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Interview: Julie Delpy (2 Days in Paris)

Like all great French actresses, Julie Delpy’s performances burn through the screen into the hearts of cinemaphiles everywhere. It’s not just her blonde locks or her milky skin that attracts viewers, but her ability to fine-tune a performance to the most miniscule nuance.

Like all great French actresses, Julie Delpy’s performances burn through screens into the hearts of cinemaphiles everywhere. It’s not just her blonde locks or her milky skin that attracts viewers, but her ability to fine-tune a performance to the most miniscule nuance. 

Delpy made her screen debut under the direction of cinema maestro Jean Luc-Godard in Détective. Since then she has gone on to work with a slew of famous directors including Lasse Hallström Richard Linklater, and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Although born in France by two actors who play themselves in the film, Delpy cannot be claimed exclusively by the Parisians, for she is an internationally recognized icon of great cinema. 

2 Days in Paris marks Delpy’s sophomore feature effort and the film is a throwback/critique on New Wave romances mixing comedy, drama and depicting Paris in a not-so-romantic light. The film centers on bickering couple Marion and Jack (Julie Delpy and the always rye Adam Goldberg) who fly into Paris, a seemingly tangential aspect of their European vacation, for a quick pop in at Marion’s parents. A harsh look at their relationship ensues as Jack finds out just a little bit more about Marion then he actually cared to know. 

I sat down with writer/director Julie Deply in NYC.

Julie Delpy

Q: What made you decide to use a voice-over for the film?
Julie Delpy: Well the voice-over was originally supposed to be in French and then as I was editing the ending, I decided that a French voice-over should end much earlier, but then I did the English-language version and thought that is shouldn’t be as abrupt. So I added more English voice-over and upon hearing that decided to add more French as well. So in the end both voice-overs are very sim1ilar. The original French version I thought was too cynical in a way and hearing the English really brought something new to the film. 

Q: Was there a difference in the critical reception of this film between France and America?
JD: Well the French critics were, in general, harsher. The film offended some people.

Q: Got offended?  By what?  Certainly not because of the sex?
JD: Sex, what sex? There’s a lot of talking about sex in the film but that doesn’t really count and French critics certainly aren’t going to pan a film due to sexual content. The two characters actually don’t even have sex.  Some people got offended about the way I described France. French people are very funny, they say things like: why is the overly flirtatious taxi-driver Moroccan? That means she thinks all Moroccans are horny. I mean it could have been any nationality of taxi driver! All of the sudden the French become politically correct when in reality, they’re not ever.  Then, to put the icing on the cake, they got mad that the other French taxi-driver was a racist. So I asked a group of French journalists if they had ever met a racist taxi-driver and the all said: “of course.” I mean this film is a comedy so there’s obviously going to be characters that are crazy and over-the-top. We’ve all met taxi drivers like that; the character actually comes from a personal experience. I was writing 2 Days and was taking a cab when I heard the driver listening to a program about battered wives. When I asked why he was listening to that he said he had beat both his previous wives. I was so shocked.

Q: Did you confront him?

JD: No (laughs) that’s the difference between me and the characters I play, I’m a chicken. I can argue a little bit, but I would never snap like my character does in the film. I mean I’m an actress if I get punched in the face how will I work?  

Q: Would you say you’re drawn towards the more comedic elements in life?

JD: Yeah I would say that comes much more naturally to me, I’ve written darker stuff, but comedy definitely comes more naturally to me. I mean I love to write drama, but I’m not naturally drawn to it. Even in dramatic events that happen in life I find some of the best comedic lines. I think that’s a good way to deal with things, even when horrible things happen to me or to others it’s good to maintain a sense of humor. I get that from my dad, we’re a lot alike in that regard which is a scary thought. But my dad will deal with the most traumatic moments of his life with laughter.  

Q: Do you think this way you look at life, plus the fact that you come from an acting background, sets you apart from other people? 
JD: Well I think it’s confusing when I hear someone say a good line during the middle of something like breaking-up and I think its funny.  Not even in a comedic way, because some of the darkest, most dramatic stuff can be really funny. It’s usually the funniest actually. But in film I talk about being an observer, you don’t need to be a photographer to be an observer, unfortunately when you’re a writer, more so then an actor, you’re much more of an observer. I think actors can make good observations about themselves, but not so much in observing others. But when you’re writing you’re observing all the time which is good, because it protects you in a way, it allows you to detach yourself from the most painful times. I like that aspect of detachment because then the painful times become like movies and stories and are easier to handle. 

