JULIE, MADLY, DEEPLY
Renowned for working with arthouse directors like Godard and Kieslowski and as star and co-writer of films like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, French actress Julie Delpy talks to Leigh Singer about her directorial debut, 2 Days in Paris, tackled with her usual quirkiness.
August 23 – 29 2007
You don’t so much interview Julie Delpy as hitch a ride on a wild, whistle-stop tour through her consciousness. Self-censorship isn’t on the agenda for the thirty-seven-year old actress and filmmaker; within half an hour she’s cheerfully confessed to paranoia, an overwhelming fear of death, being blind in one eye - and having a penchant for attaching helium balloons to men’s nether regions.
“It’s true that I consider men as a present,” she elucidates, “and so wrapping them in balloons with ribbon, it’s not dark or weird or creepy, it’s like ‘Party!’” This revelation is followed up with one of many throaty chuckles that belie her refined, bohemian chic appearance. “I have psychologist friends who saw the film and they told me, ‘we know more about you now than from 20 years of talking to you because it reveals so much.’”
The film and its balloon / genitals scene in question is 2 Days in Paris, Delpy’s feature directorial debut proper (she’s previously helmed two shorts and an experimental effort), a spiky comedy about Marion, a flighty, outspoken Parisienne and her New Yorker boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg), spending a fraught couple of days back chez elle.
Delpy’s not only the star, she’s also the writer, co-producer, editor and composed the score. She even cast her actor parents as her onscreen maman et papa. No wonder people feel free to read it as autobiography.
Delpy doesn’t deny the personal connections but is savvy enough to pre-empt too much literal like-for-like analysis. “It’s inspired by things I’ve witnessed,” she allows, “but I’ve exaggerated it. I also put a lot of my personal things into various characters. I think [my character] Marion is in a way what I aspire to be like…I mean, I’m fearless in my creative process; but I’m fearful in life, I’m a neurotic. I’m closer to Jack in a way.”
When initiating the project there was a bigger concern for Delpy than people mistaking her script for her diary: the story. Young American male and French woman together in Paris massaging out relationship strains and emotional tensions – hadn’t we already seen Richard Linklater’s beloved two-hander Before Sunset (co-written with stars Delpy and Ethan Hawke) and its Viennese-set predecessor Before Sunrise?
“Well you know, that’s how I tricked financiers into giving me money,” Delpy confides, “to convince them that it was going to be a similar film and then turn it into something entirely different. I don’t think it’s even the same genre.”
“Before Sunset is a very romantic film, where this one is more of a harsh comedy. A few of the financiers were surprised and not always happily.” Another lusty chuckle gurgles up. “A lot of it – especially for French people – is pretty controversial.”
“Controversial” doesn’t mean JFK or Passion of the Christ-type outrage, but acknowledges the unexpectedly caustic barbs peppering Delpy’s script at the expense of smug French, arrogant Americans and anyone caught in the crossfire. She claims that one of the lines that convinced funders to back her was, “Is this a kid’s condom? Do they make condoms for kids?”
Those who know Delpy more from her Sunrise / Sunset movies, as the lovably woolly, vulnerably lovelorn Celine, may be shocked. But then Delpy loves to surprise even her nearest and dearest, as with her parents’ reaction to her on the 2 Days in Paris set.
“They were stunned because when I’m directing, I become a very different person.” she affirms. “When I’m just their daughter, I’m kind of lazy and clumsy, my mum’s always complaining that I’m messy. And when I’m directing, I know exactly what I want and I won’t stop shooting until I get it.”
She almost flushes with pride as she talks. “It’s so nice when your parents are impressed by you. I mean, I don’t give a shit about impressing anyone but my parents.”
In Delpy’s case, you don’t doubt it. Working as a youngster with legendary directors like Jean-Luc Godard (Detective) and Kryzystof Kieslowski (Three Colours: White) and causing a scandal by revealing ‘casting couch’ indignities foisted upon her early in her career, Delpy has always gone her own way. This is a woman who was effectively fired by her Hollywood agent because they’d heard she was attempting to write Before Sunset.
“He called and said, ‘we decided to let you go because it seems you’re not really focused on your craft,’” she recounts. “I was like, ‘What do you mean, you haven’t called me in six months?’ It’s funny, I was actually doing an audition and reading on-camera, so I recorded the whole conversation. That could be in a movie someday.”
Delpy had the last laugh, Before Sunset going on to garner huge acclaim and an Oscar nomination for her, Hawke and Linklater’s screenplay. Still, her defiance – “the more people put me down, the stronger I get” – sometimes meets its match in the blatant shamelessness of the movie industry.
Meeting this same agent subsequently, she reports, “He saw me and said, ‘Why did you leave us?’ It’s almost genius, these people are so in denial.” How about mailing him the recording of their notorious phone call? Delpy dismisses the idea abruptly. “They should stay in their world of fantasy and psychosis.”
Still, Delpy needed her own tunnel vision and determination to make 2 Days in Paris happen. Though on paper the most straightforward of her numerous self-penned projects to get off the ground, in practice it turned out to be anything but.
“Make sure you lock your actors really well so that they don’t turn up twelve hours before the shoot like Adam,” she advises. “That was really stressful. And make sure you have enough money to finish the film,” referring to a budget that ran out during post-production.
Happily the finished film should finally afford Delpy the opportunity to realise her various other ideas. Next up should be The Countess, her long-planned version of infamous Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Bathory, reputed to have killed young virgins and bathed in their blood.
What I’m interested in are the main themes - vanity, cruelty, eternal beauty and the fear of death,” she says passionately. “Loss of consciousness for me is the fear of everything; everything you’ve felt and been has gone…”
Julie Delpy shudders, then instantly returns to the practicalities of the crazy business she finds herself in. “Financiers are terrified of period pieces. They’re like, ‘what’s the demographic?’ People born in 1650?” How about Hungarian serial killers? That deep-throated laugh rears up again. “I’m not a very good salesman,” she shrugs. It’s the first thing she says that sounds far-fetched.
2 Days in Paris opens 31st August.