Julie Delpy is more than a triple threat; she's a writer, a director and an actor with an Oscar nom under her belt and a history of working with directors like Jean-Luc Godard ("Détective") and Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Three Colors: White") from a young age. Her latest film, "2 Days in New York," picks up a few years after "2 Days in Paris" left off.
Delpy's character Marion is living in comfortable sin with her partner Mingus (Chris Rock) and their children. She's preparing for an upcoming art show when her rambunctious family comes to visit from France. We met her father Jeannot (played by her real-life dad Albert Delpy), her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Marion's ex Manu (Alex Nahon) in "Paris," and now they're invading New York with their wild ways. Jeannot smuggles food in his pants from France, Rose is now sort of dating Manu and Manu is trying to be cool enough to impress Mingus. The subtext of the movie is that Jeannot, Rose and Marion are mourning their wife and mother Anna, whom we met in "Paris." Anna was played by Delpy's mother Marie Pillet, who also passed away in the interim. Between the sisterly fights, the misunderstandings and Mingus' ongoing dialogue with a life-size cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama, Marion is struggling with the idea of a soul, mortality and grief.
Delpy is known for her no-BS attitude and disarming openness about everything from the movie industry to her own shortcomings -- as she sees them, anyway. The "Before Sunrise/Sunset" star is a pleasure to chat with, as we found out this week in New York City.
After a pleasing Sundance premiere, Delpy's movie was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and is currently on demand. It will appear in theaters on August 10.
Paris made sense for "2 Days in Paris." Why "2 Days in New York"?
I wanted the reverse shot of the fish out of water, the American in Paris. I wanted the French invaders onto Manhattan. I liked this idea of, here, it's the opposite. It's not like the city closing in [on] the American. Everything seems fine to start with, and then those few elements show up and kind of bring up all the worst out of Marion and --- you know how it is. Cathartic.
As opposed to LA, though? [Delpy lives in LA.]
Oh, yeah! There was never the question, you know? I always imagined Marion being an ex-pat in New York. She's an artist, she's a photographer. LA was never an option… She's very New York. I just didn't feel she would be LA at all.
What was the chemistry like between Chris Rock and your dad? Was it chaotic?
[Laughs] No, it was good because it was so different. Chris is a very cerebral person that really thinks of what he's going to do next and, you know, stand-up, it's very planned… My dad comes from the totally experimental theater [world], wild, totally crazy. And those two energies onscreen, it was kind of a dream to just put them together in a scene, and it just had this energy right away… It's just like you have Mars and you have Jupiter, you know? [Laughs] They're not breathing the same air. It's like totally a different world.
I think maybe a lot of us are embarrassed by our eccentric parents, and then to encourage them to be eccentric on camera…
To be eccentric on camera! Well, my dad is an actor, so he's able to do -- you know, in real life, my dad is a very sweet man. I mean, he is a bit of an eccentric, he's a very free spirit… He's fun to be around, but he's also a very, very sweet guy.
Oh, I miss him! I wish he had come to -- I kind of screwed up the schedule and stuff, and he couldn't come to the premiere tonight. It's my fault. I f*cked up. I really wanted him to come. I'm such a bad daughter, but anyway! I just have so much work. I'm working on a movie in Greece and coming here for two days, and I didn't have time to book the ticket, and I kind of screwed up, and now it's too late. I feel bad! Okay! But he's such a fun guy to be around. I'll regret it for the rest of my life, I'm sure of that. But anyway, he's such a fun guy to be around, and he's a fantastic actor. I've seen him on stage all my life, and I think he's amazing. Obviously, [there are] all those wonderful actors in the world that are not stars, but, you know, they are still wonderful actors and he is one of them.
Speaking as someone who's written or attempted to write about losing a parent, I was wondering how overt or not you wanted to make the loss of your mother. Were there many revisions? Like, oh, this is too sad?
It was the most complicated thing I handled when writing the script, because when I started writing the script, she was alive and I wrote a part for her in the script. And my mom was such a lover of her job as an actress, that the truth is [during] the first movie she almost died a day before shooting from a heart attack. She had major, major heart problems, and she made it through, and she came to the set, and she wanted to do the part. And it gave her a lot of energy.
