Julie Delpy’s Entropic Vacation

Published August 9, 2012

ABOVE: JULIE DELPY (LEFT) WITH CHRIS ROCK IN 2 DAYS IN PARIS. IMAGE COURTESY OF POLARIS FILMS

French-born actress Julie Delpy is the thinking man’s dream girl. The child of Parisian actors Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, Delpy was born into a bohemian lifestyle and spent most of her childhood in the cinématheque instead of the playground. Discovered and cast by Jean-Luc Godard at the age of 14 for his film Detective, Delpy earned early critical acclaim for her roles in Europa Europa and Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy. Richard Linklater cast her opposite Ethan Hawke in 1995’s Before Sunrise, and the trio forged a lasting working relationship, with 2004 sequel Before Sunset earning co-writer Delpy an Academy nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2007, Delpy embarked on her biggest creative endeavor to that point; writing, editing and directing 2 Days in Paris, a cultures-collide examination of a disintegrating relationship.

Five years later, Delpy is back with 2 Days in New York, a sequel pitting couple Marion and Mingus (Delpy and Chris Rock) against Marion’s overbearing, extremely eccentric (and often nude) French family. By casting her father Albert as her on-screen father in the film, Delpy has crafted a loving pseudo-tribute to her own family. Interview caught up with Delpy to discuss the film, her unique upbringing, and directing her father naked.

DREW FORTUNE: After watching 2 Days in New York, one thing that struck me was that the chaos level was elevated between Paris and New York. Is this a reflection of events behind the scenes in your own life, or do you simply find humor in disorder?

JULIE DELPY: I think I do find humor in disorder, and reality is disorder. I feel that if you’re at a table with a bunch of people, family members especially, it can get chaotic. Maybe it is a reflection of my life, but my life isn’t really like that. I kind of have a monastic life, almost. [laughs] I do very little and see very [few] people. I write, and usually I’m pretty much alone with my son. I’m not the most social person. I used to be quite social, but not anymore. But, I definitely love mayhem on screen. I just saw A Wedding by Robert Altman the other day, which is total mayhem and it’s so wonderful. I love the madness of Cassavetes’s movies, where people are talking on top of each other.

FORTUNE: Your dad as Jeannot in the film is a scene stealer. Is he larger than life in reality?

DELPY: Above all, he’s a fantastic actor. I’ve seen him onstage all my life because he’s always been an actor and a stage director as long as I can remember. My parents were both actors before I was born, so I was raised by two actors. I’ve seen him work, and I’ve seen what he’s capable of doing onstage and how funny, crazy, and bigger-than-life he can be. It was great for me to be able to write him a part that was reflective of what he’s capable of doing as an actor. In real life, he’s not always easy to handle. It’s great to be able to give back a little bit. My dad has always been such a great dad, and he’s brought so much culture to my life. He dragged me to see every single movie at the cinématheque as a kid. I saw everything from Star Wars to Bergman. At nine, I would go see Star Wars one day, and the next, Fanny and Alexander. I feel like I’m trying to give back a little of that fun stuff I was raised with.

FORTUNE: I don’t want to call it a “bohemian” upbringing, but growing up in this theatrical world, did you have trouble relating to other kids? Did you seek solace in the arts?

DELPY: I definitely didn’t fit in perfectly to the school system. I was raised with such freedom of speech and thinking. There were limits, but my parents were very loving and very family-oriented. They were not crazy people who would party all the time. They were very free spirits. I know when I say this word that it freaks people out, but they were true anarchists. They didn’t go to orgies or shit like that, and they were very moral in some ways. They were very respectful of childhood. I didn’t really fit with other kids. I had problems in school all my life and problems with authority. But my parents never did drugs or anything. They just believed in freedom in the best sense of the word.

FORTUNE: When it came to directing your dad, his character is a really bawdy guy. Did some of those scenes get awkward?

DELPY: Showing his butt, you mean? [laughs] Or his dialogue? My dad can talk about anything. He’s been naked onstage. He’s an actor, so he’s not prude or anything. I’m sure it wasn’t totally easy for him to bend over and show his butt to the world, but it was filmed with love! [laughs]

FORTUNE: I’m sure Chris Rock loved it, too.

DELPY: Oh yeah. Chris was a bit uncomfortable when my dad took off his underwear. My dad is very funny. He really doesn’t care about that kind of stuff. He’s a guy from the ’70s. He’s not very shocked by nudity.

FORTUNE: He’s a guy I’d like to have a drink with.

DELPY: [laughs] Yeah.

FORTUNE: The film’s humor mines from the Curb Your Enthusiasm playbook of “squirm” comedy. What are some of your favorite comedies?

DELPY: I love uncomfortable moments in comedy. I also like crazy moments, when people just go crazy. One of my favorite comedies is The King of Comedy, because it’s so uncomfortable. It makes your skin crawl at times. I actually love Scorsese comedies. He’s an underrated comedy director. I think his comedies are some of the best comedies ever made.

FORTUNE: I think that people tend to forget about After Hours.

DELPY: 2 Days in Paris was very much inspired by After Hours. I say inspired because it wasn’t nearly as good, and I’m no Scorsese and not trying to be, but it was very much inspired by that style of one thing going bad after another. After Hours is such a great film and it is aging amazingly well, like all of his films. I also love Woody Allen movies, obviously. I’m a big Woody Allen fan, but I never think of him when I’m making my films. I would hate to try to imitate people because it’s just very pretentious and stupid. I think Cassavetes has some very funny films, like Minnie and Moskowitz. I think Altman’s Short Cuts is very funny. It’s very character-based funny, and I love that.

FORTUNE: It seems like every review for 2 Days in Paris or New York seems to include a mention of Woody Allen. Does that make you uncomfortable?

DELPY: It only makes me uncomfortable because I don’t think I’m anywhere close to his talent. I feel bad for him, that somebody would dare compare him to my little films.

FORTUNE: I think it’s a lazy comparison, based mainly on the fact that you both deal with the everyday relationships of creative people.

DELPY: I obviously think my cinema is very different. We might have a bit of the same obsessions, which is a neurotic obsession over relationships, sex and death. I’m not sure why. I think it’s obsessions that a lot of people share, but they don’t dare to talk about openly.

FORTUNE: In regards to comedy, do you find it’s a trickier thing to pull off as a writer/director or as a performer?

DELPY: Performing is the hardest thing. Even though I’ve done it for so many years, it’s still exposing yourself. You suddenly become extremely vulnerable when you’re on camera. You’re filmed and you’re being observed. It’s a bit of a violation each time. It’s a weird sensation of enjoying it and hating it at the same time. I can’t really explain the feeling of acting. It makes you the most insecure you can possibly be.

FORTUNE: You still retain French citizenship, but have spent most of your adult life in the States. Do you feel more at home overseas, or are you comfortable wherever you are?

DELPY: I’m comfortable wherever I am, and believe it or not I can be anywhere and feel comfortable after three weeks. I adapt, and I’m like a chameleon. If a country doesn’t have Internet, then I get used to not having the Internet. I could basically live anywhere. I’m a nomad at heart. Nothing is more boring than monotony.

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK IS OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE TODAY.