Israel Broussard appeared in Rob Reiner's Flipped (as Bryce's friend Garrett), and Katie Chang has logged a role in the soon-to-be-released A Birder's Guide to Everything, but Sofia Coppola essentially plucked the pair from obscurity to star in The Bling Ring, a technically fictionalized adaptation of Nancy Jo Sales' Vanity Fair article "The Suspect Wore Louboutins." The teenage actors rose to the imaginative task of playing youngsters so obsessed with celebrity, fashion, and acceptance that they robbed a string of Hollywood celebrities. We spoke at San Francisco's Sir Francis Drake Hotel.
Groucho: Katie, you’re from Chicago, right?
Katie Chang: I am, yes.
Groucho: And Israel, you’re from Mississippi by way of South Dakota?
Israel Broussard: Well—
Katie Chang: It’s South Dakota by way of Mississippi.
Israel Broussard: I’m from Mississippi. I’ve got family in South Dakota that I visit quite often.
G: I’m curious what your main impressions of L.A. are as a place to live both for suburbanites and high rollers.
KC: Hmm. You know Illinois is nothing like L.A. And I didn’t grow up in Chicago. I actually didn’t grow up near the city. So it felt really, really crazy to be there. And I don’t think I would ever live there. The mentality is just way too different from the Midwest. But I think we had fun filming there, and it made it that much more authentic—the whole experience in filming the movie—because we were kind of tramping around L.A. and going to some of the places that these kids had gone to.
Israel Broussard: Acting like a true Los Angeles person.
IB: For me, I love it out there. You know, I’ve been living out there for a few years now.
IB: But no, I’m from Mississippi which is very rural. And very rainy. So I really appreciate L.A. and the weather. But no, you know, it can get crazy and claustrophobic so it’s nice to go out and take breaks.
G: The casting process must have been exciting but nerve-wracking, I’m thinking. Israel, you did a video audition first, right?
IB: Yes. Actually, Katie and I have parallel stories.
KC: We have the same stories. (To Israel:) You go ahead. You can do it.
IB: (To Katie:) Okay, well, you tell it better, but I’ll go for it. We got a break-down from agents and managers saying, "Hey, you need to go on tape, talking about yourself for a minute and a half," which is pretty difficult—at least I found it difficult. You just can’t really—like, what am I going to talk about? And then I ended up meeting Courtney and Nicole, the casting directors, and got some sides—put some stuff on tape for them. And then a couple rounds of that later, I met up with Sofia and Fred [Roos, producer] and auditioned for Sofia—and talked with her for a little bit, and I got flown out, met up with Katie and did a little chemistry read—a camera test with Harris [Savides, cinematographer]. A couple days later we—was it six?
KC: We auditioned together on December 6, 2011, and we booked the part on December 12th. Six days.
IB: All right. She’s very precise on that.
KC: I’m way too analytical for my own good.
G: And what do you think...made you two click? The chemistry reads obviously worked.
IB: I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I just—
KC: I have an idea. Israel, you seemed—I never told you this.
IB: I seemed okay?
KC: You seemed really nervous when I first met you.
IB: I was.
KC: And I was like "Yeah, that’s Marc." Because Marc is always very nervous and confusing. And when people get nervous, and I’m in a group with someone who’s nervous, I overcompensate because I’m crazy. And I was overcompensating like crazy. And Israel was just like super-sweet and super-nervous, and it felt like we were Marc and Rebecca—just maybe less sociopathic in that one moment.
IB: Like more of a natural Marc and Rebecca rather than a criminal Marc and Rebecca.
KC: Because there are times when I see it. You know, when I like tell you about grammar stuff and stuff like that. You know what I mean?
KC: There are times when I see the characters coming out. Something I wasn’t really expecting. Which is kind of cool because I never really saw our relationship as Marc and Rebecca. And it isn’t. But there are times.
IB: I keep a close group of friends. And she’s in it. So—
KC: (whispering) Yeah.
IB: There definitely is a connection.
KC: Yeah, for sure.
G: So tell me about your rehearsal week and how that time was spent.
IB: Well, I mean it was fun. We hung out a lot. We went walking on Robertson and Emma [Watson] lost her wallet.
