role call

Julie Delpy Answers Every Question We Have About 2 Days in Paris

On tricking studio executives into making movies, dodging the word “crazy” throughout her career, and why she thinks she might be Larry David. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Samuel Goldwyn Films

If you’re watching a Julie Delpy movie, you can often expect four things: (1) Delpy will be playing a French person who (2) is beautiful, smart, funny, irascible, and (3) openly exasperated with the heterosexual men in her life, all of whom (4) find her simultaneously magnetic and equally exasperating. Delpy has certainly diverged from this pattern to varying degrees of success throughout her long career, which is vast; she’s been acting since the age of 14 and writing and directing films for about two decades. But many of her most memorable roles see her digging into the idea of a brilliant, enraged French woman like a plate of steak-frites, including Celine in the Before Sunrise trilogy and Marion in her pair of kooky, unconventional rom-coms: 2 Days in Paris and its sequel, 2 Days in New York.

I love 2 Days in Paris because it features Julie Delpy at her most Julie Delpy-ish — her curly-haired, fast-talking, frenetic-hand-motioned, hyperintellectualizing best. She’s all sound and fury, signifying everything. In the relatively underappreciated 2007 indie (it did win the Prix Jacques Prévert du Scénario for Best Original Screenplay, and landed a César Award nom for Best Writing, but didn’t get as much attention outside of France), she plays Marion, a French photographer living in New York City with her wildly neurotic, hypochondriac boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg). The two can barely stand each other, but also clearly have no idea how to live apart. They take a trip to Venice to jostle themselves back into a more pleasant version of love, but fail; instead, they end up in Paris, staying with Marion’s charming, vaguely insane parents (Delpy’s real-life parents Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy) and bumping into a series of Marion’s former lovers as they descend further into mutually induced madness.

Counter to that description, most of 2 Days in Paris is funny and offbeat, unfolding in a way that feels both improvised and real. Though I personally find Goldberg’s Jack to be unbelievably irritating (more on that below), Delpy sells Marion’s attraction to his specific brand of Eeyore. Best of all, she gets several scenes to demonstrate her unmatched ability to go the fuck off — on Goldberg, exes, her twinkly-eyed father. Delpy and I hopped on the phone to talk about everything from tricking studio executives into making movies to dodging the word “crazy” throughout her career to why she thinks she might be Larry David.

Can you take me back to where you were in your life and career for 2 Days in Paris?
It was after shooting Before Sunset. I had many screenplays I was struggling to make. I had not directed a movie yet. I mean, I’d directed an experimental movie called Looking for Jimmy that I self-financed for $20,000 or something. Nobody wanted to give me money. I was like, “How can I trick people into giving me money?” So I thought, Okay, why don’t I write a movie that has nothing to do with Before Sunset — because Before Sunset had just been this big hit — but has an American and a French person in Paris. That’s how I sold it. Without even a screenplay at first. I wanted to do an improvised movie, and the financiers were like, “Yeah, yeah, improvised movie, we’ll give you $200,000 euros.” And then two months before shooting they were like, “Why don’t you write a screenplay?”

So I went off and wrote a screenplay. It came very quickly. I literally wrote day and night for two months. Adam Goldberg was involved from the beginning and was very into it, so I had all the characters in mind. I knew exactly who I was writing for. Same with 2 Days in New York. Chris Rock agreed before he read everything. So I had his voice in mind the whole time, which makes it a really fun kind of journey — even though it was super-rushed and last-minute, and involved tricking people into giving me money. When you’ve lost all other possibilities, you play tricks.

Why do you think you had such a hard time getting money? Was it just that you were a woman and it was the early 2000s?
It was another world. There were a lot of women going to film school (I went to NYU), but out of the women there, it was very hard. I saw all of my friends going through difficult times — Jamie Babbit, for example. We just weren’t of the generation where it was kind of — not even equal, I don’t think we’re equal yet, maybe we’re getting there — but it was way, way further away. People didn’t trust women. And maybe I’m not good at selling myself. I’ve never been good at that. I think really it was just not as easy. So there has been progress for women filmmakers. It’s just that I was in the category of women dreaming of being filmmakers, and the opportunities were not there.

