TODAY’S VERSAILLES?: Coppola wanted her film to be as “present” as possible.
Kirsten Dunst: “The movie wasn’t about the sets or the costumes, it was about people and the history of emotions, rather than facts, to me.”
Jason Schwartzman: “I never thought of the movie as a ‘modern’ take so much as a ‘timeless’ one.”
Producer Ross Katz: “Marie Antoinette is not a bio-pic.”
Director Sofia Coppola: “It’s not a documentary, or a history lesson.”
So, just what is Marie Antoinette? That’s the question I hope to get answered during the film’s press junket at the luxurious Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Although it doesn’t come close to the majestic sights or history in and around Versailles.
Dunst agrees. “Versailles? It was unbelievable! That place was a living, breathing character for all of us who were making Marie. It was so important be able to walk in those gardens and look out the windows and imagine, ‘Maybe they looked out of this window, or felt this fabric.’ ”
Filming at Versailles wasn’t without its difficulties, however.
“We could only shoot the interiors on Mondays,” says Katz. “And we only had 11 or 12 Mondays. The first day was terrifying. But it made a big difference. Versailles is so overwhelming; it would be impossible to fake that [on a stage].”
Milos Forman’s Amadeus was another influence. In that film, Coppola explains, “when they were speaking with their regular accents, they felt like real people to me, as opposed to someone living in some other era that I couldn’t relate to. I was trying to take away as many period-film genre clichés and simplify it into a way that could be relatable on a human level.”
“I think Sofia really wanted the audience to be there in the atmosphere with us, like it was as ‘present’ as possible,” Dunst adds. “Nothing felt ‘normal,’ like when you think of a period film or Masterpiece Theatre.”
She continues, “The script was sparse, so it was really left up to me to fill it in a lot myself. I feel like Marie Antoinette was such a childlike queen, almost a little ADD in a way. Like, one thing pleases you, on to the next. She doesn’t really feel like a woman, she’s not getting any attention from her husband, so for me, it became about the pastry, and the taste of that, and ‘Why doesn’t he look at me the way he covets his food.’ It all became about a feast for the senses, because there wasn’t a lot of dialogue.”
“I like to express as much as I can in the visuals. I’m not really dialogue-driven,” Coppola confirms. “I actually thought about making this a silent film at one point.”
“Sofia’s scripts are very economically written,” Schwartzman offers, “in that the characters say what they need to say and not much more. So to play a very quiet person in a Sofia Coppola movie means you’re really not going to be saying a lot. I think that I only had like 13 lines in the movie, and it’s funny — I got so used to not speaking that on the way home, I would look at what I was shooting tomorrow. I would see that I had one line and I would totally panic.”
Still, it would seem that Schwartzman snuck in at least one line of improvised dialogue, the snarky “Everything will go swimmingly.”
He corrects me. “That wasn’t an improv, unlike . . . ”
Everything else that was completely fabricated?
“Well, we weren’t making a documentary.”
So I hear.