You know when people are passionate about something? I know it sounds like maybe stupid to some people, but my parents come from a generation where she was coming from a working class family and to be an actress was a big deal for her, so she didn't take it lightly, to be an actress. It was really a calling, you know. And for her to be able to be in the film, and she was fantastic in the film and stuff, so it was really important. So she recovered from a heart attack, came to the set, did the scenes -- she was great. Then she felt better for a few [months], then she ended up having lung cancer, which was really, really tragic, and I started writing the film hoping, as an idiot that I am, that maybe it will give her an energy to, you know, so actually the first impulse to write the sequel was to save my mom. It sounds crazy.
No, it doesn't.
But basically I had to start writing the script again without her. That's when my friends [Landeau and Nahon] joined in to help me write it. Basically, it's a difficult thing to do, and I kind of [did] not want to exclude it from the film because it would not be true to what I felt at that moment. And in a way, it's a part of life to lose your parents. You have kids yourself, and it's a difficult thing to do, but I wanted a bit of an homage to her. And I wanted it to be a comedy because she was a very happy and funny person.
Let's talk about that hoary chestnut of being a female director. Do you feel like, on one hand, it's an ongoing discussion that's important, and then on the other, maybe it's a pigeonhole. How do you approach that?
I don't want to be a female director. I'm a director, okay? When people come up to me and say, oh, you've achieved what no one else has achieved, to be in movies, direct and act. I'm like, what do you mean, nobody has achieved that? There are a million directors that have done it. And they're like, no, no, but as a woman. I'm like, ohhhh, okay. Here we go again… Not that it's bad but it's, like, okay, yeah, as a woman I'm doing a lot, [but] I never compare myself to women or men. I compare myself to individuals. That's it. Women, men, I don't care. To me, I'm an individual. I was raised that way, with absolutely no sexism in my family whatsoever. I was raised -- everyone makes fun of me, I never had my ears pierced -- not that I was actually boyish or like a tomboy. I was not even a tomboy. I was not, I was nothing, I was neutral. My parents raised me with this idea that I was equal to men, that there was no difference.
And it's interesting to me because in the end, I do feel [writing jokes for me], saying things about women, a lot of men feel like, oh, the guy must have ad-libbed that line. And I'm like, no, no, no. I wrote it. And they're like, oh, wow, so you write for men like a man? [laughs] And I'm like, yeah, why would I…? I’m really interested in how people think that women can't understand the [male] emotions or the [male] humor or the [male] sex drive. I can understand as much a woman that's not me as I can understand a man that's not [me]. To me, another woman is as strange and has a different view of the world as much as a man, and no more.
I watched "The Countess," and I thought it was just so…
It's a different kind of film.
Romantic and -- not romantic but --
Romantic in a dark way.
But I also saw it as a middle finger to Hollywood and its obsession with youth.
Youth, yeah, and the power of youth. Yeah, and this kind of idea… I mean, it is and it isn't. The film is very much a reflection of [the] human condition that is something that is so hard to accept, which is you're born to die. You have this power, all this power, and then from one day to another, it's just… Then you age and it's taken away from you. Somehow, [Bathory's downfall is at the hands of] men. The film is [negative towards] men... They're either wimps, perverts or overbearing powerful manipulative bastards, so the film is very dark on the male power… The amount of abuse on women for the past 10,000 years [laughs] has been tremendous, this idea of controlling women has been a lot. It's been very present in our society and history.
Like the fear that women could take over and have freedom. The first witches, why were they burned? Because they invented contraception. Contraception is the main element -- that's why I'm so pro-choice, even though I think abortion is one of the most horrible things you [might] do to yourself [laughs], I don't think it's a great thing as a contraception, better be on the Pill or use condoms -- but when it happens, I just feel like it's so important because to me, it's one of the first things that started persecution of women during the witch hunts and stuff, was really, really women being able to control their body and not be pregnant and stuff like that. So I think [female] contraception is more important than people think it is. The meaning of women['s] freedom.