When Tim Roth got a cell-phone message from Francis Ford Coppola about a movie role, he assumed it was a cruel prank. ''Francis said, 'I've written something and I want you to read it,''' says Roth, who dismissed the call with an incredulous ''F--- off!''
Roth's skepticism is understandable: It's been nine years since one of the greatest directors in history last made a movie (The Rainmaker). Since then, the five-time Oscar winner seemed to have abandoned filmmaking for winemaking, leaving Hollywood to wonder whether his creative juices had completely dried up.
It's a scenario that makes Coppola's defiantly unplugged return to film with Youth Without Youth an adaptation of a novella about a professor (Roth) rendered young after being struck by lightning so remarkable. Even more notable: He bypassed the usual studio channels, writing, directing, and financing the movie himself.
The bare-bones production, which was shot entirely in Romania last winter, became an endurance test. ''It was punishing,'' Roth recalls. ''You'd come home and feel like you'd worked a week.'' Apparently, the actor was unaware that Coppola planned to approach this as a second student film. The director writes in his online Youth set diary that he's reinvented himself as a first-time filmmaker ''to forget I ever had a film career and instead dream about having one.'' The movie has yet to secure a distributor or release date, so Coppola's next bit of hard work will be to make sure this Youth hasn't been misspent.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Fierman)
POWER LIST: THE COPPOLA EDITION
1 NICOLAS CAGE
2 FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA
3 SOFIA COPPOLA
4 JASON SCHWARTZMAN