THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
The cast of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES was faced with the challenge of creating mythological characters in an ordinary suburban milieu. As a first-time director, Sofia Coppola felt blessed to bring together an ensemble of such compelling versatility and courage. "Everyday I found myself incredibly impressed with the cast," she comments. "It was very gratifying to me.
The first actress to sign on to the project was perhaps the least likely: Kathleen Turner, who knew Coppola from Peggy Sue Got Married when the two portrayed sisters. Turner, who gives an entirely unexpected performance as a repressed, tough, over protective mom who insists that her daughters do not suffer from a lack of love. "It was a real risk for Kathleen," observes Coppola. "I mean she is such a glamorous woman and yet she was not afraid to look like a frumpy housewife. It's so different from how you usually think of Kathleen, but she has the extraordinary ability to play this very strong, very tough woman with a certain amount of sympathy. It was very important that Mrs.
Lisbon not be a complete villain. I didn't want people to be able to point and say 'she did it' because she's just one factor in the tragedy. She's frightened by her daughters' fragility and she goes to extremes of overprotection. But she is trying to do what is right. It's always fascinating to me that people do things and aren't aware of their emotional impact. That's Mrs. Lisbon."
In contrast to Mrs. Lisbon's domineering rigidity is Mr. Lisbon's passivity. Again, Coppola cast against type, enlisting James Woods as the comically ineffectual suburban father. "I loved seeing his more docile, lovable side," admits Coppola. "You're so used to seeing James Woods as the tough guy, but here he's this man who doesn't know what to do about his family and so he just gives up. He and Kathleen are the two extremes of how people respond to the inexplicable: she goes overboard and he shuts down. I think he really had a lot of fun playing this kind of nerdy, polyester- wearing math teacher. He brought a lot to the role, improvising all kinds of eccentricities."
The script came to the attention of James Woods through Sofia's father, Francis, who suggested to his daughter that Woods had the comic skills for the role. But Sofia soon eclipsed her dad in drawing Woods' interest. "She had written an amazing script," says Woods. "Then when I met with her she was so terrific. She is a very talented, very imaginative, very daring director and writer who is also quite a lot of fun to work with. I think she's going to be a very big director."
Woods was also attracted by the dark humor of his haplessly domesticated character. "I saw Mr. Lisbon as a man's man caught in a house packed with women," explains Woods. "He's walking around in an estrogen haze and all he wants is some male interaction."
Mr. Lisbon finally gets a taste of this interaction, but only when Mrs. Lisbon temporarily relaxes her ban on boys in the house on the occasion of the prom. Even then, Mr. Lisbon finds that he can't quite connect ashe desperately tries to win fans for his model airplane fleet. In fact, it was James Woods who improvised the entire model airplane sequence from scratch. "It's a real tribute to Sofia," he says, "because when a character's well written you can go in any direction you want. She really encouraged that
creativity. The model airplanes just came up in the middle of the dinner scene and I went with it. Later, we had to actually bring in the planes."
For Woods, that scene and others demonstrated the deep disconnection at the heart of Mr. Lisbon, which adds to the film's funny-sad tone. "He's an oddly comedic character and yet he's also tragic," says Woods. "He's sort of helpless. He's not really at fault in what happens to his family, but he is a victim of how closed-off we
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