On the Rocks: Sofia Coppola’s Father-Daughter Dramedy, Starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones

Rashida Jones stars as a New York author going through writer’s block and marital concerns, with Bill Murray as her debonair playboy (singing) father.

Sofia Coppola, member of Hollywood royalty, began acting as a baby in a film directed her own father, Francis Ford Coppola. She made her debut in the Oscar-winning crime epic, The Godfather, which, of course, she doesn’t remember.  She does recall, however, a more notorious and traumatic appearance in The Godfather: Part III, when her father cast her as the daughter of the aging Michael Corleone (Al Pacino).  It was not her choice: the original actress, Winona Ryder, had a nervous breakdown and there was need for quick replacement.  As is well-known, Sofia’s performance was severely criticized, and her father was charged with nepotism.
In many ways, that “terrible experience” turned her attention to action behind the cameras. Coppola made her directorial debut with the coming-of-age drama, The Virgin Suicides, which premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.  In 2004, she received the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the moody comedy-drama Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. She went on to become the third woman director in Oscar’s history to be nominated in that category, following Italian Lina Wertmuller in 1977 (Seven Beauties) and Jane Campion (The Piano) in 1994.
In 2006, her brief foray into big-budget studio movie, the historical drama Marie Antoinette, starring Kirstin Dunst in the title role, pushed her back to Independent Cinema. In 2010, with the drama Somewhere, Coppola became the first American woman (and fourth American filmmaker) to win the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Coppola became the second woman in the festival’s history to win the Best Director award, for the western, The Beguiled. And now comes her seventh feature, On the Rocks, reteaming her with a favorite actor, Bill Murray.
On The Rocks
Courtesy of Apple

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones in ‘On the Rocks’

Origins of On the Rocks

“My initial idea was to have a story about a family and young children, and how your relationship is affected by your parents and how relationships with men are colored by your relationship with your father.  I was curious to look at all those dynamics. And also that crisis feeling of having small children and having to reinvent, how you’re going to be a mother and an artist.”
As an intimate tale of the complex bond between a father (Bill Murray) and his daughter (Rashida Jones, an actress whose father was black and her mother is Jewish), the movie is obviously personal, But is it autobiographical? “Yes and no,” Coppola says, “there are definitely parts that came from my dad, the unique closeness of father-daughter bond, how later on, you don’t have that kind of relationship with any other man in your life, not even your husband.”
She elaborates: “I was always talking to my father when I met a guy that I liked, wanting to understand a male perspective. But I remember when I was a kid, he was friends with a helicopter pilot and we were in L.A. and he tried to land the helicopter in the parking lot at Disneyland and the Disneyland security came. It’s one of those over-the-top memories. But my father is not like those men talking their way out of things. That is a little bit Bill and other guys of that generation. The debonair playboy art-dealer is based on friends of my dad. It’s a fictional character made up of different people.”
She says she never did stake out with her father: “It’s not me! A friend of mine had experience spying on her husband and they were hiding in bushes. My friend’s father was a playboy and he was spying on her husband, because he believed that all men are like him. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I would love to make a movie about that.'”

Reunion with Bill Murray

The film’s most interesting element–its biggest selling point–is the reunion with genius comedian Murray: “This time around it was easier to track Bill down than the first time I worked with him because he got to know me.  I did ask him to have table readings and he was open to it, showing trust in me. It was a fun character to play so I’m very glad that he joined us.”
“It was great to work with Bill again, especially now that he’s someone I know, compared to the first time I worked with him, Bill always brings so much energy, pure magic, to the set that it becomes contagious.”
As for casting the multi-racial Jones, she says “Rashida has done a lot of broad comedy and I thought she also had a deep sensitive side that would be interesting. It did help that she has a big figure of a father, sot I knew she could relate to that relationship (laughs). We did a Christmas show with Bill a few years ago, and when I saw him and Rashida do a scene together, I just felt they had such nice chemistry and rapport.”
The movie’s bi-racial couple is meant to reflect “the New York City we all love.  I wanted to work with Rashida, I just thought about the family around her and who her mother would be, so I cast Alva Chinn, an Asian and black who was a model in the 1970s. I could imagine she would be with a man like Bill.  We auditioned different actors for the husband’s role, and I really loved Marlon Wayans, who has so much personality. I thought that the character was a bit blank, but Marlon brought so much charm and life to it, and together they made this very American couple quite attractive.”
“It’s always fun to have Bill on the set, because you never know what will happen, he’s so unpredictable.  This was especially so on the streets of New York, with people yelling out, ‘Hey Bill.’ Everyone knows him.  In that scene, he really was driving a car and he said to me, ‘hop in, and we just drove around Soho outside the area where we had the permits for. It was such a ‘fun Bill thing’ to do.  He’s so cool, he always looks for surprise in those specific moments.”

