”It wasn’t that stressful, really,” says Julie Delpy of making her new indie comedy, 2 Days in Paris. If that sounds slightly hard to believe, it’s only because the French actress wrote, directed, edited, and composed the music for the film, in addition to taking the lead role and singing over the end credits. In Paris, she and Adam Goldberg play a couple whose relationship gets frayed by a short stopover in the City of Light.
Delpy, perhaps most famous for costarring with Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise and its magnificent sequel Before Sunset, talks here about Paris’ (intentional) similarities to Sunset, why she loves and hates Paris, and getting fired by her agent.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The plot of 2 Days in Paris — a French woman and an American guy in Paris — bears some resemblance to Before Sunset, but I heard that you wrote 2 Days in Paris first. Is that right?
JULIE DELPY: Yeah. I already wanted to set a film in Paris, and so when I asked the guys [Hawke and Sunset director Richard Linklater], ”What about [setting Sunset in] Paris?” they agreed. Before that, I had started this one kind of vaguely — it was more in the back of my head, because it’s so hard to make movies and get money from people. But then Before Sunset was recognized for its writing [Delpy, Linklater, and Hawke received a screenwriting Oscar nomination], so that gave me a bit more stamina to try again.
And you purposely wanted 2 Days in Paris to resemble Before Sunset?
A friend of mine said, ”Try something that’s small budget, but similar in shape [to Before Sunset]. From afar, it could be similar to what you’ve been successful for. Like, lure people in. Even lie to them if you have to. Make them think you’re going to do the same thing. And then do something different.” The idea was to make something that seemed like Before Sunset — an American guy with a French girl in Paris — but that’s the superficial thing. Underneath, it’s a very different story.
There’s a real edge to the comedy in Paris that’s not in Sunset.
Yeah, there’s a harshness. It’s more of a comedy on a relationship than a romantic comedy. I think there’s romanticism in it, but it’s more about the comedy than it is about the romanticism. For me, it would’ve been stupid to do a romantic film because these films I do with [Linklater and Hawke] are already romantic. As a writer, I want to do different things in my own films.
The movie is funny about Paris. What do you think about the city? Judging from the movie, you’re ambivalent.
Well, it’s a city I love, but I hate it too. It’s that kind of city. You can’t not love it. It’s like a high maintenance woman or man. Sometimes it goes well — you have a series of nice people you bump into, the cab drivers are nice. Then sometimes you’ll get a whole week of nightmares: you keep bumping into horrible cab drivers, people are rude, people are angry, you almost get run over by cars.
Your movie reflects that.
[Laughs] I thought it would be funny to take this couple whose relationship is not going the right way, and attack them even more, to bring more trouble to their life, since it’s a comedy. So I use the city as a difficult character, quickly destroying what’s left of their relationship.
Video clip: See the trailer for Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris:
Is it true you’ve wanted to direct a movie since you were 17?
Yes, and it’s been very hard, when people say ”no” and ”no” and ”no” to you. After a while you say, ”Well maybe I’m not meant to do it.” If I had stayed an actress for the rest of my life, never knowing what it is to direct, I would be fine. I’m not a bitter person, or a sour person, but then when I directed a few times with short films, I realized how I feel comfortable leading a crew, leading an entire set.
Reading up on you and talking to you here, you seem pretty tough.
[Laughs] Yeah. I always said it’s much less stressful to have to direct, write, edit, act, and do all that stuff than to wait by the phone to get a part. For me, that’s more stressful. There’s something about waiting to be needed, to be wanted by other people, that’s dreadful to me. I like acting, but I don’t like the condition of being an actress.
Seems like if you’re uncompromising, dealing with Hollywood could be hard.
Just to give you an example of how weird Hollywood is — when I was writing Before Sunset with Ethan and Richard, I was fired by my agent, because he thought I was wasting my time. He couldn’t see me writing a little film, particularly for a movie that might never be made and do nothing for my career. So you see what kind of people you have to deal with, the kind of stupidity you have to face in Hollywood. It’s like, why does he care? He doesn’t even send me on parts. So why does he care if I’m writing? But suddenly the fear of losing control over an actor — because suddenly I’m creating my own work — was threatening. So those people — not all the people, now I have a good agent — but you have to deal with some really dreadful people, people that destroy work. If you listen to those people, a film like Before Sunset would never have been made. Ever! You have to be strong. When someone says, ”I’m going to get rid of you if you don’t stop writing,” a lot of actors would go, ”I’ll stop writing, because I need an agent and I can’t live without one.” I was like, ”Okay, byyye!” [Laughs] To me, I know that it’s more important to keep on doing the stuff I like to do. It’s more the answer to a better life for me.
I’m making [a period piece called] The Countess, and I have another project called World Wars and Other Fun Stuff to Watch on the Evening News. [Laughs] It’s a big criticism on how basically in this society, everything’s a big show, even stuff that shouldn’t be a big show. I co-wrote that one.
You like writing better than acting?
Being an actress, if you don’t have the job, what do you do? You can act in your backyard, or at school or whatever, but you’re not really an actress if you don’t have a job. When you’re writing, you can always be writing.
Do you think you and Ethan and Richard will make a sequel to Before Sunset?
If we stumbled onto the right idea. Right after the film, we wrote down many different ideas that we thought we could use. We’ll have to see. I think it could be fun to do one every 10 years or so.