In 2007, Julie Delpy wrote, directed, starred in, composed the score for and edited “2 Days in Paris,” a relationship comedy which charts a slipping knot in the bond between French-born photographer Marion and her interior designer boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) when they wrap up a European vacation by taking a night train to Paris to visit her parents (Delpy’s real-life mom and dad) and pick up a cat. An observant, warm (and warmly received, grossing just under $20 million worldwide) arthouse bauble, the film seemed unlikely to spawn a sequel. But one arrives this week with “2 Days in New York,” a vibrant and engaging dramedy about mixed family and relationships whose predecessor isn’t essential viewing for enjoyment but certainly helps deepen one’s regard for it. In it, Marion and Jack are no longer a couple; she now lives with radio host boyfriend Mingus, played by… Chris Rock? For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to speak to Delpy one-on-one recently, about her film, the deliciously quirky casting of Rock, little white lies, her father’s butt, and how (if not why) she’s been damned to hell. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: You made “2 Days in Paris” in 2007. Did you have an idea or inkling then that you wanted to perhaps explore your character in serial form?
Julie Delpy: At the time, obviously, I could barely make “2 Days in Paris,” much less a sequel. (laughs). I could barely finish the film – it was really, really tight financially. It was a tiny budget and I had no editor, and I did the music myself. No way I could have thought of doing a sequel. And then the film came out, did well everywhere, and people asked me right away if I would make a sequel. I said no, but I started thinking about it and thought maybe I should explore something like a more grown-up version of Marion — like she’s in another relationship, she has a kid or one of her parents died, (something about) how life moves slowly in those directions, and all those fun things in life. I wanted to go a little further into her relationships and her being an ex-pat, the cross-cultural elements or whatever.
ShockYa: You have dual citizenship yourself, in both France and the United States. And the film trades heartily in cultural stereotypes, of all types, really. I’ve heard some stories about people being offended. How was the French reaction to the movie, specifically?
JD: No, the French were not very offended. Actually, the few people offended were American – they said, “How can you depict the French as such vulgar people?” And I’m like, “You guys, I’m from France, I can show you people that are about 400 times more vulgar than these characters.” Marion’s father (again, Delpy’s real-life dad) is cute compared to some French people I know. (laughs) I mean, really, this idea that the French people wear Chanel and eat at Cafe de Flore every day is kind of absurd. But anyway, there are all sorts of French people. Just like in America you have “Deliverance” and Woody Allen, you know what I mean? (laughs) American Franco-philes were the only ones upset so far with this one. But I remember with “2 Days in Paris” I went to a screening — and it’s this fairly harmless movie, I feel, where no one can really be shocked — and this one older woman came out of the theater and came up to me and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself, you’re going to hell!” So I don’t know what it was, but something really offended her. The film talks about sex a little bit, but who cares — that’s not very offensive!
ShockYa: It’s a shame you can’t track her down and send her a DVD copy of “The Countess.”
JD: (laughs) I know, right? Sometimes I offend people and I don’t even know why. I guess the film is very free in its depictions of people. They express themselves quite freely and openly, there’s not much filtering (between what they think and say). That can offend people sometimes, more than the way I described the French, or other [content]. But it’s OK. Making movies, you cannot expect everyone to like you, especially if you’re playing a character that is not especially always likable — who is a bit annoying, a bit neurotic. If you don’t want to see neurotic people, then obviously my films are not for you. My characters are full of flaws and kind of annoying. So… they can see movies where people with perfect hair say perfect things to each other. That’s the good thing about cinema — there’s space for everything.
ShockYa: You mentioned a few of the changes for your character, Marion. But in the interim between the two movies your own mother also passed away, and you became a mother. Is it too pat and easy to say that those things obviously influenced the narrative choices of the sequel, or –?
JD: Well it definitely did influence the film because it is parallel to my life, in a way. I think to take an element of truth and make something very fictional out of it, you know? A lot of it is not accurate to my life — like being with someone new and having this put-together family, having a sister. A lot of this is very far from my reality but I included the elements of truth because it makes for interesting subject matter. That’s the reality of life — you have kids, you lose parents, and it’s really hard. Even though the film is a comedy it talks a little bit about that — what is the point of all of this? Without being pretentious and philosophical, it’s part of the film as well, without hammering it on anyone’s head hopefully. And I wanted to do a bit of a homage to my mom as well, because she was part of the first film and unfortunately couldn’t be in the second film.
ShockYa: Is your father, who gets a lot of the most rascally reactions in the movie, enjoying his newfound trans-Atlantic stardom, having gotten to reprise his character?
