughtful than the studios give them credit for.”
Sofia told Gentlewoman, “I was motivated by the fact that movies made for teenagers didn’t respect the audience.” Films like Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides chronicled young women grappling with being women in male-dominated worlds. Sofia has not shied away from being personal with her own filmmaking.
Since her relationship with Spike, Sofia has been incredibly private about her romantic life. While working on the soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides, Sofia met Thomas Mars, the frontman of the French band Phoenix, in 1999. Thomas and Sofia tied the knot in 2011 at a palazzo in Southern Italy.
Very little about their relationship is known, but we can guess they got together in 2005. Sofia and Thomas split their time between NYC and Paris, the couple’s respective cities of upbringing. In 2006, the couple’s first daughter, Romy, was born, and a second daughter, Cosima, was born in 2010 - but more on them later.
Sofia’s next film, Somewhere, had some thinking the story of a washed-up Hollywood creative with a daughter was biographical. Sofia told Reuters, “It’s not autobiographical, but personal. My childhood was very different than in the movie. But the world is familiar to me, so I tried to put personal things and memories into it.”
While the film received relatively positive reviews, it shocked audiences when it won the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award. The film drew on similar themes and ideas Sofia addressed in Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, but with a male protagonist.
The Bling Ring
Sofia decided to turn to her teen rebellion roots with a true tale of five LA-based teenagers who robbed celebrities' homes and luxury fashion. One of the victims of the fame-obsessed bulgars, Paris Hilton, even allowed her to shoot in her home and the actual crime scene where the teens came 5-6 times.
Like Somewhere, the film received mixed reviews, but that didn't bother Sofia. She told the Telegraph, "I would rather do something that some people really connect to and some people reject. I never want to make something just mediocre." The director found it "fun to indulge" that completely differed from her usual vibe.
Right off the back of The Bling Ring, Sofia was ready to “cleanse” herself after being involved in “such a tacky, ugly world.” She turned her sights to a reinterpretation of the 1971 film The Beguiled, which follows a girl school in the South during the Civil War when a handsome and injured Union soldier arrives at their door.
Sofia received the Best Director award for the film and was only the second woman to ever do so at the Cannes Film Festival. While festivals loved the movie, general audiences were disappointed by the changes from the original source, namely the absence of diverse characters and only caucasian women instead.
During pre-production of The Beguiled, Sofia was approached by an Italian friend to direct a production of the three-act opera La Traviata at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma that would also be broadcasted to global audiences. She told Dazed that while her ambitions lie in filmmaking, she "could not turn down the project."
Sofia agreed to direct the opera production as Valentino Garavani of famed fashion brand Valentino designed costumes for the performance. Even though Sofia found the task "scary and unfamiliar," all 15 shows sold out before the first curtain lifted, and it was the theatre's most significant success since opening in 1980.
Teenage Daughter Antics
Despite being "not allowed to have any public social media accounts," Sofia's oldest daughter, Romy, cheekily uploaded a video to TikTok, attempting to prepare vodka rigatoni pasta after being grounded. Naturally, the video went viral, and social media couldn't get enough of the self-professed and avoidant "nepotism kid."
Sofia told the Hollywood Reporter, "We were raised to be so private, and social media is so the opposite of how I grew up." For 16-year-old Romy, Sofia said, "It was the best way for her to be rebellious." She added, "I got lots of compliments on her filmmaking. And comedy. She's funny." Like mother, like daughter.
Right off the back of Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis, Sofia completed her own interpretation of events with Priscilla. The story follows Priscilla Presley from age 14 when she met the then 24-year-old Elvis. Sofia chose the story because she adores films about “finding one’s identity and teenage girls growing into adulthood.”
Sofia was drawn to Priscilla’s biography by more than its themes. She told the Hollywood Reporter, “I was struck by how much I connected with it emotionally…I was surprised how relatable her story was.” Priscilla’s life felt similar to Sofia’s upbringing, adding, “I know what it’s like to be inside a show business family.”
Bringing Priscilla to Life
Elvis Presley Enterprises, the company that owns 85% of anything to do with Elvis, has expressed disapproval of the mixed portrayal of the singer. As such, Sofia was not given the rights to any of his music for the film. Instead, Thomas, Sofia's husband, and his band Phoenix created pieces for the film.
While Baz's 2022 film received acclaim and commercial success, Sofia is unfazed. She told Vogue, "Priscilla is such a minor character in that film, so I never felt like I was treading on the same territory…I think it'll be interesting to have two completely different interpretations of the same events and time period."
In the years to come, Sofia will be defined by her focus on the female perspective and becoming a woman amidst discomfort before it became 'cool' to do so. Sofia told SBS, "I feel like I am really into my feminine side and being girly, probably because I grew up around a lot of men. I know that's a side that I like to explore."
Perhaps Sofia brought the 'cool' to female and teen films. However, it was Sofia's strength to continue on despite rejection. Her actress aunt, Talia Shire, told Vogue, "Sofia has what I call 'Coppola courage,' and no one will ever know what that is unless you are in a family with our chromosomes, our karma, and our intensity.”