Julie Delpy, 2 Days In Paris
It is difficult to write about Julie Delpy’s career without rhapsodizing about the multi-talented Frenchwoman. At just 14, she got her breakthrough in Jean-Luc Godard’s Detective, and while still in her teens she worked with such celebrated European auteurs as Leos Carax, Bertrand Tavernier, Carlos Saura, Agnieszka Holland and Volker Schlöndorff. In the early 1990s, Delpy established herself as one of the most promising actresses around with her work in both arthouse successes (Krysztof Kie?lowski’s White and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise) and more commercial fare like Killing Zoe and The Three Musketeers. But rather than trying to establish herself as a Hollywood A-lister, Delpy went to film school at NYU and studied directing. Since graduating, Delpy has written and directed three short films, earned an Academy Award nomination for her contribution to the Before Sunset screenplay and released an album of her own songs, all the while acting in at least one or two films per year.
People who just identify Delpy as a strikingly beautiful actress will be surprised by 2 Days in Paris, her debut feature as writer-director. (Delpy also edited, produced and wrote the music for the film.) Though on the surface it would appear to bear a significant resemblance to Before Sunset— it is about a French woman (Delpy) and an American man (Adam Goldberg) in Paris — 2 Days in Paris is a very different film. Showcasing Delpy’s assured direction and charmingly earthy sense of humor, it is a smart relationship comedy which recalls Woody Allen at his playful, beguiling best. By turns bawdy, thoughtful, farcical, political and romantic, 2 Days in Paris is a completely winning comic treat which suggests Delpy can excel at anything she is passionate enough to pursue.
Filmmaker spoke to Delpy about her transition to low-budget filmmaking, working with Kie?lowski, and her father’s tendency to stare at firemen’s butts.
Filmmaker: What were the origins of the film?
Delpy: I thought about it for the first time in 2001, and I thought it would be funny to have a movie about a relationship over 48 hours in Paris that falls apart. An American guy with a lot of neuroses, and a fearless French woman who doesn’t have any neuroses. I actually originally started writing a short story or a novel, but I can’t write novels, I’m not capable of doing it. It always ends up that I start doing the dialogue, and as it goes along I transfer it from Word to Final Draft and it turns into a screenplay. Then Richard Linklater called me for writing Before Sunset, so I was like, “OK, forget that one! Why don’t we set Before Sunset in Paris?” They were like, “OK, let’s do that.” It was because I wanted to do a movie in Paris, but then [the idea for 2 Days in Paris] stayed in my head because it was still a very different subject matter — you know, about a couple breaking up, and not a couple meeting again — so I was like, “Why don’t I try and do it?” Then I called Adam Goldberg. I had already called him in 2001 and said, “Would you do this film?”, because I wanted to do it totally guerilla, shoot it in a few days, over New Year. But then I met this producer who said, “Why don’t you raise money?” I didn’t want to write a full screenplay until I had money, because I’ve written many screenplays that never happened, and I’m tired of it. So I met some financiers and had some initial money which made me finish the screenplay. It was kind of a slow process, but quick because as soon as I had the money I wrote the screenplay, and then we shot it, and then I edited it, I did the music and then, boom, we released it.
Filmmaker: How long was there between getting the money and it being finished?
Delpy: We got the money in February , and finished the film in February  for Berlin.
Filmmaker: So did you feel a lot of pressure doing it all so quickly?
Delpy: Yeah, it was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. The biggest stress was not getting the money we thought we were going to get. The producer thought we were going to get money from the French government; and then he thought we were going to get money from Paris, because Paris gives people money when they shoot in the city; then we thought we were going to get money from a French-German fund, but we didn’t get it because some director didn’t like the screenplay and fought against it, like, violently — and gave the money to his best friend! [laughs] So we got no help whatsoever, and we made the film with very little money. That was very stressful, because as I was preparing the film every day we were finding out we were getting no money, and Adam was stuck on a movie.
Filmmaker: Was that on Zodiac?
Delpy: No, it was Deja Vu. We didn’t know if he was going to show up or not, which was very stressful. We thought about recasting and I called other people, but then I’d written it for him so it was tough for me to change my mind in the last minute. Finally, 12 hours before the shoot, he turned up. It’s very hard when you have no power, when you’re a little fish, because you can’t tell actors, “Listen, you’re under contract,” so you have to wait for them. We pushed the movie [back] for one week, so we lost the money for post-production because of that. It’s always the same story on little movies. You suffer so much to do such a little film, but the shoot itself, and directing, and doing the work, and working with the actors was great.
Filmmaker: How fluid was the writing process? The Before Sunset script you co-wrote is incredibly different in tone from this film.
Delpy: Well, I can write very different things. It’s funny, when I wrote Before Sunset, when I sent Richard the first draft that I had written, he said, “There’s too much of a comedic tone.” Sometimes I go towards drama, and I’ve done it, but when I write about a couple talking, it goes into comedy. I always think it’s funny when people are mean to one another, it just makes me laugh, so the tone was very crude and kind of harsh. It’s my natural tendency to go that way. Also, I had meetings with [many of the actors] and so I was fed by a lot of [ideas] — I even had meetings with my parents about their characters! I just had a great time writing these horrible things that people are saying to each other.
