From Oscar award winning writer and director Sofia Coppola, THE BLING RING tells the story, based on actual events, of a group of teenagers obsessed with fashion and celebrity that burglarize celebrities’ homes in Los Angeles. Tracking their targets’ whereabouts online, they break-in and steal their designer clothes and possessions. Reflecting on the naiveté of youth and the mistakes we all make when young, amplified by today’s culture of celebrity and luxury brand obsession, we see through the members of the ‘Bling Ring’ temptations that almost any teenager would feel. What starts out as teenage fun spins out of control and leaves us with a sobering view of our culture today.
THE BLING RING stars Emma Watson alongside incredible new talent Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, and Taissa Farmiga. The film also features Leslie Mann, Gavin Rossdale, and real-life Bling Ring victim, Paris Hilton and is based on the celebrated Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales.
Sofia Coppola’s fifth feature film is a fictionalized version of a Vanity Fair feature the writer-director initially read on an airplane. Nancy Jo Sales’ March 2010 article (now a Harper Collins book) detailed the brazen exploits of a gang of suburban Los Angeles teenagers who made international headlines after breaking into homes and stealing more than $3 million in jewelry and luxury goods from celebrities including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Audrina Patridge.
Coppola was already aware of the notorious so-called “Bling Ring” and thought it had tremendous cinematic potential. “There were so many great elements,” Coppola says. “Teen burglars, Hollywood night life, audacious break-ins. And it seemed to say so much about our culture today in terms of the things the kids were obsessed.
I’m proud of being Asian and Caucasian. I love identifying with Hapa! It’s nice to have a word that encompasses my ethnicity.
“I think Los Angeles is the center of American culture right now because of all these reality TV shows like the Kardashians that are set in Hollywood and L.A.,” says Coppola. “Even though this red-carpet culture has become so influential around the country, the story could only take place here.”
Those in the central ensemble who made the final cut received a copy of the script along with the Vanity Fair article and submitted to various chemistry reads to ensure that the ensemble felt natural. Katie Chang, who plays the ringleader Rebecca, had never acted before, though she immediately clicked with Broussard, who plays Mark, the new kid in town who falls under the spell of Rebecca, Nicki and the glittering Los Angeles nightlife that is their playground.
Coppola asked her principal cast members to keep diaries written from the point of view of their specific characters. They also made vision boards incorporating pictures and inspirational phrases from magazines — things that might have inspired the characters, material goods they coveted, or places they might see themselves in five years.
During pre-production the central ensemble formed a pseudo-gang of their own, going so far as to stage a mock house break-in armed with a list of items Coppola had instructed them to steal. “We got in and out of the house with all of the items in about 15 minutes,” explains Chang. “Maybe we were meant to steal from celebrities — either way, we became scary-good at breaking into homes. I think that’s the moment when we all realized that we worked so well together as a team.”
As a newcomer to acting, Chang found herself turning inward in order to find the character of Rebecca, the ringleader of the group who Chang describes as intense, sneaky and misleading at times — qualities the Chicago-based teenager does not embody in real life. “Rebecca on the surface is a girl who is obsessed with fashion and celebrity culture. She wants to be part of the Hollywood lifestyle more than anything,” says Chang. “Under the surface, Rebecca turns out to be incredibly manipulative and self-centered, willing to do anything to get what she wants or thinks she deserves without really considering the consequences.”
To prepare for the role, Chang kept a daily journal of her own thoughts as Rebecca, read the website style.com whenever possible, and clipped ads and clothing out of magazines. “When we were filming, Sofia kept reminding me that there had to be something interesting about Rebecca that would make Mark want to be friends with her,” says Chang. “That was really important for me to remember, otherwise I probably would have played the character as mean and selfish for the entire film.” Chang admits she was initially hesitant to play a character like Rebecca because she is not accustomed in real life to being a commanding and in-charge person like she is. “But that’s one of the greatest things about acting,” Chang admits. “You can stretch yourself and play characters so far from who you are.”
