Interview by Katie Gregory
When you initially heard that Sofia Coppola was going to make a movie about The Bling Ring that loosely focused on your Vanity Fair article, what did you think?
I was thrilled because she’s such a great filmmaker. She’s someone with an impeccable reputation and I knew that she would do a great job—if it got made. I didn’t have high hopes for that, as it’s hard to get a movie made, and it all just seemed too unreal. So when it happened, I was even more amazed at her ability to get things done in Hollywood, and to do things her own way.
You sat down with Sofia Coppola several times to discuss the movie. What kind of things did you make sure to touch on?
We talked about all the amazing particulars of the case—like how they found Paris Hilton’s key under the mat, and then she replaced it with another key. We talked a lot about the way they spoke, their accents and attitudes. Also the themes surrounding the case: celebrity obsession, the changing nature of celebrity (i.e. “famous for being famous”), social media obsession, materialism and conspicuous consumption.
Did you find the movie accurately represented what you found out after interviewing the kids involved in The Bling Ring?
I think it’s a true representation of not just the case but of the environment these kids grew up in. “Accurate” isn’t really the right word, as it is a work of fiction. I like “true” better because the film expresses something true in our culture. The characters and the information in the article and my book were obviously the basis for the film, but the film itself is Sofia Coppola’s own vision of these iconic characters and crimes.
I found that the male character in the movie, based on Nick Prugo, was the easiest to empathize with, as well as in your article. Did he seem the most regretful of his actions?
Nick Prugo had a lot of regrets about what he had done and also took responsibility for his actions. He was honest sometimes even to his own detriment. I think a person who’s honest and revealing is always more sympathetic.
How did you feel when you heard what each of the kids involved were sentenced to?
I think their sentences were very light considering the fact that they were involved in a successful crime organization that stole more than $3 million worth of property. You have to wonder whether, if they had not been kids of relatively privileged backgrounds, their punishment would have been more severe.
Alexis Neiers, one of The Bling Ring suspects, became sort of a cult hit with her phone call to you in Pretty Wild [short-lived E! show]. Did you think she was going to react that way to your article?
I found it odd that someone who was being charged with burglary was upset that I had allegedly misidentified her shoes!
Did you ever end up calling her back?
No. But if I had, I think I would have reassured her that my article would have no bearing on her case, and it didn’t. She pleaded no contest, faced with the evidence that was being presented by the district attorney.
Why do you think that scene took off so much with a certain demographic?
I’m not sure. A lot of people seem to find it funny, but I think it’s sad. She’s very upset, and however misguided she was, she’s still a teenage girl in a lot of trouble.
What are your feelings towards Alexis currently?
Alexis achieved the fame she sought through her reality show. She did 29 days for burglary and was well paid for her involvement in the film. Now says she’s writing a book. So it seems like she got what she wanted, overall.
Do you think America has too much of an obsession with fame?
I talk about this a lot in my book. There is more focus on celebrity than ever before. There are more celebrity news outlets—celebrity news didn’t even used to be “news.” Now celebrities are covered 24/7. Reality shows make celebrities out of people who really have very little to offer besides a willingness to expose themselves and act out on camera. All the studies about kids and fame show that kids today have a real thirst for fame—becoming famous is their number one goal in life. And I don’t think this can possibly be a good thing. They want to live a lifestyle they see famous people living, that isn’t really available to most people, but is held out as the most wonderful way to live. And this leads to a lot of disappointment and problems with self-esteem.
How do you feel about current celebrities (like Amanda Bynes) seemingly becoming more famous after displaying relatively disturbing behavior, especially over social media?
I think it’s obviously a dangerous thing for someone in the public eye, who’s struggling with various issues, to be able to broadcast their state of mind—and semi-nude pictures of themselves—at 4 a.m.
As someone who spends a lot of time on the internet, I really love the internet, but do you think having all that information available at our fingertips is one of the reasons U.S. culture has become so obsessed with celebrities?
It’s become cliché to say “the internet changed everything,” but it’s true. The internet is a tool like any other—it can be used for good or bad. What’s good in it is the democratization of media and the increased accessibility of information. There’s a lot of creativity and humor on the internet which is wonderful and fun. What’s bad, I think, is a lot of triviality and shallowness, and yes, focus on celebrities.
If you could interview any living celebrity, who would you choose?
I’ve been getting a lot of tweets asking me if I’m going to do a story on Amanda Bynes. But Bynes doesn’t need me and probably wouldn’t talk to me if I asked. She’s broadcasting her own story, the way she wants to. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you to decide.