Filmmaker: Adam Goldberg’s performance is different from how I’ve seen him before, as his neurotic schtick is almost completely absent. Is that because of how you directed him?
Delpy: At the beginning he’s like that a little bit, but I didn’t want him to be the caricature of the neurotic Jewish New York guy. What I like about Adam, and what you don’t see very much in movies, is that the guy is really good-looking, covered in tattoos — it’s like he’s this antithesis of what his face could be like. He’s kind of macho, he likes to hang out in bars and drink with his friends, so I wanted to use that in the film because it’s kind of interesting. He’s so good at playing the neurotic guy, but I’ve known him well for many years and know he has that other side to him. I like that he’s taking off his shirt [in this film] — well, I asked him to! [laughs] It was no problem to him, though. It was like, “Adam, maybe you need your shirt on in this shot…” [laughs]
Filmmaker: You’re also showing a much geekier side to yourself in this film.
Delpy: I’m very geeky, and so much more than what I seem to be right now — I’m wearing a dress, heels and stuff but I’m not really that, you know? It was nice: I wore glasses, I gained 20 pounds for the film. We tried dark hair, but it just didn’t work for me; suddenly, I looked like I was in a drama and that people were dying! It was fun to play this character who’s not only geeky, she’s a little crazy: she attacks people, she lunges at people when she’s angry.
Filmmaker: The character feels like it’s quite close to your real personality.
Delpy: She is, in a way. I’m not a flirtatious person, and I don’t take love lightly at all, actually. In the film, she’s [flirting] with the firemen [laughs], but I don’t know any woman in France who doesn’t talk to firemen and smile at them, because they’re always so sweet, and they’re wearing those tight pants. Even my dad looks at their ass when they walk down the street!
Filmmaker: Both your parents are wonderful in the film, but was it easy working with them?
Delpy: Well, they’re both wonderful actors, theater actors and, in fact, it was hard to get them because they were both doing a play at the same time. But it was wonderful to direct them actually because they played the game and they were very funny and really easy to direct. They were actually very cute, because they were impressed I was doing my film, they were very sweet. The only worries I had were about them being taken care of, because it was a tough shoot, we were working long hours, and they’re older people.
Filmmaker: You’d directed some shorts before this, but how much confidence did you have going into production on a low-budget film with a tight schedule?
Delpy: I was stressed out but, like everything else, you take it day by day. If I think about it now, it’s like a mountain: it was a lot of really hard work. I was stressed, and the two days before shooting I couldn’t sleep really. But after the first day started and I did the first day, every day it was like, “Gotta get the whole thing shot.” I had my shot list, and it was like, “OK, we don’t have time for 20 shots – I’ll do it in 15. What do we do? What do we cut? What do we really need?” Every day was like this intense, crazy madness, and [sometimes] you have to beg the technician for an extra half hour, so I begged on my knees. I don’t care – you do what you have to do to make your film, that’s how it is. It’s like being in a blender, but that’s the way it goes for every person who makes a film. I think the urgency and the stress were not bad, in the end. I would just throw myself on the set, boom, and just do it.
Filmmaker: You’ve worked with a huge number of fantastic directors – Jean-Luc Godard, Krysztof Kie?lowski, Jim Jarmusch, Carlos Saura, Alan Rudolph, to name just a few – but who was the biggest influence on your directorial approach?
Delpy: The person that talked to me the most about directing was Kie?lowski, because he knew I wanted to go to film school. I did his film right before I went to NYU, and he was also friends with Agnieszka Holland, so he loved women directors. At the school he went to, ?ód? in Poland, everyone was very supportive of each other so he had a sense of helping and tutoring others, and he gave me a lot of advice on writing and stuff. What he told me was just to do my own stuff. I would always be such a film person and watch every movie [out there], and so I asked him what films he liked, “Do you like Douglas Sirk? Billy Wilder?“ And he’d be like, “No, I just like watching things around me, and I write from that.” That was interesting for me. When I write, I like to take from personal experience. Even if I write a period piece, it has to come from something that I’ve observed or felt, and then it comes naturally.
Filmmaker: What was the first film you remember seeing?
Delpy: I think it was probably The Birds, Hitchcock. I love cinema because of it.
Filmmaker: What’s the strangest experience you’ve had during your time in filmmaking?
Delpy: I’ve never had really strange experiences, but I’ve worked with a few bad directors, and I knew they were bad. You just have to stand still and wait until it’s over! [laughs] You have to stay and keep it going, and you know [the film] is not going to be great.
Filmmaker: Finally, what’s your best piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Delpy: To never give up. [laughs] If you want to become one, you have to be really, really strong, never give up, because you’re going to have so many “no”s. When I wrote my first screenplay I was 17, but when I directed my first film I was 36. It gives you an idea how long it takes.