It was a process that impressed Coppola, who describes Chang’s debut turn as Rebecca as a complete transformation. “I’m impressed with how different she is as the character than she is as a person,” Coppola says. “She’s such a sweet, kind girl and then she can turn into an ice queen on camera.” Emma Watson agrees: “Katie is perfect for Rebecca, because she looks so good in all her costumes. It’s interesting casting because you want to hate her. But there is something very human and alive and intriguing about Katie that gives Rebecca added depth.”
Katie was sweet enough to interview with us in the midst of recovering from a cold. Her voice was just coming back! Thank you Katie!
ASIANCE: When you found out it was a Sophia Coppola film, what was your reaction?
Katie: I was just amazed. I didn’t know who was directing? I was completely surprised. I was so shocked. I honestly thought that I was dreaming!
ASIANCE: Was there anything hard or unexpected about playing Rachel Lee? How did you research your role? Did you meet her?
Katie: I never met Rachel Lee. It was very fun to play a mean girl. I just really wanted to get into the character. I read a lot of fashion magazines and watched a lot of reality television and was just trying to understand the mindset of the characters.
ASIANCE: Can you give us an example of how Coppola directed you in a particular scene?
Katie: She gave us a lot of room to do whatever we wanted with our characters. She still gave us a ton of direction, obviously. She also allowed us to go all out and do whatever we wanted with creative freedom.
ASIANCE: Have you seen Better Luck Tomorrow?
Katie: No I have never seen that.
ASIANCE: In the Mochi Magazine interview, you said that you wrestled with identity issues because of your last name, “Chang”. You always clicked the “other” box. You didn’t want to check Caucasian. Do you feel Caucasian or Asian? What do you identify more with or how people see you? Can you elaborate on your ethnic identity?
Katie: I don’t quite identify with one more than the other. I’m proud of being Asian and Caucasian. I love identifying with Hapa! It’s nice to have a word that encompasses my ethnicity. When I was growing up, I wasn’t aware of the word. It really wasn’t around. Hapa is a really fantastic way to put it and I’m very happy that there is a word out there now that we can use.
In terms of how people see me, I’ve receive questions about whether I’m Hawaiian or not. Everyone is very interested in hearing if I’m Asian. Coming from a white town, like I did, it definitely set me apart and made me unique!
ASIANCE: Do you have any favorite Hapas?
Katie: Growing up it was great to see anyone who was Asian, like Michelle Kwan,. In terms of general diversity, I think especially cable TV, there is such an influx of Asian actors and African American actors playing lead roles and taking the initiative in that. I’m excited to see more diversity. It’s time!
Burglar Bunch suspect Rachel Lee followed suit of the rest of her alleged cohorts — and just pleaded not guilty in court to five felonies stemming from a string of celebrity home break-ins.
ASIANCE: Were you surprised by Paris Hilton’s closet?
Katie: Oh yes. I was! I was very surprised. At the same time, it made sense. That house was where she really lived, so that was cool of her to give us that space.
ASIANCE: Did she give you a tour?
Katie: No she gave us a ton of freedom. She was actually out of town and said we could do whatever we want. So we were really grateful for that.
ASIANCE: Did you start Columbia already? Do you know what you’ll be studying?
Katie: I start in the fall. I’ll probably be studying writing.
ASIANCE: Do you want to be a writer or director?
Katie: I hope to be a screenwriter or playwright one day.
Katie: I have a dog. He’s really tiny. He’s a mix between a Shih Tzu and a Toy Poodle.
ASIANCE: Who would you like to work with?
Katie: Steven Soderbergh. I love Tina Fey, she’s one of my heroes.
ASIANCE: Is there a role you would love to play?
Katie: If any director knows me, which they’ll probably know me for “The Bling Ring”, then I’d love to play someone completely different than my character in this movie.
ASIANCE: Advice to girls who would love to do what you’re doing?
Katie: Definitely take classes. Don’t expect to audition and book everything. You have to do the work in order to expect the payoff.
Rachel Lee was sentenced on 26 October 2011 to four years in prison. In March 2013, after having served 1 year and 4 months, she was released on parole.