When Winnetka resident Katie Chang read a script in December 2011, she had no idea she would end up on the big screen as part of Sofia Coppola’s latest movie.
“In the audition process, I had no idea what the movie is about,” Chang said. “Sofia is known for being very secretive of her projects and keeping all of her projects very sacred until the last minute.”
The 17-year-old will be playing Rebecca in The Bling Ring, a movie inspired by a group of fame-obsessed teenagers who robbed celebrity homes, including that of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and Orlando Bloom. The studio has yet to announce the release date.
“Rebecca is the ringleader of The Bling Ring. … She’s the one that gets the ball rolling, she’s very into fashion, which is the number one thing that makes her want to go and break into these celebrity homes,” Chang said.
The cast includes Emma Watson, Kirsten Dunst, Leslie Mann, to name a few, and follows the teens during their crime spree through fancy Hollywood neighborhoods.
“They are smart but they are also really stupid, too,” Chang said. “They are really crafty in using social networking sites to figure out when celebrities were home and when they could steal from them, but they were not smart in the sense that they posted everything on Facebook, so that was their downfall.”
From Winnetka Community House to a Coppola Movie
As a kindergartener, Chang performed in plays at but did not train professionally with the Actors Training Center at the Wilmette Theatre until she was 13-years-old.
Chang’s first professional role was in an independent movie titled Cutee Grl, which premiered at in the summer of 2011.
“I booked that part because one of my acting teachers was co-directing it. It was a short film and it was definitely no budget,” she said.
Other than the indie film, Chang has not appeared in anything else, making her leap into a Coppola movie even more astonishing.
Chang landed the role in The Bling Ring with the help of Carole Dibo, executive director at Actor Training Center at the Wilmette Theatre, and Geoffrey Soffer, casting director for Ugly Betty.
Soffer saw Chang during a workshop at the Actor Training Center and emailed Dibo expressing his desire to manage her, Chang said. After that, Soffer and Dibo worked together to find auditions for the teen actress and The Bling Ring was one of them.
“I did not know that she was ready for the movie, to be honest,” Dibo said. “For Katie to go from nursery school to graduate school, which she did … does not happen.”
Dibo wasn’t worried about Chang’s ability but more about how the then 16-year-old would handle the reality of the film business, with the open sets, equipments and pressure to perform.
“It was incumbent of Sofia to decide whether or not Katie was or not to do that, but I knew that she had the chops to create the character,” Dibo said.
Preparing for the Role of Rebecca
Filmed between March and May, 2012, The Bling Ring was produced with an estimated $20 million budget, Chang said.
“It was a smaller budget compared to The Avengers, which was $100 to $200 million dollars,” she said. “We had to work quickly and stay on task.”
For the soft-spoken Chang, playing Rebecca, a manipulative teenager, “was difficult because I’m not really like that.”
To understand Rebecca’s mindset, Chang read articles about the teens and studied fashion trends.
“What helped was talking to our costume designer. She helped in the sense that she put the actual clothes of Rebecca on me,” Chang said. “Clothes are the cherry on top and they help to round out the character.”
Learning to smoke cigarettes was one of the challenges Chang overcame on set.
“I thought I was going to have a tutorial (on smoking),” Chang said.
Instead, the teenager was put on set with a prop cigarette.
“I learned like five minutes before we started the scene,” she said. “That’s just the type of set that Sofia has. It’s very relaxed and she doesn’t put a lot of weight or pressure on anything.”
Running in heels was another challenge Chang overcame on set with the help of fellow actress Emma Watson.
“It was really cool to work with someone that I felt like I grown up with because I am from the Harry Potter generation, ” Chang said.
The New Trier student says they didn’t build a level of friendship because of the six-year age gap, “but there was a level of professionalism that she brought to each scene that was very admirable and something that I definitely learned from.”
“It was interesting to get to work with her after having her poster on my wall for four years,” she said.