Daughter of Very Famous Father

Sofia feels her personality was molded by both parents: “I can see in myself aspects I’ve gotten from my mother (Eleanor Coppola, also a filmmaker), and aspects from my father. My mother is very much the observer and into details, and I got that from her. And from my father, who’s very stubborn, I’ve gotten my own stubbornness, which comes in handy when you make a movie.  Just seeing my father make movies, and never take no for an answer. It was inspiring to me seeing that example of working under all kinds of crises.”
“I did not really consult with my father.  It was more like talking to him about what he thought about relationships, and the differences between men and women. I wanted his point of view and that of other men of his generation. I wanted to explore the big divide between gender in that generations. I don’t know if it’s male and female thing, but parents of my generation are so worried to not do anything wrong or traumatize their kids. My parents’ generation was a lot more relaxed about things.”(Laughs)
Catching her father watching the TV series “Breaking Bad” with her two daughters (Romy and Casima) took her by surprise: “It was a funny moment when he was watching it with my six year old, and he said, “Oh it’s a good show and she loved it.’ He thought that was O.K. for a little kid. But he hasn’t shown them Apocalypse Now (his violent Vietnam War movie of 1979).  During this quarantine period, he showed them a great movies, like the musical Singing in the Rain and Jacques Tati’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. He showed them wonderful classic movies that he loves–the Breaking Bad was just a one-time exception and funny story.”
She says she was never bothered by her father’s fame “when you grow up with someone like my dad, that’s all you know, so I never really thought about it.  I took it for granted. I don’t remember a specific moment when I realized that, but I grew up in a small town in Napa Valley, and he was the only one in the film business. None of my parents’ friends were, so I knew we were a ‘little bit different and strange’ than the rest.”
I’m grateful that my parents raised us in a small town, where we knew everyone and were accepted as part of the community. When we went outside of that circle, I had some encounters that were unusual.  But I felt lucky that I got to be on film sets since I was little because it was always magical to observe what they were making, how a group of interesting adults work together to make something special and bigger than themselves.”

Writing and Worrying

“It’s always harder for me to write an original screenplay than to adapt something.  On the Rocks was challenging because, I have never before written so much dialogue.  I was trying to do a more dialogue-driven film, which was new for me. Whenever I do anything new, it’s always scary. I often start with establishing the mood of the piece. I wanted to build slowly this father-daughter buddy story, and to bring some mystery, so that adventure together will be believable.”
“I began by writing little ideas for individual scenes, and then I weaved them together in a humorous, bitter-sweet mode. I wanted the movie to be touching but also funny. For me, On the Rocks belongs to that tradition of mixed-up screwball comedies, like The Awful Truth” (the 1937 movie that catapulted Cary Grant to stardom).
After two decades, she still worries a lot: “Making a movie takes a few years, so I worry, ‘Is it going to be good or terrible? Are people going to hate it?  With On the Rocks, I was trying to be more sweet and vulnerable, but then I felt it might be too sappy, too corny.  The process is always scary, and it’s a big for people to understand what you were trying to express. We make movies to connect, so it’s satisfying when people connect with what you’re thinking, and in the way that you meant it; movies can be easily misunderstood.”

Bill Murray Loves to Sing