Just as Chris Rock doesn’t play the character you might expect him to in 2 Days in New York, the movie’s director, co-writer and lead actress is similarly not-what-you’d-expect.
Julie Delpy is, in her own words, “not the artist type.” Instead, she describes herself as a “school teacher,” among other things. She calls herself pragmatic and comes off as a woman more interested in getting her work done than having her ego inflated in Hollywood’s hype machine.
In her latest film, a sequel to 2007’s 2 Days in Paris, Delpy plays Marion. She is a neurotic artist-type photographer hosting her French family for two days in the NYC apartment she shares with the cool, collected Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio host and journalist. The two have to put up with the goofy antics of Marion’s family, which eventually rocks the couple’s relationship into troubling waters. Comedy is supplied in the way Delpy and Rock play off each other’s differences, and the movie explores sexual anxiety, family life and culture clash, among other things.
I liked it.
I got a chance to talk with Delpy about 2 Days in New York and the conversation drifted into how she makes movies, what working with Chris Rock and her father (who plays Delpy’s dad in the movie) was like, and which directors – she’s worked with some of Europe’s finest – influenced her the most.
A Note On How Long This Is: Usually, I wouldn’t post an interview that runs so long, but since it focuses on Delpy’s craft and her association with directors like Jean Luc-Godard and Krzysztof Kieślowski, I thought some of you movie-lovers might gobble up those details. I know I would.
Jonathon Sharp: When did you get the feeling that you wanted to work with Marion again?
Julie Delpy: You know, about a year after the film was released I started kind of flirting with the idea….Then I thought it would be kind of interesting to explore like a different part of her life…you know, just exploring that character a little further. The first film was such a full window, you know, in the life of this dysfunctional person.
JS: Did you always want to set it in New York, or were you maybe thinking…
JD: Yah. It was always going to be New York, actually.
JS: When did you have the idea to have Chris Rock be…Mingus?
JD: Very early on. And actually…I didn’t really think of the film without him involved…I kind of wanted him to be the character and that’s it. And I kind of quickly called his agent and tried to find out before I wrote any further if he was available, interested, remotely interested, not interested at all, no chance at all.
JS: What did you want [in him] to be different than Jack [a character in 2 Days in Paris]?
JD: You know, Jack is quite erotic. I wanted him to seem less erotic. Like he has his little wacky side – like talking to an Obama cut out, like having those kind of fantastic conversations with the president of the United States of America.
JS: But he doesn’t seem like a comic, you know, like the way most people think of Chris Rock. He doesn’t come off as just cracking jokes all the time. He’s funny, but not…
JD: Yah, that’s what I wanted to do. And that’s what, when I spoke to Chris, I explained to him that he would play a character as real as possible within the comedic tone of the film. And that’s what interested him, as well.
JS: Were you guys friends, at all, before you wrote the movie?
JD: No, we weren’t. We barely knew each other. We had bumped into each other at the Oscars. He was the host and I was nominated in 2005, or whatever. And basically that was it.
JS: What got you interested in him?
JD: I just thought he would be an interesting choice. He comes from a very different background of cinema. You know, we are both actors; but we come from different backgrounds. But I thought it would be interesting to really explore, you know, to really give him a part that was different from what he’s done before. You know? I was really interested in that. You know? And he’s a fantastic stand-up comedian…and I wanted all that fantastic stand-up comedian to kind of be, you know…not necessarily expressed.
JS: I thought he did great….I related to him very much, so it threw me in the movie a bit more than, say, Adam’s character in [2 Days In Paris.]
JD: So, did you enjoy his character?
JS: For me, yah. It was…with [Adam Goldberg’s character], he brushes things off too much. Whereas Chris Rock’s Mingus…you can tell he’s feeling things. Like when he takes offense at things, he doesn’t, like, explode…he works to figure it out.
JD: I mean the character is very nuanced. He’s not like crazy, you know? I think that’s what he did a good job at; it’s very nuanced. It’s not like…you know, he’s not outraged by the father. I loved Adam, don’t get me wrong. I think Adam was fantastic in the first film. And he’s a fantastic actor.
JS: Yah, [New York] was more of a chess match rather than the ping pong match of [Paris].
JD: Yah. Exactly. With Adam it was like we were both neurotics. Here it’s a little different. Like the dynamic is a little different. That’s why I wanted him, you know.
JS: With 2 Days in Paris, I’ve read that you directed it, edited it, wrote it, acted in it, and even composed it or composed parts of it. Did you do all of that in this film?
JD: No. I had an editor. And I had a co-writer, a co-story writer or whatever it’s called. So I had to delegate a little bit more. I’m learning to delegate. I’m also having a little more of a budget, so it’s easier to actually hire an editor. I just didn’t have the budget on the first one.
JS: OK. So that wasn’t just you wanting to direct with an iron fist?
JD: No. no. It’s not a control thing. It’s a money thing. (Laughs). And for composing the music, sometimes there’s so little music in the film it would kind of be a complicated thing to hire a composer. You know? Composers want to write more than just three pieces of music. Usually if you hire someone, they want music everywhere. And then the films don’t work well with a lot of music.
JS: What’s your style of directing like in this point of your life? What’s the process like for you now – now that you are familiar with it?
JD: You know, I’m very pragmatic when a direct a movie. All the creative side of me is expressed through the writing and the acting, although I don’t know how creative acting is. But, really, the process of directing is like…I feel like it’s 80 percent managing people and problem solving and answering questions, making decisions. The creative part is actually minute, I would say, compared to the most pragmatic side of it. So I take directing as like…you know what’s funny is like it’s really fit for me, because originally I wanted to be a scientist.