KC: That was a bad day. It wasn’t a good day. Don’t bring that day up. Something—she got, like, swarmed. That was our introduction to Emma because she got completely swarmed by paparazzi and people and dropped her wallet in the process while trying to get into her car. And that was like our first introduction to Hollywood. We were like "Oh my God! I can’t believe that’s what she deals with on a daily basis." And it definitely brought the group closer together. And then that entire week we just hung out and we did a fake break-in into the house to kind of get into the mood. Israel and I went to spinning class together. (All laugh.) And we just kind of hung out at the apartments and watched movies and stuff.
G: Yeah, I read about that in the production notes. The fake break-in. But fess up. Sofia had you really break into Stephen Dorff’s house, right?
KC: No. That would have been fun. (To Israel:) What would we have taken if we had the place to ourselves? The Somewhere poster.
IB: Somewhere poster. Signed by everybody. Umm, no. It was fun. That’s when we really truly bonded and created the energy we needed to for this film and kind of got the idea of what these kids were doing: rather than going in doing this Mission: Impossible scene, we were a bunch of teenagers being stupid and reckless. And, you know, it took all of us to—and a break-in, a fake break-in—to really get that across.
KC: I mean, it was kind of genius on [Sofia’s] part. She’s very calculated. None of us really knew what was going through her mind. But now, looking back on it, all the bonding she had us do was so important because I think it really reads on the screen that we all were actually friends. All the improvisation that we did, we couldn’t have been able to do if we hadn’t established relationships prior to filming.
IB: Because it’s hard to not know a person and then go on camera and treat them like your best friend. You know, she was really intent on getting us all very comfortable with each other. And she, I think, did a great job at that. And we kind of look back and (to Katie:) "You! I know what you’re up to now."
KC: Yeah. We know each other really well now.
G: Tell me a little bit about the character work you did individually—like the diary work and the vision boards. What came out of that for you in terms of understanding your characters?
IB: Well the vision boards were mostly for Emma and Taissa [Farmiga] and Leslie [Mann]. 'Cause, you know, they were that family. For me, personally—I know Teddy as well did a journal where we had to kind of keep up with our own characters, through our own character’s eyes, which was, I found, kind of difficult. But I had to learn a lot about fashion. There was a lot of reality TV being watched. A lot of Fashion Police and a lot of magazines gone through. Pronunciation classes. (All chuckle.) And walking in heels. That’s kind of it for me.
KC: One thing that we did with Sofia—Israel and I had a meeting right before we started filming, and she just kind of talked to us about how sometimes it’s hard to know where your character is emotionally when you’re jumping around while filming because you don’t film anything in order—maybe once in a blue moon you do. But usually you’re doing, you know, a scene from the third block of the film, and then you jump right into a scene from the first block, and it’s hard to remember where you are in the story during each scene—and so she would talk to us a lot about kind of checking in with each other and making sure we were both on the same page. And we also just talked about—a lot of it—a lot of it was individually Marc and Rebecca are very interesting people, but it’s so important to understand the relationship that Rebecca has with Marc and the relationship that Marc has with Rebecca too. So we talked a lot about that.
G: One of the things I know that you mentioned in the production notes is that Sofia had pointed out to you—despite how calculating she is, it is important to remember that she was magnetic—what’s magnetic about her, appealing about her. And maybe particularly important to Marc. And what did you end up deciding about that?
KC: It’s interesting, because when I was auditioning, my constant note was "Can you be meaner? Can you be just a little icy?" And that was really fun. But then, when you’re given that freedom to be as mean as you can be, then you sometimes take it too far, and it become a one-note kind of performance. And Sofia—right at the beginning she would constantly remind me, "Let’s have a progression here. Let Rebecca be really friendly and enticing at the beginning because there has to be a reason that Marc wants to be friends with her. You know, if she’s mean, he’s probably not going to want to be friends with her. And then let’s save the reveal that she actually kind of crazy for the middle and for the end because that will be more interesting." And it’s just amazing that she saw that right from the get-go. You know, it seems really smart and it is. And I wasn’t—that was so far off my radar, and that’s why I’m really glad that Sofia was the person doing this project. She had so many great ideas.
G: So, you’re playing fictional characters who are based on real figures, so there’s that kind of fine line there. In your minds, where you were doing your preparation and when you were working through playing the roles, did you think of yourselves as playing the real people, even though their names are changed in the script, or were you sort of instructed to develop them as independent characters?