Years later, when 2 Days in Paris had come out, I met Céline Sciamma, who was releasing her first film, and I said, “Wasn’t it hell to make your first film?” And she said, “No.” She’s about eight years younger than me. So I went, “Oh, I see. So eight years made a difference between hell and not hell.” Not easy, but not hell.

Can you pinpoint the shift, or was it gradual?
The shift happened in the 2000s, 12–15 years ago. That’s when it started in Europe; it started shifting sooner. In the U.S. it’s recent; I would say the past five years. Now, I don’t feel like because I’m a woman in France, when I meet a producer, it stops them. I feel equality. I feel like I’m coming into an office and there’s no questioning. Here in the U.S., when I come into an office, they want my notes on a screenplay and then they give the job to a dude. It’s still like that. They took all my notes for free, but gave the job to a guy. I don’t go to those meetings anymore for that reason. Why would I take a screenplay that’s not working out and not get the job as a director? But it was a common thing. You want the input of a woman, but you get a guy who directs commercials to direct the film.

Women fought so much harder to get there that it’s harder for us when someone tells us, “Hey, just do it our way. Crush your creativity.” We’re more attached to our creativity because we had to fight for it. We didn’t just get the job because we directed five commercials; we got the job because we spent 20 years fighting. Actresses and stars have to support women directors. I’ve had a very bad experience in the U.S. with one actress in particular. I won’t say who, but she got me in a project, tried to get me out once a script was written, then got another project of mine and tried to get me out — out of nowhere. You’d be surprised. People claiming feminist ideas. You’re dealing with that constantly. Sometimes the enemy of women is women. It’s the sad reality. It’s been so hard for some people to get somewhere that they have this competitiveness within them. I’m not criticizing. I don’t think it’s their fault. I think it’s the system.

The stakes are higher and they feel protective of that small amount of space.
It’s funny how I really connect with the younger generation of actresses, who didn’t go through the same process as maybe my generation. I personally adore women. I was raised by a feminist. A woman who loved women. My mom always had beautiful friends. You have those kinds of women who are competitive with other women and all their friends are weird-looking to make sure they’re the only pretty ones, you know? I’ve always loved all women of all shapes and forms and social backgrounds. I support my women friends who are writing, help them out, try to find ways for them. I’d expect the same. But we live in a not-so-simple world. I’m not saying the old generation of women is all like that. Laura Dern is amazing.

I want to return to the idea of tricking studio executives into giving you money. What were you Trojan horse–ing in with this movie?
It’s like I was saying. Look, an American guy, a French girl. It did well. Let’s do the same. In the end, people want to do the same thing over and over. It’s a very tough business. You can bet on something and lose everything. It’s not like buying a house. It’s a complete gamble. You invest in a movie and you don’t know if you’re going to get your money back. It’s not like in France, where people work with the government to fund movies, where you have a system that’s a little safer for investors. Here in the U.S., it’s the Wild West. In the end, I did find the money in Europe only for 2 Days in Paris. Same with 2 Days in New York. Even after the first one, people were scared here. My Zoe was financed with both American and European money.

Did you have an easier time with My Zoe? Did it ever get any easier?
No. No. It’s never easier. I don’t know for who it’s easy. I had one comedy in France, Lolo, a mainstream comedy that I directed, which was easier. But 2 Days in New York — everyone made money except me. In the end, 2 Days in New York almost fell through in the middle of shooting. An investor didn’t deliver the money in time and everyone stopped.

So what happened?
Last-minute, somebody else stepped in. It was a nightmare. I think I smoked, like, five packs of cigarettes in two days. I almost killed myself. The producer was not really … It was a tough one. But you survive and keep on going until the day you can’t keep on going. I’ll keep on going for a little bit until I’m too exhausted and then I’ll go plant potatoes in Brittany.

