As an actress, Julie Delpy's credits include Europa, Europa, White, Broken Flowers, The Hoax, Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear and Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Waking Life. Now she's the star, writer, director, editor, and composer of 2 Days in Paris. We chatted at San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel.
Groucho: Alright. This is probably a bit reductive, but to me, the film seemed to be about the absurd difficulty of just relaxing and enjoying what you have and being happy.
Julie Delpy: Being in the moment.
JD: Basically. Yeah, I mean the film is about that as well. It's about relationship also, but how to be in the moment in the relationship and stop bickering and, you know, enjoy what you have. Which is, you know, if you have a connection with someone it's pretty—it's a lot already, you know? And not stop arguing about all the little other things that don't function or, you know, are not exactly perfect. We are a spoiled kind of society, you know, we can afford to have those kind of problems—so they have the problems. They have little bourgeois problems, like she says at one point.
JD: She's like, "You know, there's people dying in wars." I mean it's funny in the film because you know it's a weird situation, but it is a true thing.
G: Because it seems if it weren't for the pressure cooker of these two days in Paris they might have gone on uninterrupted and happy, but certain things along the way triggered them to reexamine—
JD: Their relationship. Yeah. Yeah I think it's always good, moments of catharsis, moments of problem, brings out stuff that you're kind of putting aside or not really addressing or you know—so yeah they're going to have to address and accept their differences and their, you know, miscommunication and all that. They're going to have to address it if they want to go further with their relationship—
G: The film was the most widely distributed of any French film ever.
JD: Mm-hm. I mean that was a surprise to me because when we went to Berlin I didn't know it was going to be sold to that many countries. I didn't know the humor would translate for everyone. You know, in Berlin I would get introduced to Russians and they would be like, the film is so Russian. And then I'd be introduced to Brazilian journalists and they'd be like, the film is so Brazilian. And I was like, really? Which confirmed to me that, you know, dysfunctional relationship is universal. (Laughs.) And also, I guess, you know, the humor in the film is about family, love, sex, jealousy, politics, which is something everyone relates to. You know, like I talked to people from Dubai and people from you know, like, Asia which is probably a different culture, you know as far as possible. I think Asia is more, you know, I think Taiwan or China and stuff. You know it's different like Russia and France you can compare in culture and stuff you know, but Asia is different way to relate to things, I think a little bit because I have a lot of Asian friends and they tell me they like the story and stuff, and so it's not exactly the same, but still they relate it to the family stuff and the loss stuff, and jealousy, and ex-boyfriends. Like I think it's universal that men don't like to know too much about, you know, who was in there before them. (Laughs—) Like men don't love to know exactly what happened before them—
G: From an actor's perspective, having been directed often, what is most useful to you as an actor from a director?
JD: Um, I would say, as an actress what I need from a director is someone—I mean, you know I don't know how I was with actors, but I was very—you know, I pushed them to do their best and I like when directors push me a little bit. You know, I don't like when a director's like "Oh great let's move on to the next shot," because I feel like they're not—they don't really care.
JD: You need to be cared for. I mean sometimes I might have been, because some actors were my friends, I might have been a little short (laughs) like with friends of mine that didn't learn their lines. I was like "Just learn them goddammit! Don't make a big deal out of acting; it's not such a"— I was a little bit like, you know sometimes I forgot how insecure you get when you're an actor. I might have once with one friend who's in the film, who's actually—he's not an actor, he was acting for the first time. I was kind of like, "Come on, learn your lines! What's the big deal? Do it again!" Sometimes I would push him and I would do the take over and over and over. I'm not going to let go easily. At the same time, every actor that I worked with on this film loved it. And you know the girl playing my sister is playing in my next film, and you know the guy that played Manu, he's like "When do I get to work with [you again]?" You know? Like everyone's—my parents can't wait. My dad wants to be in my next film, which is like a drama, sixteenth century, where he has to speak English and be like a really serious film. And I was like "Dad, you know you're not going to play a part in English. Everyone's going to laugh. Like, you know it's a drama! (Laughs.) You can't do that. So it went really, really well, but I will push people until I get what I want.
JD: So I'm not. I don't stop, like you know, I get what I want. But I think, as an actress, I like actors. As an actress I like directors who do that because the worst for an actor is when a director says, "Okay fine," and you feel you haven't done your best and you could do better and it's very frustrating. And actually I think a lot of actors that work on my film were happy to be able to—
G: Have a chance to show—
JD: Have a chance, yeah.
G: Like "This is all I can do."
JD: And will never let go until I feel it's right and until, you know, we can get better—
G: What did you take from working with Godard?
