It was as if they had stepped into their own movie, entering the world that they had spent months satirizing and now, inevitably, had to join. During their visit to the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of The Bling Ring, the highly-anticipated movie depicting a group of vapid teens who in 2008 and 2009 robbed the homes of wealthy celebrities, Katie Chang and Israel Broussard discovered that the best parody is almost a mirror image of reality.
"I got a box from Swarovski with a clutch and sunglasses and it was super, super nice. I was just so not used to that and I don't think I ever will be, getting free stuff," Chang, an 18-year old actress and industry rookie, remembered during an interview with BuzzFeed in Manhattan earlier this week. "I walked in and was like, who's been in my room?"
In writer/director Sofia Coppola's take on the infamous true story, Chang's character is named Rebecca but is based on Rachel Lee, a Valley girl who led her friends in a crime wave inspired by reality TV and material aspirations. They read gossip blogs to find out when personalities like Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge and Rachel Bilson were out of town; found their addresses online; and then waltzed into their mansions, pilfering diamonds, clothes and any other valuable signifier of excess and glitz.
Broussard stars as Marc — in real life, Nick Prugo — the lone guy in the group who goes along with the robberies, despite initial reservations, due to his burning desire for Rebecca's approval. Typical teenage stuff in an atypical world. As he recalled, he found a note from a fashion designer asking him to wear a custom suit to the Bling Ring premiere; against his manager's advice, he kept the note, because even though he already secured an outfit for the red carpet, he didn't want to be rude.
On the mention of the big jewel heist that actually happened while they were in Cannes, they were quick (almost too quick?) to make it clear: "Not involved," Broussard said, followed closely by Chang's assertion that "We didn't do it."
Chang has a focus and clarity during such a whirlwind trip that makes you forget she is a rookie who booked the movie out of her Illinois high school, while Broussard, who moved out to LA in 2008 but counts The Bling Ring as his big break, shows an enthusiasm for the material, if not the celebrity-industrial complex that hitches itself to any rising star. Their journey, from Hollywood outsiders into the machinery of talk shows and tabloids, is sort of the inverse of the story they told and quietly mocked on screen.
The following is an edited and condensed transcript of their conversation with BuzzFeed.
Katie, you just moved to LA to shoot this movie. So what's your experience been like, first time in LA?
Katie Chang: I liked it because I was working, but I feel like I could get it really toxic when you're not working. Just because everyone's in the same industry and everybody's working towards the same goal and that gets really competitive and you start comparing yourself to other people. And you'll do that anywhere, but I think it's really, really heightened in LA, and especially because there are so many girls that can look exactly like you going out for the same parts and it seems a little one-track minded.
You guys are more or less outsiders to the big industry, and this movie is all about getting caught up in the whole LA lifestyle. So being outsiders to LA, can you see how that happens with people?
Israel Broussard: Yeah, I think for me I had a good upbringing. I like to think I have a good head on my shoulders.
KC: For the most part.
IB: Yeah... wait, what?
KC: He does, he has a really good head on his shoulders. What if I just freaked out and said, "Israel sucks?!" Nah, he does have a good head on his shoulders, sorry.
IB: I think a lot of people go out to LA in search of their dreams, it's kind of like that "Into the Great Wide Open" song by Tom Petty, but half the time, it doesn't happen. People go there expecting so much and they go there expecting to do an audition, make it big and bam, they're a movie star, and that's kind of what my sister was expecting out of it. But it's a lot of work, a lot of rejection. Some people can't handle it.
Did you know who Audrina Patridge and all those reality stars were before the movie?
IB: It was over my head.
KC: In doing prep for the film, we watched a lot of LA-centric reality TV and so The Hills obviously was one of them. But I remember trying to get into The Hills when I was younger, but not really understanding the pointlessness of it. They'd sit down and have a lunch every other minute and they'd just talk about the same things and it didn't really make sense, but it was perfect source material for this movie.
Did you get to meet any of them?
KC: We got to meet Paris.
IB: Paris actually lent us her house for this. We talked to her when she did the cameo scene. She's actually a really intelligent, sweet woman. It was a big move for her, opening her house to us, because first you're going to have a bunch of reckless teenagers in there and now you're going to have a whole film crew. So yeah, she's got a great sense of humor about herself. A lot of respect goes to her for opening her house up and letting us go through it.
