SAN FRANCISCO—Julie Delpy directed, wrote, produced, edited and scored the comedy “2 Days in Paris.” It beats sitting by the phone.
“Basically, when you’re an actor, when you’re not working, you’re nothing,” Delpy says. “(But) when you’re a director, when you’re not directing, you’re thinking, you’re preparing, you’re planning. When you’re a writer, you’re always a writer. The moment you go to your computer and write two lines, you’re a writer.”
2 Days in Paris
Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Daniel Brühl, Marie Pillet, Albert Delpy
(Samuel Goldwyn Films; US theatrical: 10 Aug 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 31 Aug 2007 (General release); 2007)
Having witnessed her actor parents’ dejection when they weren’t employed, Delpy was determined to keep herself busy, whether studying film at NYU or making music (she released a pop-folk album in 2003).
“Sometimes it bothers people” in the film business, Delpy says. “Some (talent) representation I had (didn’t like) that I wasn’t desperate, calling them every day, crying. ... Suddenly they didn’t feel as powerful anymore.”
Hollywood has never quite known what to make of Delpy, 37, the incandescent French beauty who chilled as the cruel wife in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1994 film “White” a year before charming Ethan Hawke’s hostel hopper as the eloquent Celine in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise.” The latter film revealed Delpy to be less mysterious and more fascinating than the popular notion of the European star who wears head scarves and adopts, as her default trait, inscrutability. Delpy is highly scrutable.
A Los Angeles resident for many years, she’s loquacious and lively, and her English barely accented, as she discusses “2 Days in Paris” during a stop in San Francisco.
The film culminates a process that began when Delpy wrote her first script as a teenager and continued with an Oscar nomination for co-writing “Before Sunset.” That rapturously received 2004 sequel to “Sunrise” transformed Delpy, for a time, into the Julia Roberts of American art houses.
But even after “Sunrise,” offers didn’t pour in.
“The film didn’t make a billion dollars, so they don’t care,” Delpy says of the studio mind-set. “Do you think Hollywood cares about (critics)? It’s amazing how you meet journalists, and they know about movies, and then you meet executives who finance films, and they couldn’t care less about movie making.”
Getting work as an actress is challenge enough; getting financing for a feature film a thousand times harder. Delpy acknowledges, with a grin, that her approach didn’t make it easier.
“My personality doesn’t inspire people to give me money,” she says. “I don’t like to give the image of someone who is `ooh, such a good director.’ ... I like being humble. (Obvious confidence) is against my idea of the creative process, which is having a lot of doubts. Doubts bring work, and work makes it better ... I think that’s what people feel and they get nervous.”
But she impressed a neophyte French producer who helped her shepherd “2 Days in Paris,” a French-German (but mostly English-language) co-production, to the screen. Delpy also enlisted Adam Goldberg to play Jack, uptight American boyfriend to Marion, Delpy’s comparatively freewheeling French character.
As the couple’s already frayed relationship starts to unravel during a visit to Marion’s parents, the comic moments hinge on the dynamic between Delpy and Goldberg, a onetime real-life couple.
“People sit back in real bemusement when we go off on a tear about something,” Goldberg says via telephone from Los Angeles. “We kind of tend to bring out the sort of manic in each other or something. ... Some people really mellow me out, and I’m sure some people mellow her out. But we don’t mellow each other out.”
Like “Before Sunset,” “2 Days in Paris” features Delpy and a male co-star walking the streets of Paris. But the vibe is less dreamy, more cranky. Jack grills Marion about her ex-boyfriends, and she sputters out lies in response.
“That’s actually one quality that I picked up from my own self,” Delpy says with a laugh. “I’m so bad at lying that it’s like I should not ever lie.”
The film exaggerates culture clashes between its American and French characters, primarily via the interactions of Marion’s libertine, rabbit-roasting father (Delpy’s father, Albert Delpy, and mother, Marie Pillet, play her parents) and Jack. The father speaks little English but needles his daughter’s boyfriend nevertheless.
A scene between these characters, set in a gallery displaying explicit artwork, was among the few improvised moments in an otherwise tightly scripted film, Delpy says.
“I told my dad to explain the paintings `in his own English,’ which is automatically bad and funny. I told Adam to be upset all the time at every description.”
For Goldberg, who knew Delpy’s father before the shoot, the adversarial moments truly tested his acting chops.
“(Albert Delpy) is hilarious,” Goldberg says. “I think she had to do some clever editing so that I didn’t look completely pleased by him.”
That Delpy’s parents would play her parents was a given.
“I always joke that they would have kidnapped my cat” had she not cast them, Delpy says. The cat, Max, gets a featured role as well. His director calls the “highly social” feline a natural.
“It was so much easier to use my cat, to the crew and everything, than to rent a cat,” Delpy says. “I have worked with those rental cats, and it’s just a mess.”
Max answers to “Jean-Luc” in the film - one of a couple of references to filmmaker Godard, for whom Delpy worked as a very young actress. The most evident influences in “2 Days in Paris,” though, are American, from the neuroses (Jack’s) and chunky black glasses (Marion’s) that suggest Woody Allen to musical cues that suggest a shark attack.
Delpy consulted “Jaws” in writing some Frenchmen characters and “Raging Bull” for hothead Marion’s fit-to-be-tied scenes.
“I like that she snaps at people, because half the time it is for the right reason,” Delpy says. Like when Marion screams at a racist cab driver.
Delpy spends about four months a year in Paris. But she and the French film industry long ago parted ways, she says.
“That’s one bad thing about the French is that they’re very resentful. ... I live in America, you know, I’m the great evil. ... You have narrow-minded people in France, just like anywhere else, and it’s kind of why I left, and it’s fine with me.”
Though not crazy about Hollywood suits, either, she enjoys Los Angeles.
“L.A. is not the city of dumb people and bimbos,” she says. “Well, it is ... but it’s also a city that attracts a lot of interesting, talented people, and if you get to hang out with the right people, it’s actually quite an interesting town.”
Happily involved with German-born film composer Marc Streitenfeld for 3 ½ years, Delpy still finds abundant material in the complexities of romantic relationships.
“I am a true believer in forever and stuff, but I am questioning it as well.” Because “Before Sunrise” and “2 Days in Paris,” which already opened in several cities to positive reviews, Delpy gets hit up for relationship advice.
“Like I’m an expert!” she says with a laugh. “I’m like, `I don’t know – that’s why I am making these films.’ I’m trying to figure it out.”