What keeps you going, if it’s been this exhausting uphill battle?
Truly, I just love movies. I think I love the medium of film — how you tell a story, how people talk and express ideas. With the first of the Before movies, we were not credited as writers, Ethan and I — which, by the way, would be completely wrong with WGA now — but we wrote every single bit of dialogue in the film. I remember expressing all of those ideas and people would come up to me and say, “It changed my life.” It’s like, wow, the power of film. My life, personally, really evolved with movies. I was living through movies. I went to the cinematheque almost every day with my dad. I learned everything through movies. It can be entertainment, it can be like a book, a philosophical journey. So that’s why I keep on going.

2 Days in Paris was my first real film with someone giving me actual money to make it. It was very hard work, but we had a lot of fun doing it. Nineteen days to shoot. It was really intense. We didn’t have rights to shoot in the subway. My DP, I grabbed him by the neck and we went into the subway with Adam and his assistant to shoot this scene with the weirdo guy — it’s actually Adam Goldberg’s assistant. It was that kind of movie. When you live your life without owning a house, without kids, there’s a freedom when you do a film like that. It’s a lot of stress but it’s not too heavy. Afterwards, when you edit, you have to fight against cuts, but there was such a freedom in the small budget. You don’t have a million producers on your back telling you what to do. Because they gave you so little money, they don’t worry as much.

I was just rewatching the Before films. In several of your movies, it’s not that you’re playing the same person, but there are a lot of deep similarities. The women you play are outspoken and funny and talk about feminism and gender dynamics. They’re hyperobservant. A lot of them are called neurotic in the film and in criticisms of the film. Is this woman you? 
They are. Because I’m writing them. In a way, I’m attached to playing those characters. I like multifaceted parts of who I am. Celine is part of me, the character of Isabelle in My Zoe is also a part of me. The anxious mother that I am. And determined, who never gives up. My dad always says my most autobiographical is a film I did called The Countess, where I bleed young girls to stay young forever. [Laughs.] The truth is, I’m not obsessed with vanity; the whole film is about death and not accepting the human condition. In that sense, my fear of death and anxiety is so present in my life that it affects my writing in a way.

A man can be the greatest supporter of women, and my dad is that. I’ve never seen inequality in my home, ever. I had no idea.

It’s interesting that you grew up that way and then chose a career where it’s the exact opposite.
I was kind of prepared for it. My parents had warned me, because they were in the theater world. My mom would always talk about how she would have had a better career if she’d agreed to certain things. My dad would even talk about it, how if he’d agreed to certain things with men or women — my dad was extremely pretty when he was young. I had heard all of those stories. And I was very defensive on that level. There are traps that exist. I was aware of them.

It also struck me that in both the Before movies and 2 Days in Paris, a man calls your character crazy. I’ve read that Ethan Hawke would call you crazy in early interviews, too. I’m curious about your reaction to being perceived that way.
You know, it’s interesting. Define “crazy.” What is crazy? It’s someone that doesn’t fit in completely. I don’t think I’m crazy. Friends who know me well, they always say, “You act crazy, your first appearance is crazy, but inside, there’s a big, grounded core.” I rarely lose it. I get angry. I tell people, especially when I drive, to fuck themselves. One day I’m going to be shot. Whatever. I hate driving. I’m crazy because I have crazy thoughts. I react emotionally to things. I rebel.

The first time I was called crazy is when I said no to someone in the movie business. You can be called crazy just for not wanting to play the game. So that person went around and kept on calling me crazy and it damaged my career.

What were you saying no to?
He wanted me to have sex with him. I told him no, and he called me crazy. That’s the first thing that got people to say that I’m crazy. I know so many women who have been called crazy but aren’t crazy at all. Maybe a little bit emotional, but no more so than some guys. Women that are a bit complicated, but no more so than other people. I’ve also heard from people, “Oh, that person is so difficult.” I’m not saying there aren’t difficult women who are a handful to emotionally manage. But not really. There are so many assholes. It’s whatever. I think it’s equal.

