Adapted from James Franco’s book of stories by the same name, this month’s Palo Alto is a portrait of suburban teen malaise. First-time director Gia Coppola and leading lady Emma Roberts tell us what it was like to revisit those angsty days.
Marie Claire: Gia, can you start by telling me how this film came to be, and how Emma got involved?
Gia Coppola: I met James, and he had his book of stories, and was looking for someone else to direct it. When I showed him my photography, I guess he thought I was the right fit. I’ve never really directed anything, only short films with my friends, but he believed in me. The casting: Emma just kind of kept popping into my life.
Emma Roberts: We just kept running into each other non-stop.
GC: I always say something was cosmically pushing us together. She was coming up in conversation, and she loved the book and the script, so it was really a good fit.
MC: Emma, had you read the book already when you heard it was being made into a movie?
ER: I bought it at Book Soup in L.A. the day it came out. I’m a big James Franco [fan] and I love to read. When I heard that they were making it into a movie, and that he was also going to be part of it, and Gia was, I thought that was interesting. I thought it was a really special, cool project.
MC: Emma, you play April, a high school senior who is simultaneously infatuated with her soccer coach (James Framco) and her classmate (Jack Kilmer). Were there elements of that character that you both related to?
ER: I remember when you’re a teenager and you’re right in the thick of it. Like, what does it all mean? Everything is the end of the world. It’s just a crazy time; once you get out of it you’re like, there’s something nice about that time.
GC: It’s just about discovering who you are, and what your interests are. What I really love with the book is [that] the dialogue is so on point and natural. The boys are always coming up with would you rathers, and the girls are longing for the boys. And the boys are just, like, still babies, and lighting fireworks.
MC: Did either of you have crushes on your teacher?
ER: I never had a crush on any of my teachers. All my girlfriends loved having crushes on teachers, and I was like: “But they’re teachers, and they’re old!”
GC: I never had crushes on teachers, but I remember being that age. Young girls thought it was really cool to like older guys.
ER: I never did. I always thought the boys were more fun.
MC: How was it playing those scenes with James Franco?
ER: The scenes were fun, actually, because he’s so cool. He was so nice to me, and we just had fun together. I imagine it would have been more intimidating if I was actually like fifteen or sixteen, like in the movie. But I was twenty one or twenty two, so it wasn’t as scary as it would’ve been. I think all my friends were like: “Oh my God. You made out with James Franco.”
MC: What was the funniest thing that happened on set?
ER: We were doing close-ups of me and James. We were supposed to be having sex. Gia’s like: “OK, Emma, just make a little noise.” I’m really not inhibited at all; I just got embarrassed for some reason. Everyone was watching. I was like, “Gia, you make a noise and I’ll make a noise.” And she was like, “No!”
MC: Gia, this was your first feature film. What’s it like to be in charge on set?
GC: It’s a lot like being a teenager. I mean everything was really heightened and scary. I was really lucky to surround myself with people that made me feel comfortable and were supportive.
ER: She made it look easy.
GC: I was terrified.
MC: You guys are both in your 20s, but a lot of the actors on set were actually in their teens.
GC: Everyone on the set was pretty much under thirty, so it was pretty much like a family. I drove Jack [Kilmer] and Nat [Wolff] every night to my mom’s house to cook dinner. Emma was always driving the boys to In-N-Out Burger…
MC: I was really taken with Jack Kilmer’s performance.
GC: It was his senior year of high school, so he was going through all those things that his character was going through. He’s such a sweet kid; he loves to skateboard, and paint and play music.
ER: He performed and Gia and I went to his show. When he got onstage, all the girls were like, “Jack!” We started laughing. Everyone there was 15 to 19; Gia and I are like the moms in the back. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be the oldest person in the room.