I've interviewed Julie Delpy exactly two times in my life, and both times were for films she wrote, directed and played the same character in, the neurotic, mildly promiscuous French woman Marion. In 2 DAYS IN PARIS (her second film as a director after LOOKING FOR JIMMY), Marion brought her American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) to Paris to meet her filterless family, and five years later in 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK, her family comes to visit her in the New York home she shares with her new significant other, Mingus (played by a decidedly dial-back but still very funny Chris Rock). The film is quite funny, exceedingly vulgar at times, and full of wonderful insight on family, intimacy, and culture.
Her first time behind the camera, it seems Delpy was deliberately attempting to play against the type she helped create in her films with director Richard Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke, BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET. This time around, she seems to be going after a distinctly Woody Allen-esque vibe, and for the most part, she achieves that very nicely.
Delpy has directed a couple other film between her 2 DAYS movies (THE COUNTESS and LE SKYLAB, and acted occasionally in works such as BROKEN FLOWERS, THE HOAX, and THE AIR I BREATHE. But for the most part she sees herself as a filmmaker these days, turning down many acting gigs and not particularly eager to talk about early films such as KILLING ZOE, VOYAGER, THREE COLORS: WHITE, and certainly the disastrous AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS.
I got to talk to Julie Delpy, and if you know who she is, then you probably have a crush on her or did at some point in the last 15 years. If you haven't ever had a crush on her, I have nothing to say to you. And her work with Richard Linklater on BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET set off a flurry of young American men bound for Europe looking, well, for her, or a version of her.
Her new film, 2 DAYS IN PARIS, is a twisted and funny version of her persona from those two films, and she does everything in her power to shatter what we think she's all about. She wrote, directed, produced, stars, and even did much of the music in this film, and the results are hilarious.
Julie Delpy: Hello.
Capone: Hi Julie, how are you?
JD: Good, and you?
Capone: Good. Five years ago was the only other time I’ve interviewed you, and it was for 2 DAYS IN PARIS, so I think we are just going to stick to when you are directing and writing and forget the acting, which I guess is what you’re going to do anyway from what I hear. One aspect to this film that few people are asking you about is this idea that your character is selling her soul as an art project, and that’s a huge statement on your part. Do you believe that in order for an artist to be successful, she or he has to sell their soul? Is that your idea of Hollywood?
JD: Well I thought it was a very funny concept, that the idea that Marion is selling her soul as a conceptual piece, and also of course it has other meanings behind it. But I don’t want to make it heavy, so I would hate to explain that part of it, but at the same time I take the piss out of it. My soul ends up in Vincent Gallo's underwear, which is really not that bad. It’s not a bad thing.
Capone: I was going to say at least the person you sold it to is someone I have respect for and would probably take pretty good care of it.
JD: Yes, exactly. Already he’s putting it next to the favorite part of his body, because I didn’t want to make a heavy statement on that either, on the selling of the soul. I think it’s funny to make the statement, but then to joke about it as well. Do you know what I mean?
Capone: Of course, yeah.
JD: Obviously, I’ve never sold my soul. I’ve never “sold out.” I keep on doing my projects and keep on living my own life and whatever happens happens, and we’ll see.
Capone: Let me ask you this, and then I’ll drop it. Have you ever felt like someone has asked you to do a role or action in a movie where it was almost equivalent to selling out?
JD: No, but I felt--not selling out, because I’ve always been careful in my choices of stuff--the feeling that you dilute yourself a little bit by making choices. And it happens very quickly and it’s very insidious, because being successful is attractive, but there’s also a double side to it. I don’t want to go too deep into it.
I think humor is the best weapon against everything. I have a good sense of humor about the worst thing that happened to me in this business or the best thing. I love when people are mean to me [laughs] or how much of a struggle it was to be in this business and to become a director as a woman; I had millions of hilariously horrible things that happened to me. But they are very funny too, like horrible and funny. People are cruel, which is okay with me.
Capone: Does it feel in making these films, especially the NEW YORK and PARIS films, like therapy to you, where you can finally get all of those painful things out?