JD: (laughs) I love writing for him. It’s so much fun to imagine. I’ve known him all my life, obviously, and it’s really fun to be able to write something for him and have him enjoy it so much. It’s really great to be able to make him do crazy things. It’s a bit risky, I even film his butt. How many dads can handle their daughter making a shot of his butt? (laughs) But I love my dad, and I love his butt too!
ShockYa: Marion also tells a big, spur-of-the-moment lie to get out of a situation, which is something cross-cultural, to which everyone can relate. In real life, though, have you had a little white lie of that type blow up in your face?
JD: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, of course — I think everyone has. I do it less and less because I realize it always ends up badly. It’s never a winning situation, so I’ve stopped doing that. But I’ve done that many times in my life before, and it always has repercussions — it doesn’t stop there with one lie, it never does. With little white lies you always have something end up happening that is more of a problem than if you had just told the truth. But in this it comes back in Marion’s face for the best, which is a non-moralistic side of the film. (laughs) She’s not punished it, she becomes successful!
ShockYa: Marion is an artist and also has the idea of auctioning off her soul. Where did the inspiration for that idea come from?
JD: It came up basically from me having this idea of what did I have of no value to me that I could sell on eBay and would be of value to other people. Well, there’s underwear. (laughs) That’s one option. And then there’s the soul. Some people might want to buy it. It was just a joking, crazy idea that I had, and I thought it was a funny idea for a conceptual art piece. …The film is a farce, and pretty humorous, but I just wanted that moment to be that weird humor where there’s an existential talk about the soul and how if it does exist it makes sense to have two and if it doesn’t then it’s still a good art piece anyway. I liked the mad concept of it.
ShockYa: When I first heard about the film I was so jazzed about the casting news of Chris Rock. It seems like such an unexpected casting decision, yet it pays big dividends.
JD: The first thing I thought of when I thought about doing a sequel was that it can’t be the same guy because I felt like Marion wouldn’t have worked out all the way with Jack. And I’ve done “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” and so also it felt that it wouldn’t be right to do it with the same guy. It’s more interesting if actually she’s moved on to another guy, and that life is the way it is — that you can have a kid with someone and it doesn’t work out, and so you move on to the next one and try to make it work. It’s even more compromises, and life gets more complicated and convoluted. People think life gets simpler, but no — life gets more and more complicated, to me at least. You have less freedom and have to compromise all the time. I thought of Chris right away: “OK, she has a new boyfriend. Who? Chris Rock. That’s it.” (laughs) And so I was set on him, on wanting to play an on-screen couple with him.
ShockYa: Did you know Chris at all?
JD: You know, I’d bumped into him at the Oscars, believe it or not, because he was the host when I was nominated for writing on “Before Sunset.” I literally met him for like three minutes, but it kind of stayed in my mind — the idea that it would be an interesting combination, because it isn’t the obvious indie choice, to get Chris Rock to star in a movie with me. So when I started writing it, I really thought of his stand-up and everything, and then finally I went to IMDb Pro and looked him up… and he was with [an agent] I knew for years, because I’ve been fired from so many agencies. (laughs) So I called and asked him if he thought he would do it, and then he called me two hours later and said, “Yeah, he knows your work, he would love to work with you. Just write a good script.” So then it was quite a happy thing, because I was able to write it for him, [knowing he had some interest]. And I think he was very excited to be asked to do something that he’s not asked to do often. He was very dedicated and it was important for him.
ShockYa: Over the last couple years you’ve taken a bit of a break for motherhood but also been behind the camera quite a bit, starring in your own films. Do you see yourself transitioning away from being quote-unquote just an actress for hire?
JD: Well, I love acting in other people’s projects, but I have to find the right part that people want to work with me. Not everyone wants to work with me, and I don’t want to work with everybody. (laughs) It’s true that directing and writing has been a really big part of my life for the past 10 years or so, and it’s been a very good time in my life, too — it’s been very positive, and moving toward something I really like in my life. I feel really in control of my life, even though it’s a real struggle to get financing and all that stuff. But I’m not totally rejecting the idea of working for a studio eventually, because I kind of like limitations and I know that working for a studio is a lot of limitations and a lot of handling people and egos and all that. I’m fine and pretty good with that. I’m pretty much open to any kind of adventure. I’m mostly very excited about doing different things — working for studios, working in independent films, working in France, working in Greece, working maybe in England. I mean, I’m writing movies for everywhere in the world, basically (laughs) with totally different experiences. I’m very open to everything. I just say that I don’t want to do another relationship movie. The last time I spoke to my agent, I said, “My next movie should be all about guys and the only woman is a hooker and you only see her legs.” (laughs) At this point, I just kind of want to do a guys’ movie. I love Westerns, and John Ford and Sam Peckinpah — that’s what I’ve been watching lately.
Written by: Brent Simon