Sofia Coppola is no stranger to filmic explorations of fame, privilege and self-loathing in the modern age. In her newest movie, The Bling Ring, she considers the case of a gang of well-off L.A. teenagers whose obsession with celebrity took them to some unexpected places — including the homes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, where they stole millions of dollars' worth of jewelry and clothes and shoes.
Emma Watson, who plays an air-headed gang member named Nicki, has been in the limelight since the age of 13. Famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, Watson has a few thoughts on the irony of being a celebrity playing a celebrity-targeting burglar.
"I definitely have my part in that ... tabloid culture, whether I like it or not," she tells NPR's Scott Simon. "I've been in the public eye for almost 10 years now. So there was something ... slightly ironic for me, being in the other seat. And it really made me look at it all in a new light. L.A. especially is ... fed so much of those images — so much fashion, so much reality TV — I can see how easy it could be to become obsessed."
But her parents prepared her carefully for the pros and cons of notoriety, Watson says.
"My parents were always realistic with me about what fame meant, that basically it has these amazing upsides, opportunities, experiences," she says. "But at the same time, it restricts your freedom in some ways. I'm not able to just do whatever I want, spontaneously."
Watson and Coppola joined Weekend Edition to talk about teenage impulsivity and adapting a real-life event and telling a story that, as Coppola puts it, "is so contemporary, it's really a story that could only happen today."
Coppola on the specificity of Watson's accent
"I was so impressed that Emma didn't just do a California accent; that she got really specific with the Calabasas accent. All us Californians were really just blown away."
Watson on mastering that particular sound
"I watched hours of The Kardashians, and The Simple Life, and The Hills, and then I worked with a dialect coach, too. That was part of what was so fun for me — not just the accent, but also the way of speaking is so different. It's much more nasal and much more pronounced."
Watson on improvisation and preparation
"Sofia really encourages improvisation, so that meant I also had to think like the character. That's what the journaling was about, not just memorizing the lines; think like Nicki. I actually did a blog as Nicki, with a Tumblr page. It had a pink leopard skin background and tons of shoes."
Coppola on how audiences might respond
"I really tried to make the movie in the experience of the kids, so the audience goes along on the ride. And then by the end of the film, they can think about what's important to them. And I tried to not tell them what to think; I tried to leave it for the audience to decide how they feel about it."
Coppola on why her characters don't question their ringleader
"It's a gang mentality. I mean, if you remember anything about peer pressure, or being that age, you want to be part of the group, go along. You do things you'd never do now, on your own. So I think they were caught up in the excitement. ... No one wanted to be the drag."
Watson on the parenting choices that fueled her character
"Nicki ... could come in at 4 in the morning, and the biggest reprimand she would get would be for her mother to say, 'Oh well, try better next time.' For Nicki there's never any real consequences in her life for anything that she does. And if you don't experience that in your home, then in the larger world, if you steal something, I just think — they genuinely believed there weren't going to be any real consequences."
Coppola on whether teens might get the wrong idea about Bling
"I give teenagers more credit. I think that they're smarter and more sophisticated than people [think]. Of course they're not always thinking about the consequences — and that's what happens in the story. But, you know, we show what they did, and then they go to jail. And ... if you look into the real kids and see what happened to them, it's really sad."