JD: Yeah, it’s therapy that I impose on people. [Laughs] It’s really annoying, like I make my film, I feel better, and then people have to watch them. It’s kind of unbearable.
Capone: But your pain makes us laugh, so it’s okay.
JD: Exactly, my suffering is really funny. [laughs] That’s the great part.
Capone: The humorous elements of Adam Goldberg versus Chris Rock are very different. I know you wrote this for Chris. What was it about his style and sense of humor that you thought would work opposite you.
JD: I’ve always admired him as a stand up. I think he's super talented and a very smart person. I met him briefly once and I was like “Wow.” He barely spoke to me--he was talking with Ethan Hawke--and I really think he’s an interesting guy. and we have similar interests because he directs sometimes too. So when I decided to make a sequel, I didn’t want to have Marion to be with Jack. I thought it would be more ripe to the tone of the film that it didn’t work out. And life is more complicated and you have a kid fathered not with the guy you're with, which for me was important. I just decided to start writing it for him and after a few months I was like, “Okay, I better figure out if he’s even remotely interested in working with me.” So then I went on IMDB Pro, I found out who his agent was and I called his agent.
Capone: It really is that easy?
JD: Actually, his agent happened to be an ex-agent of mine, so it was easier to actually speak to him. I was like “Hey, remember me? I think you fired me.” [Laughs] No, actually he had not fired me, not this one or maybe he did. I can’t remember, but either way, he was one of my agents a long, long time ago. So I spoke to him, and he called me back after speaking to Chris and said, “Hey, he is remotely interested in working with you, so write a good script.”
Capone: You named him “Mingus” and his facial hair is very, very similar to Charles Mingus. Was that always the name? Did you want him look like that?
JD: I really wanted the character to have this cool vibe, like I imagined the backstory of this guy and his family, and his parents were activists. The mom is a bit young in the film, but the dad was an activist in the '60s and very cool and enjoyed Charlie Mingus, and it’s a great name, and it rhymes with you know what [the running joke in the film is that it rhymes with cunnilingus]. The name was also chosen for that reason in a weird way.
Capone: Speaking of which, you are one of the finest writers of sophisticated vulgarity working today.
JD: Thank you!
Capone: What is the key to writing shocking dialog?
JD: …without being totally bad or trashy. I think it’s to keep a certain intellectual level to it, but with really dirty things in it. It’s absurd, but at the same time, it’s obviously crude, but at the same time, I try to make it complex enough that it’s actually more crazy than just crude. I try to find that fine line, because just saying dirty words is not that funny, but when it’s in a situation and when it’s mixed in with something else… The film has a lot of blow job jokes, yes, but I always try to keep it in a way like it’s almost absurd, so it works. It’s so crazy that it works, like a woman talking to a guy saying her specialty is blow jobs. Who does that? But it’s funny. Basically when you're crude and you’re funny, it works in a way.
Capone: Keeping the family in Marion’s story, but pulling them out of their element this time and into New York, was that one of the things you thought was funny, having that fish-out-of-water experience?
JD: I get the fish out of water with Adam by having the city closing in on him, with the ex-boyfriends and things. Here it was just fun to have them be invaders, bringing mayhem with them from the minute they get in. When they are not even officially in America, they're in trouble.
Capone: That’s true, it is more a small invasion.
JD: Yeah, that’s what it is, with the French invading Manhattan. Finally we are taking over. No, I’m kidding.
Capone: In the first film, Marion’s ex-boyfriends keep showing up and she is trying to hide it from Adam, and in this movie she is fully embracing her past with this art exhibit [comprised of dozens of photos of her and each of her ex-lovers in bed together]. What changed in the interim? What made her more able to deal with her past?
JD: I think she decided that the white lies that she had in the past were the wrong way to go. Chris always says that this film is about “A slut can find true love. Even sluts can be happy,” which I think is very funny. Anyway, she’s not really a slut. She’s had a few boyfriends and actually she hasn’t had that many probably, probably less than a lot of people, but she’s using that as an art piece. She’s using past relationships as an art piece, exposing her personal life.