JD: You know, I don't know if I—if you can take anything from Godard. You know, I mean, Goddard wrote me a letter after I finished his film, which was very sweet. It was advice. He was giving me advice for my future. And he said something like "You are the river and everyone else is like the banks trying to make you—to mold you into a direction." And he says, "Just follow your own." That was the advice of Godard. And in a way, I think I'm unconsciously, that's—I followed that. And maybe that's why I'm not a huge like star in France—you know, like I didn't do the typical path. I kind of went with different ways because I followed my own thing. And I think Godard influenced me in that sense, you know? And you know the truth is, when I watched the film the other day, I hadn't seen it in a while, and I had watched—I didn't realize I did that, but I—it's embarrassing almost.
JD: Like there's a bunch of jump cuts in the love scene, in À bout de soufflé, Breathless, and I was like, oh shit!
JD: But like in a comedic way. I mean, it's almost embarrassing. I mean I didn't mean to! You know? It's like I didn't realize that I just was doing this conversation scene in bed was like this weird jump. I mean I was different, obviously, but—which means that without wanting at all, it's like everyone, every film you've seen, influences you in the style that you're telling a story. And because I've seen many films, you know, I'm probably influenced by a million different films, without even wanting to. I never study other people's film and be like "Okay, I'm going to shoot it like that." That would be weird. You know, I don't feel like doing that, but at the same time I did watch a few films before I left to do this film, but I watch films that had nothing to do—I watched like, you know, Jaws and—
G: (Laughs). How are Frenchmen like sharks, by the way?
JD: Well in Jack's mind, you know, they're like the danger approaching, you know, lethal danger towards his property, which is my own. I have fun with that. I make fun with that because I just, because it's not really like Jaws, in the film you know what I mean? But I kind of like watch—I watch the weirdest film when I—I mean, preparing this film I watched films that had absolutely nothing to do with my film. I didn't want to watch too many comedies. I kind of wanted to stay away not—so I wouldn't fall into a kind of a formula, or you know, be too influenced—
G: I've heard you say that artists are—that true artists are obsessive, which I agree with. What about this film did you obsess over and have to get just right?
JD: Editing? And mixing. Editing. Editing and mixing. You know I wasn't—writing was one thing. Directing was one thing, but then in the editing process you can really get obsessive. You're by yourself, no one bothers you, and you're kind of like—well I had an assistant. Luckily, you know I could, like, communicate with someone a little—but I love editing because you can really get into your obsessive side. Like little detail, is it funny enough? Can you cut half a second or just add it back. And like, half a second changes a whole scene. I mean like, it's really genius for obsessive people.
JD: Editing is brilliant, you know. Mixing as well. Like I can get pretty obsessive on the mix. And I'm attach to technical details, also. I like when it's technically good. So even if it's a small film, and stuff, I spend more than I should have in like the—call and correction. I love the technical side of things, too. So, I get like a—like a bit, kind of like computer—I'm a bit of a—I made the poster.
JD: I like computers and I like making things. I mean, it's not like—(Laughs.) I made the poster myself.
JD: So I love playing with computers, as much as possible. Like when I get to a computer I can spend years on it.
JD: So that's the obsessive side for me is the editing and mixing.
G: What about in building a character? I watched the extras to White, and you were talking about how Kieslowski was more of kind of an outside-in approach to character. That he would talk about—
JD: Oh yeah, detail—
JD: How gestures, yeah.
G: What is your preference as an actress in terms of finding a character?
G: Or does it depend specifically on the script or the role?
JD: I need a little psychological background of the character. I like to know what their life is. I like to invent who they are a little bit and I like to know all the details of their life. Like for example, details like why did she call her cat Jean-Luc?
JD: I was like "Oh they went to a movie, a year before. And they adopted the cat—you know, she adopted the cat five years ago after she saw a Godard film and she called the cat Jean-Luc.
JD: Like things like that. I like to tell myself a little story. You know, it doesn't need to be heavy, or whatever. Especially for this film, but like, I like to know their childhood, in a way. I like to know how it unfolded, like what they did in childhood. What happened to them.
G: And do you commit that to paper? Do you make notes?
JD: No, no. I just like to think about it as more of an abstract kind of like, life story that I kind of have in my head at all time. Maybe I would write a few things, you know, but not—I don't need writing so much. I have it in my head, you know.
JD: It's better in a way, you know, because paper you can lose. Your brain; it's harder to lose your brain.
G: (Laughs.) Right.
JD: You know, you can forget things, but I don't really forget when I'm focused on something. I'm pretty focused, so—no, yeah—
G: Thank you very much.
JD: Thank you.