Q: You’ve worked with a lot of great directors from all over the world.  Who did you feel you learned the most from?
JD: I would say I learned from all of them in a way, you know I always observe the way a director works. Not because I’m spying on them, but because I like to see how each of them approach their films differently.  I’d say I learned the most from the directors I really admired like Krzysztof Kieslowski, Agnieszka Holland, and Jean-Luc Godard.  But I also get a lot out of working with younger directors like Richard Linklater and Roger Avary. What I look for in a director is who’s made me the most comfortable with my role. I learned that if you know what you want, but are kind and strong, actors will try best. I know how to get actors to do their best. Even by pushing the actors, without making it difficult. 

Q: Do you find any difference between male and female directors?

JD: No, not really. I really don’t see that much of a difference between the two, I mean I’ve worked with some great female directors like Holland and it didn’t feel any different then working with a man or another woman.  You know I actually feel that men are more fragile then women in a way.  I can’t really explain it. Growing up my parents didn’t just preach, but acted completely equal, I never really saw any big differences between men and women. My dad was a better cook so he cooked, my mother always cleaned and they split the work evenly.  There is no feminism in me because I know that I’m equal to men. 

Q: How was the collaboration between you and Adam?
JD: Well Adam was really just an actor that I hired to play the part. There was very little improvisation in the film, only a few bits here and there. I talked to Adam a lot and also my parents quite a bit about their characters. I mean film is always collaboration, there’s no such thing as film without collaboration. To me it would be like going on a stupid ego-trip if the DP came up with a better shot then me not to use it. Why would I not? If the AD has a good idea, I’ll take it too. I was asking Barbet Schroeder the other day what he thinks makes a good director and he said: “someone who can listen to everybody and can incorporate the ideas that will better the film.” You have to know what you want, but at the same time listen and take from everybody. You have to work with every single person on the set and actually listen to him or her.

Q: Why did you score this film yourself?

JD: It’s funny but it actually kind of made sense.  When I was editing the film I was feeling these moments that were missing something…little music. My boyfriend is a composer, Marc Streitenfeld (American Gangster), and he was watching the film with me and I asked if he thought it was missing music and he thought it was, so I went to my room and I have an entire file in my computer of film music that I wrote. It’s themes and other little odd bits that I wrote for fun. So I picked one and it worked, I rearranged another and wrote something new for the “Jealously Theme.”  I think the music actually adds comedy to the film, which I think is great.  It’s actually hard to write music for comedies, for dramas it’s very easy because the music just has to be very emotional, but for comedies it’s difficult. It helped a lot that I was editing the film in my house, so I could just go to my room and write it out, then put it into the film. Some worked and some didn’t. But the processes felt quite organic.

Q: Your character reminded me somewhat of Diane Keaton’s characters in Woody Allen’s films, were his films an inspiration for you?

JD: Well of course I’ve seen all those films and I especially love Manhattan. But it’s funny when I was preparing this film I was careful not to watch any comedies at all during the entire production. I watched Jaws and Raging Bull because in a way I feel like Marion is a lot like Jake LaMotta. I know that’s a weird association, but I think it’s good in a comedy that to have weird associations. I mean I also watched Day of Wrath by Dryer which has almost nothing at all to do with 2 Days in Paris but I would rather be inspired by a film that had nothing to do with comedy because I wanted to avoid a formula. Even though it is a romantic comedy, it doesn’t really follow a romantic comedy formula. 

Q: Did you always envision shooting this on DV or did you want to shoot it on film?
JD: No it was always going to be shot on DV because I knew that was the only way the film would come together.  I got the DP to use the PRO-35 lenses, which give a good depth of field. So although I think you can tell it’s shot on DV it looks good because of Lubomir Bakchev’s handling of the camera. 

Q: What are your next projects?

JD: In October I’m shooting a much darker project in Romania about the life of Elizabeth Bathory.  It’s called The Countess. But I’m also working on another comedy called World Wars and Other Fun Stuff to Watch on the Evening News. It’s a political comedy and it’s also a satire. But it’s hard to find money for the latter project because everyone is scared to make a political film these days. It’s a direct criticism of the last seven years of politics in America (otherwise known as the Bush administration). The Countess, on the other hand is a 16th century meditation on cruelty, vanity and murder but the financing for that come together much more quickly. 

Samuel Goldwyn Films releases Julie Delpy‘s 2 Days in Paris on August 10th.

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