But very much in the genre of a lot of other women artists or even writers like Anais Nin--her journals about relationships with Henry Miller. So there’s a lot of that in the women's world of art, which is like using your own personal vision or personal life even. So she kind of does it, but she’s not as good an artist as those people [laughs], so she doesn’t really sell. Only her soul sells. But then she eventually does, because everybody thinks she’s dying.
Capone: In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been interviewing a lot of actresses who have written screenplays that they are starring in, and they've all told me that part of the thing that keeps them writing is that they aren’t really being offered he parts that they think they deserve. They're sick of the Hollywood romantic-comedy things or playing girlfriends or wives, and they want to write something a little more fulfilling for them. Was that a driving force for you?
JD: I have to say that I understand that, but actually for me, I’ve always been writing, for me or not for me, I’ve always been writing. Since I was 16, I’ve always been writing screenplays, so I’ve been trying to direct for a long time. I just started directing at 36, but my first screenplay I was 16, so it took me 20 years to get 500,000 euros out of someone to make a movie. And that’s only because video existed and that’s the only way I could finally make a film.
More than me not being fulfilled as an actress, it’s me not being fulfilled as a viewer and as a member of the public wanting to see women with complexity, women who are neurotic. In movies, it’s easy to find a guy that’s a nerd that’s endearing, but the woman is always the pretty one. Here, I like having women that are real, that remind me of my friends; I feel more connected to them in a weird way, I feel more connected to women that are not perfect. I don’t know any perfect women. [whispers] Yeah, maybe a few actresses that do a lot of stuff to themselves, but like in the real world I don’t know any perfect women. They're full of flaws, as neurotic as men, and as complicated.
Capone: Your character has always been very impulsive. How does that hold her back?
JD: Marion is super impulsive, and that’s a problem obviously. It always puts her into terrible situations, but it also brings her positive things, like the lie in the elevator. In the end, it turns out for the best, which I think is ironic, because I would hate a more realistic movie. It’s like reversed morals; she's a liar. She made up a horrible lie and she ends up being successful for it. [Laughs] It sounds like the world.
Capone: Exactly.Did you find as a director that you had to ask Chris to dial back his comic delivery that we have seen him use a lot in other films? Or did he get it right off the ba?
JD: I think he was attracted to the project because he was not going to do the typical Chris Rock, and I think that’s really what appealed to him. He’s very capable of doing other things, but he’s being offered always more or less the same part, and I think for him it was just kind of an exciting thing to do. He was very happy to be doing this.
Capone: The scenes where he is talking to the cutout of Barack Obama were so wonderful and touching, and of course he would have one of those in his office and of course he would talk to him. Where did that idea come from?
JD: It was the first thing I thought when Chris unofficially agreed to do the film. Even before he agreed, I first thought “Okay, I want Chris to do the part.” I was like, “I would love for him to have these conversations with Obama, but not political conversations, but more about relationships, a lot like a girl would.” I just think it’s really funny for a guy to be doing that, and since the character is more of the straight man in the film, I thought it’s fun that in a way you discover that Mingus has a bit of his wackiness too, and there’s a reason why he's with Marion and he’s not really totally straight. He’s a bit crazy himself.
Capone: I’ve heard Chris say many times that he’s a big Woody Allen fan, and this film I think is probably the closest he’s been to being in a Woody Allen movie. Did that appeal to him?
JD: [laughs] He definitely liked the dialog and liked the energy of the film, and the first film he likes, 2 DAYS IN PARIS. So definitely the neurosis, that kind of energy was something that he was attracted to work on definitely.
Capone: I’ve got to ask you before I let you go, I've seen in some of the interviews you’ve been doing for this film some rumblings about you getting back together with Ethan and Richard to possibly begin discussions to make another film together. What is the likelihood that that will actually come together?
JD: Well we're working on a storyline and a screenplay right now, so possibly. Not right away, but possibly.