JS: Really? Oh, that’s awesome. (Joy of JS). That is so cool.
JD: (Laughs) So actually, it really works with my personality almost more than acting….You know? I love preparing my shots and doing my shot list and being, you know, a little kind of anal about it.
JS: You need to be.
JD: And I love taking in consideration money issues and knowing there’s limitations. And I love all that aspect of it.
JS: And you have some considerable influences, too. You worked with Godard, when you were very young, and I got into you a while back when I was a teenager, when I saw you in Before Sunrise. So you have Richard Linklater and Kieslowski…so what did those directors do for you?
JD: They were all very influential. Actually, the three that you actually talked about are the people that are the most influential on me as a director. Because, you know, Richard had a lot to do with an influence on my writing. He basically gave me my first break as a writer on Before Sunrise, although we were not credited. When, really, we had a lot to do with the writing.
I was like ‘Oh, so I can write?’ Because I had done little things before but never done anything, never shown anything to many people. So, you know, the fact that suddenly my writing was recognized, even though not officially, was really helpful, you know, for me. And then someone like Kieslowski was very supportive of me becoming a director and going New York, to film school and all that. And very helpful in advice he gave me, even though my cinema has nothing to do, obviously, I’m not going to try to imitate Kieslowski, that would be retarded.
JD: The advice he gave me (and so did Godard) was to follow my own thing. And too make movies that were close to me. And not try to imitate someone or try to make things that weren’t what I am. You know…and Godard even wrote a letter to me in one of his books, [Godard by Godard]. He wrote like a whole letter which is so like the best advice, you know, someone can write to you, anyone, ever.
JS: That’ beautiful.
JD: Yah. I’m very lucky.
JS: So do take inspiration from everyday life or is it from other works of art?
JD: I would say from everyday life – and that’s advice from Kieslowski. Kieslowski said take your inspiration from what you observe, not from other films. Even though I am probably influenced by other filmmakers, just because I’ve see their films. I am definitely influenced by what I observe. I’m like a sponge. I can’t see a bush without noticing people’s behavior – husbands and wives, what they say to each other; a couple breaking up in a restaurant – it’s better than food.
JS: How similar are you and Marion?
JD: We have elements of similar behavior…but I’m very different in how I would handle my life. I’m definitely less crazy, hopefully. And I’m a little more in control of my life, I would say. I’m more grounded; I’m much more grounded than Marion, let’s face it…I can have my crazy side when I’m joking around with friends, you know, making jokes and everything; but I’m actually very grounded and I know what I want. I know what I want to do with my life; I know what I want to do with my work. It took me a while though, I was more confused in the past, but I’m not confused at all anymore.
JS: Did you realize in just one day that you weren’t confused anymore?
JD: It took me years…I think I was confused when I was pursuing this kind of Hollywood career, but not really pursuing it, because I really didn’t believe in it. Then I was really confused, but the minute I started writing and directing and all that, confusion was gone from my life, entirely. You know, probably, I just released what I was really meant to be doing, you know.
JS: So you consider yourself a writer/director first?
JD: Yes. And I’m an actress as well. You know, why not be many things? You know? I mean I know it annoys some people, but yeah I’m many things, you know, eventually maybe I’ll be something else too one day maybe I don’t know. I’m not sure.
JS: So do you find the most fulfillment from the writing aspect?
JD: All of it. I mean, I love the directing. I love being in control of situation. You know there’s something about being the school teacher (laughs) that I really like being the boss in a way. It really fits my personality. I’m not bossy, but I love having responsibility. I love having all that [expletive] on my shoulders, you know. I just love that feeling of like OK I have to be doing this, I have to deliver, there’s money involved, I can’t [expletive] up, I love the responsibility.
JS: I’ve dated a girl quite like that. But was there also a time in your life when it was harder to handle responsibilities? Like you would give yourself responsibilities, but you couldn’t do it?
JD: No. no. The minute I’m given responsibility, I’m really really together. It’s when I’m given no responsibility that I get confused. The more I have on my plate, the better I function. I’m really not like…my personality is not the artist type, at all. I have a business kind of type of personality; it’s kind of a weird, confusing personality. Maybe I am two people.
JS: That’s possible, too. You do a lot of things, so…you need to deal with it somehow. How’s working with your dad?
JD: It’s fun. We sometimes clash a little bit. But it’s fun, too. That part is fun too. He’s a fantastic actor. I’m lucky to have a great actor for a dad and give him a fun part, you know. I’ve seen him on stage all my life, and it’s fun to give him a great part – he’s such a great actor.
JS: Did Chris [Rock] speak any French? Or did he just find himself confused when….
JD: He doesn’t speak a word of French. And my dad doesn’t speak a word of English. So it was a lot of fun.
JS: What are you up to now?
JD: I kind of want to start really putting things down. Like, you know, I have many projects I’m working on as a writer, and I want to put everything down and reassess everything and decide what my next project is, basically?
JS: Do you have any interest in doing a “2 Days In Minneapolis” or 2 days anywhere else?
JD: When I’m going to take a little time off from whatever job I’m doing right now. I’m working in Greece acting in a movie. Then I want to take a month break and have a minute with my son. Then I will think about my next project.
JS: What fascinates you, right now, about life?
JD: My son. I’m like so into my son right now.
JS: How old is your son?
JD; He’s 3-and-a-half – a very lovely age where he’s like discovering the world, developing his own personality and all that.
JS: Do you think he might be a scientist?
Then her agent came and kicked me out.