KC: Paris was the only person that we got to meet; of the celebrities who got robbed, she was the only one that Sofia worked with.
Does she have a sense of humor of what happened to her?
KC: Yeah, I think she was kind of shocked the first time she saw the movie, but in general, she knows what people think about her and in reality, she's pretty intelligent. She's totally down to make fun of herself and really easy to work with.
What was the craziest thing you saw at her house?
[At this point, Israel elongates a word that sounds like "Polaroids."]
IB: Did you get that?
KC Let's not talk about that... She has a pig, a pot-bellied pig that just sort of walks around. That was pretty crazy, I wasn't expecting that.
IB: I wasn't expecting the safe behind the wall.
KC: Oh yeah, she has a safe behind her wall. It was insane.
She's like the Batman of Bling.
IB: Oh my god, she is. You should coin that.
KC: That's the title of this article.
Is it strange that now people care about your personal life, when you used to be more or less anonymous?
IB: I haven't noticed. I don't know if that's because I'm kind of a hermit and don't really go out.
KC: We get questions about where we're from and stuff.
IB: It's nice, they're doing it — I don't want to say it's because they care — but because they're interested and it's not just like, "Hey, what was it like working with Sofia, Paris and Emma," and that's kind of refreshing after all these questions of "What was it like working with..."
Now that you've gone through with this, would you do a reality show?
KC: I couldn't imagine putting that much of your personal life on display.
IB: I don't want anyone but my close friends in my house, much less a film crew.
KC: It's one thing for Paris to open her house to us for two days, but to have year-round, somebody documenting you — I don't think we'll ever be that interesting, but also that willing, either.
IB: But it's kind of interesting, messing around with your friends and you do something funny, you're like, why aren't we filming this? Why don't we have our own TV show? That's how the idea starts and it's all fun at first and I think that's where the drama comes in, they're on a contract so there has to be, and that's what's making it so interesting, that "Oh, she said what?" And really, you want to blame these guys, but you can't; well, some of them do, they say, "Get these fucking film crews out of here," I've seen some of those.
Sofia grew up in Hollywood, so she probably grew up knowing a lot of those people that the movie satirizes. Did she say anything about that?
IB: Honestly, Sofia is very, very quiet and she's very mysterious. I don't know much about her, or her childhood growing up. I think it's interesting how she stayed away from this spoiled brattiness, with her father's career.
KC: I think she, instead of turning to her own experience, kind of turned to us. Claire Julien, who plays Chloe, she actually grew up in the Hills and so she looked to Claire and to us kids for advice about kids our age, which was nice. But she definitely brought in — she knows so much about fashion and the Hollywood that she definitely brought in her own expertise, too.
What are your friends back home saying now?
IB: Well, I don't know; I haven't been home in a while. I'm actually bringing my best friend from back home to LA.
KC: Oh, you are?
IB: Yeah, Nate. That'll be fun.
KC: Oh, cool! Umm, my friends, they're super supportive — the nice thing is that all of my friends is they're smart, much smarter than I am.
IB: I find that impossible. I'm sorry, go on.
KC: Trust me. So they all have their own things going on. One of my friends is rowing varsity crew at Cornell, my other friend is trying out for the Olympics for ice dancing, and another is in an accelerated nursing program at Michigan. They're doing their own things and they're super excited but there's been no change in how they treat me, and if anything they love talking about it because it's exciting. We talk about it just as often as we talk about their things that are going on.
So what's next for you guys? Offers rolling in?
KC: Not yet, maybe one day.
IB: I've got a music video that I was in coming out, M83 for "Claudia Lewis," Bryce Dallas Howard directed that. Again, another leading female figure in the industry that I'm excited to work with.
KC: A film of mine called A Birder's Guide to Everything just premiered at Tribeca and now some really cool distributors are interested in that and so I hope it gets picked up. It's probably a small theatrical release, but still, that's amazing because it's really a special film. And then I'm going to college at Columbia.
So are you going to not act for a while?
KC: You get so many breaks in college, over the summer and during the winter, it'll work out somehow. But I think the great thing about taking that six months or however long it is off is that you can work really hard to get a great project for the other six months.
IB: And another thing, you're going in there for creative writing, so—
KC: I'm still going for something related, playwriting and screenwriting. I'm always going to be focused on the industry, I'm just want to be able to expand my role in it.
The Bling Ring is out in New York and LA on Friday, and nationwide on June 21.