SHE’S piled on the pressure by writing and starring in her own films, but Julie Delpy tells Siobhan Synnot it’s worth it to avoid sexy Latina and bimbo roles
Sometimes descriptions of actresses sound like pieces of old lace; beautiful, fragile, and almost ethereally delicate in their make up .
With her porcelain complexion, watchful Tudor eyes and luminous arthouse CV, Julie Delpy certainly fits the bill - except she refuses to co-operate with rosetinted idealisations. “See my teeth? When I came to America, the dentist had to fix them all. They were terrible, horrible.” she says, as she bustles around her LA home, scooping up her chatty three year old son. “They were so decayed that my dentist used to call me ‘Julie Rotten’.”
You can’t imagine Natalie Portman volunteering this sort of deconstruction, just as you can’t imagine Isabelle Huppert writing, directing and producing a new movie which includes some ribald jokes about kegel exercises and blow jobs. But Julie Delpy doesn’t want to be portrayed as a movie doll. She prefers being a real woman. “I’m a strong, independent person,” she says. “although I’m also a mother, an actor, and a writer and I’m not going to pretend I can always cope with the stress. I certainly struggle.”
Just as her latest film 2 Days in New York was about to shoot, for instance, the film hit a financial iceberg and it was touch and go whether funding could be found. “For 8 days of filming, I did not sleep,”
says Delpy. “People say ‘that’s impossible - you would be dead”. I am not dead but it is also true that I got no sleep.”
Fast, funny and fluent Delpy loves to talk in her subtly-accented English.
As a child, she used to visit British friends and for two decades America
has been her main base. A few years ago she became a US citizen, and has
settled in LA with her partner, the German composer Marc Streitenfeld, and their son Leo. However she also retains her french citizenship and in the corner of the room her computer is logged onto a Paris estate agent’s website. “I look at these properties thinking, oh if it was only a few hundred Euros less,”
Like any mother/daughter relationship, Delpy and France have chafed at times. There’ s a feeling back home she left France too soon -
aged 18 - for New York to study film directing Yet Delpy remains a very
European star. The world-class directors she worked with early on include Jean-Luc Godard, who cast her in the Detective when she was 14, and by her early twenties she’d added Leos Carax, Bertrand Tavernier, Carlos Saura, Volker Schlondorff, Agnieszka Holland and famously Krzysztof Kieslowski, who turned her down for The Double Life of Veronique, then changed his mind and gobbled her up as the cruel, moneygrabbing wife of Three Colours: White.
And as Ethan Hawke’s chatty transatlantic lover of Before Sunrise, and in Delpy’s own comic 2 Days series, she frequently portrays amusement with French openness and American squeamishness. “The French think I mock Americans, and the Americans think I’m mocking the French but the truth is that I’m mocking both but in an affectionate way.”
In 2 Days in New York, this affection translates as Delpy living in a blended family as Marion, a French woman living with her american boyfriend (Chris Rock), her son and his daughter. It’s a relatively harmonious setup until a brief weekend visit from Marion’s father (played by
Delpy’s own father Albert) The difficulties begin at the airport when
he’s caught by customs attempting to smuggle french sausage and
cheese into the country. He also brings Delpy’s sister, who likes
to wander around naked, and her unsuitable boyfriend, whose idea of a sensitive cross-cultural opening gambit is to ask Rock if he likes the 90s rap duo Salt’n’Pepa.
“Also, Chris hardly speaks French,” says Delpy “So when he looks confused when my family are all talking away,it’s not just acting”
The whole thing plays out like Woody Allen on absinthe. “Hmmm,” she says.
“I love Woody Allen but I saw Midnight in Paris and I thought it was very interesting that in the end, Owen Wilson ends up with a woman who hardly speaks at all in the movie.”
By contrast, Delpy’s female leads are as vibrantly verbal and candid as Delpy herself. I had read that she’d decided to give up acting, but it turns out this is not the case, she just plans to make films as well as star in them, despite some initial opposition, even from those supposed to fight her corner. She was let go by one major rep when he found out she had been writing film scripts in her spare time. “He said, ‘we think you are wasting your time’ and then he fired me. But I am still “friends” with him because I am pragmatic.”
“I still love acting, although it makes you worry about age and appearance. But what I meant was that I would not act so much. I got fed up with the roles I was being offered, and so irritated going to auditions and finding my agent had sent me to a film that wanted a sexy Latina, or to play a bimbo in Rush Hour 4. I didn’t want to be the girlfriend with only three scenes and no good lines. Now I can write my own roles. “
Famously of course, she, Ethan Hawke and their director Richard Linklater co-wrote the scripts for Before Sunrise and its sequel Before Sunset.
“I was naïve about before Sunrise, I didn’t know how these things worked and for a while it was painful that Ethan and I did not get screenplay credit for the first film because we wrote so much of it. But at least it made me more comfortable with writing.”
She also made sure she and Hawke received full credit in Before Sunset, which got a 2005 Oscar nomination for best screenplay. “That nomination helped people think of me as a filmmaker, although they still don’t quite know where to place me. Unless you make Transformers, you don’t exist.”
Delpy’s keen to branch out from romances, although not to battling robots.
Three years ago she tried her hand at guignol with the Countess, about Elizabeth Bathory the 16th century aristocrat serial killer who believed the blood of young girls would preserve her looks.
“But a critic saw an early screening, and the review was so bad that no British distributor would touch the film. Yet in France, it was the best reviewed film I’d done, “ she says. More recently, she was offered an intriguing project called The Right Profile, about the famous disappearance of Joe Strummer in a stunt planned by his manager to boost ticket sales for a Scottish tour.
“I don’t know how you know about this,” exclaims Delpy. “I did agree to it but then I thought about it, and said no because it seemed too obvious.”
Too obvious? She sounds a rather left field choice for a Clash biopic to me. “Well Joe Strummer such a British icon but it’s the fact he went to Paris to hide out,” she groans. “I could just hear people saying, ‘well,
she only did it because it is french’. I didn’t think I could win.”
She perks up again when we recall our last meeting, at the Edinburgh Film Festival, when 2 Days in Paris was the closing film at the 2007 event.
“It was such a great time. Afterwards I drove up north and I couldn’t believe how beautiful and wild it was. It was inspiring. So beautiful and yet also so dark. In fact I’ve been writing a black comedy, a black comedy set in Scotland. It’s not finished yet, but of course Scotland has some old links with France.”
Yes, and some newer ones. At the Glasgow Film Festival this year Bertrand Tavernier introduced a new print of Deathwatch, his science fiction feature shot on location in Glasgow in 1980, and received a rapturous reception. Delpy is intrigued. She didn’t know about the Tavernier film. “And they liked it?”
I think so; if anything, the audience was rather flattered that someone from France had chosen to film here.
“Then I shall finish my script,” she declares, mock heroically.
As if it helps, I tell her there was also a lot of excitement last year when they shot some of World War Z in the centre of Glasgow and the local film council bent over backwards to help stage scenes of mass panic caused by the walking dead. Perhaps Delpy could work a horror element into her script too.
She pretends to consider this carefully. “OK, maybe I will add a zombie.”
• 2 Days In New York is in cinemas from Friday.
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