IB: Well, I didn’t—besides the Vanity Fair article, I didn’t really—and the crime footage and all that—I didn’t really tap into Nick Prugo or any other—or the rest of the gang. I felt that it was important that—you could tell Sofia was a team player, and she wanted to collaborate with you and share her ideas, and she wanted your input as well. So knowing that, I felt that I didn’t need to really look into these characters. It’s a little awkward playing something like that. But they gotta know that this is a fiction movie. It’s based on if it was true or not, yes. I don’t know. I kind of stuck with Sofia’s vision, and I put my trust in her rather than these kids.
KC: Yeah, I mean, I think the way that Sofia wrote it was that she—the true part of the film that happened in real life is the actions of the characters. And then the characters themselves that we created in the film—we were able to go in different directions. So I think it’s more about what they did and less about who they were that we stayed true to. An interesting thing about Nick is that he did some interviews and stuff, but there wasn’t really much about him other than the Vanity Fair article. Same with Chloe’s counterpart. And very much the same with Rebecca. There’s almost nothing about her. There’s stuff that other people say about her, but there’s nothing that she has said about the thing. And then, of course, your Pretty Wild—Taissa and Alexis, Nicki and Sam. So we had really interesting kind of pieces of material, but Sofia always let us know that we could take it in the direction that we were planning to and not really worry about staying true to the people.
G: All that being said, did you have any brushes with the real people? Did they ever contact you? Or advise on the film or anything?
IB: No, I think they—Alexis supposedly advised. I’m not sure on that. It’s a question for Sofia. And then I know Nick did. But no, I mean, we haven’t met them. There’s no scheduled bonding time for that. (All chuckle.) And that’s for sure. But Alexis tweeted that she wasn’t very happy with what she was seeing. She’s got to know that it’s just a movie. This isn’t The Bling Ring featuring Alexis Neiers, you know. This is a Los Angeles tale that Sofia Coppola kind of took under her wing and made her own and that’s it.
KC: And I think also that it—I think that the other thing is Alexis kind of changed her tune towards the end, too, I think. I think now she’s excited about the movie.
IB: Is she?
KC: Yeah. She told us, "Have fun in Cannes," and we did. And I think at the end of the day, Sofia is intent upon not giving these kids any more publicity. This is about the movie. This isn’t about the actual kids—
IB: Which they’ve gotten a lot of publicity for.
KC: ...anyway. It’s kind of an after-effect.
G: And inevitable. Israel, what did you decide about Marc’s outsider status before he becomes "in" with Rebecca? Why do you think he was having trouble fitting in?
IB: Well, I think definitely kids at that age—teenagers—they’re having a hard time finding themselves and finding who they are, and in doing so they’ve got the same problem with "nobody wants anything to do with me." So they’re always, you know, insulting themselves. And—I don’t know, I think the buildup for me with Marc was that he was alone, and I wanted to really put that out there when he meets Rebecca. I think that’s when you start to see the change—you start to see something else in his eyes. I think he was just lost. And he got lost a little more, but at least he was being loved, and at least he learned something from that and not only about the consequences but about who he was. And it’s okay to be who you’re gonna be. Don’t worry about anybody else. I’m not sure if that answers your question.
G: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I also wanted to ask what’s on your Marc playlist?
KC: Definitely not "Drop It Low."
IB: It’s not "Drop it Low." Well, I guess it would be on Marc’s playlist. No, the soundtrack for the movie would be Marc’s playlist. Because the soundtrack for the movie...I was very happy with it. I think just the soundtrack alone can get you pumped up.
KC: What’s cool about the soundtrack too is that it’s kind of bi-polar. You know, you have like Kanye and you have dubstep and EDM and then you have this really weird like German music that’s like a little hazy and a little dreamy and it’s just kind of all over the place, which was so smart because the film is all over the place too. And these kids—they go through so many ups and downs.
IB: Another thing about the soundtrack is just like the scenes where we’re walking around or that scene where we’re looking at the house from up on the canyon—and it’s just the background noise in that; it just intensifies the scene a little more. You see that in all movies, but I don’t think a lot of directors nail it as well as Sofia did in this one.
G: So the characters you play: we see through the film the sort of projection of their Hollywood dreams. And you two are young, starting out in the industry. What are your aspirations?
IB: Katie has many. And she—Katie’s going to go somewhere.
