Sofia Coppola talks about the true-to-life inspiration for her new film and what it was like to work with Harry Potter star Emma Watson

Sofia Coppola  Picture: Francois Mori/AP/PA Photos
Sofia Coppola Picture: Francois Mori/AP/PA Photos

A group of celebrity-obsessed teenagers breaking into their favourite stars’ homes and stealing prized possessions sounds like the perfect plot for a film.

In fact, Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature film, The Bling Ring, was inspired by the real-life crime spree of five Californian youths.

Known as the ‘Bling Ring’ or ‘Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch’, the group – alleged ringleader Rachel Lee and high school friends Alexis Neiers, Diana Tamayo, Courtney Ames and Nick Prugo – targeted the homes of Hollywood stars like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson.

During their 10-month rampage, they netted around 3 million US dollars (almost £2 million) in cash and belongings, before being caught in August 2009.

“I remember hearing the story in the news and it seemed crazy – these teenagers robbing celebrities’ houses,” says Coppola.

But it was after reading American writer Nancy Jo Sales’s Vanity Fair article in 2010, entitled The Suspects Wore Louboutins, in which she’d interviewed the gang, that Coppola decided to turn the story into a movie.

The Bling Ring – a fictional tale based on the crimes – stars Emma Watson as Niki, one of Coppola’s central characters.

“When I read about the kids and their perspective on it, I thought it was fascinating and a fun story for a movie. It said a lot about our culture today,” says 42-year-old Coppola who, at 32, became the youngest woman ever to be nominated for a best director Oscar for Lost In Translation in 2003.

Sales let Coppola use transcripts from her interviews with the real ‘bling ring’, to help her develop her characters.

“Going through the research, editing it down and finding a way to make these characters relatable and sympathetic was very challenging,” admits the New-York born director, who lives in Paris with her rocker husband, Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars, and their two daughters.

She also met up with two gang members, including Prugo, as well as chief investigator Detective Brett Goodkin.

“The boy was the most sympathetic and remorseful about what happened, but it was also a thrilling time in his life,” Coppola recalls of Prugo. “He told me little details, like how one of the girls wanted to steal Paris Hilton’s dog. These kind of things add a lot to the story.

Alongside former Harry Potter star Watson, the film stars newcomers Katie Chang as ringleader Rebecca, Taissa Farmiga as Sam, Claire Julien as Chloe, and Israel Broussard as Mark.

“It was fun to discover new talent, and it was great to work with Emma Watson, who is playing a part so different from how we know her,” says Coppola.

“It was really energising working with our young cast - some of them had never been in a feature film before.”

She praises Watson, who 
really shows off her acting skills. Niki is worlds apart from prim Hermione Granger.

“I met with her in New York and really liked her as a person,” recalls Coppola. “She has an English accent and is very different from this character, so it was difficult to imagine her doing it at first.

“When she came out to do the film, I was very impressed with how she transformed. It was so surprising. She could have easily been like a caricature or spoof, but having her take the part so seriously brought the reality to it. She worked really hard to get her Calabasas accent down, and the attitude.