KC: Thanks buddy. You will too. I’m going to college in the fall, for writing. So I hope to be able to incorporate playwriting and screenwriting and what I learn about that in school to my position in the industry and hopefully be able to write my own stuff one day. But obviously, I’ll always keep acting and—I mean, dreams—I think we just both want to maintain a healthy career and keep operating under the theme that it’s not a sprint, and we’re not trying to get to the finish line as fast as we can and do as many films as we can where we’re running the marathon. We’re waiting for the right project.
IB: Yeah, I—oh my goodness, that was a good last-liner.
KC: (stage whisper to Israel:) Well, it’s not my knowledge, it’s my acting coaches. Don’t tell her I said it.
IB: Um, well, for me, I’m just going with the flow, you know? I’ve enjoyed being an actor, and I hope to continue doing so. I just take it day by day. I do want to branch out. Maybe go into some directing. Music, I like. So yeah, I can’t really pinpoint where I want to be in ten years because I don’t know what I’m going to be like in ten years.
G: Yeah. It’s early yet. You have time.
KC: Hopefully. (All laugh.)
G: So there’s drugs in the movie. There’s rock and roll in the movie. But there’s actually very little sex in the movie, and I wonder—was that something that was explored as a part of telling the story that ended up on the cutting room floor, or was it something that you thought about for your characters, or was it just irrelevant to those characters at that time?
IB: I don’t think it was irrelevant. I think it was there, but I think Sofia just kind of –I mean definitely these days, every movie has at least somewhat of a sex scene so—except for PG ones. I think the main focus here was what they were doing in their crimes. I think that a sex scene or anything like that would have been distracting.
G: Right. But even relationships are sort of—like, even romantic relationships are sort of absent in the film.
KC: There’s a scene with Sam and Rob, and they do whatever they do. But I think, like you said, it would have been distracting. And I also think that, you know, these kids were so caught up in what they were doing that actual relationships and being romantic was literally the last thing on their mind. But also, you know, it contributed—it’s kind of implicitly in Nicki and in Sam anyway that you could just tell that they had that side of them. We didn’t even need to explore it.
G: For Marc, it’s sort of implied that he’s gay—and that’s part of his outsider status maybe and also part of his confusion in trying to figure out who he is. What was your take on that?
IB: Well, Sofia and I had talked about that when we had first met and the script wasn’t written yet, so I just had sides. And you could tell. And so I asked her about it, and she was intent on "Yes, he is. But it’s not really a big part of this movie." There’s no scenes where he’s coming out. There’s no scenes where it’s said. It’s just implied. And I think that’s kind of smart on her angle because, you know, this kid could be straight and very feminine, or he could be homosexual, and I think wherever your imagination wants to take it, you know, let it. It’s refreshing. It’s—finally there’s a movie out there where a kid or a character can be gay and—
G: It not be the issue.
IB: And it not be the issue. And it not be pointed out and not even be brought up. So again, we were trying to focus on these kids and what they were doing as a group rather than who they were and breaking down who they were individually—like that’s what we had to do before filming so we could do this. So—but yeah. I think whatever you want to think about Marc, you go for it. It’s almost like a book.
G: So the film was shot by the late, great Harris Savides.
G: Did you guys get to know him at all?
IB: I mean, a little bit. As much as you can. He was, of course, working behind the camera, and we were always dealing with Sofia, not Harris. But Harris was a very, very sweet man. And he knew what he was doing, and you could see it. And it was an honor working for him. I went on this not knowing who he was. And then you realize, "Oh my goodness, this dude’s a legend."
IB: And this was his last movie. I feel very honored to have been with this project.
KC: Yeah, I mean it was really a bummer because we got to meet him when we did a chemistry read, and he was so important to creating the look of the film and had so many great ideas for different shots. And then, unfortunately you know, a couple weeks into the filming, he needed to take a step back. And we were really bummed, but we knew that Chris Blauvelt, the guy who took over for him, knew what he was doing, and it was a lot of fun to work with him. And I think, you know, regardless of what Harris wanted, it’s a beautifully shot film. And it’s a great way to leave his legacy.
G: Well, it’s been great talking to you.
G: My time is up.
KC: Thank you.
G: Best of luck with the film and everything ahead.
IB: Thank you. I appreciate that.
KC: Thank you very much. Nice to meet you.