Well, it’s obviously been a gendered term, and that’s why I think it’s interesting that it keeps popping up in your work. Harvey Weinstein discredited women by calling them “crazy.”
Yes, that’s what he would do. I’m not linked to him in any way. I mean, he released one of my films, and that’s it. I was invited to the Four Seasons and I said no because I was already aware of his reputation. So I kind of disconnected quickly and never worked for any of his productions. But [Me Too] is a movement. Now we have to be obviously careful not to go to the other side of it, which is a witch hunt. Make the difference between someone who jokingly touches your butt and never affected your career, and someone who doesn’t do anything but threatens to destroy you because you don’t comply. There’s a huge difference. You can’t put everyone in the same bag. We have to be vigilant, as women, so it doesn’t discredit the real victims. All of it that has been done so far is an important thing, but we don’t want to go to the other side of it. Which sometimes can happen.

To your point about anger, it plays such an important role in your films and characters. You have a great way of making anger funny. As someone who sees herself in your characters and movies, I watch them with my boyfriend and he laughs, like, “This is you.”
You know, I’m editing a short with these scenes where women get crazy and angry and my husband just bursts out laughing every time. Men kind of love to see women going crazy. It’s just a thing. I think they enjoy it. I have to tell you, the most pain-in-the-butt women I know always have boyfriends. And really nice ones! Men don’t completely hate it, unless you’re a true misogynist and you want a pretty girl who barely speaks and stays in a corner, which is the case with some people. Men who aren’t insecure usually don’t care.

So you’re saying you lose your temper and go crazy?

I just think there’s a reflection of reality there that you don’t always see with female characters. In 2 Days in Paris, when she goes, “I’m sorry, I got angry. I’ll never get angry again!” That’s so funny. I’m curious about your relationship to anger and how you bake it into your work. Even in My Zoe, there’s so much anger, that’s what drives her. It’s not funny in that film, of course, but in a lot of your stuff, it’s played for laughs and there’s so much humanity in it.
It’s a feeling that I don’t want to nurture. You want to avoid getting angry. But then the dynamic of comedy — if you’re a perfect person and you’re super-zen, it’s not funny. It’s harder to bring humor to a flawless character. And what is flawless, anyway? I think the flaws and the complicated human being that you’re describing is like, life. If Celine, when they start the argument in the room [in Before Midnight], was just like, “Well, okay, you cheated on me once, whatever,” that’s the end of the scene. In 2 Days in Paris, if she doesn’t lose it at the ex-boyfriend who was fondling little girls in Asia, she would be — what would she be? There’d be no scene.

Women characters who are multifaceted, that is my goal. Yes, it reflects me, but it bugs me when I watch movies and I see one or two dimensions. I always remember reading Hamlet, and the teacher was saying that Hamlet is everything. He was crazy, he was kind, he was needy, he was all of it. And then you had Ophelia, who was one thing. I was like, I don’t wanna play Ophelia! I want to play Hamlet. I don’t wanna play this bore who dies! I want to play the fighter who has 20 thoughts a minute and conflicting feelings.

It’s interesting to me that you say you don’t want to cultivate or nurture your anger, but it pops up so much in your art.
I don’t like my anger. It brings me to places that … it hurts me, sometimes. The anger in me, sometimes it’s just … it’s a reflection of what I’ve been through. It’s a reflection of fear and anxiety. I was thinking of my dad and how, when my mother died, he wanted to punch the nurse. Sorry to say. That was his first reaction. We couldn’t get him out of the room. I had to go in and beg him to stop losing his mind. Some people react like that to pain. I think the character in My Zoe is a bit like that. I have a tendency to react to pain not by crying. I have a tendency to revolt. My husband always tells me, “Leave the weapon at the door.” Like in saloons. [Laughs.]

I guess what I was trying to say is that I admire your anger, in you and your characters. In 2 Days in Paris, when she freaks out at the boyfriend, I admire that.
He’s really a sleazebag in the movie. He should really be in jail. Why shouldn’t she be angry? I guess it’s, how do you find ways that anger is directed in a positive, constructive way. Greta Thunberg is angry, and she should be, at the world we’re preparing for children. People I admire who fought for their rights, they’re angry and they should be. It’s the good anger. It drives a lot of progress. Women, the feminist movement — if they weren’t tired of the ’50s, there wouldn’t have been the ’60s. What’s not good is when you start hurting yourself.

When I was rewatching 2 Days in Paris, I have to be honest, I couldn’t see why she was with Jack [Adam Goldberg] at all. He belittled her, he was jealous, he made her leave parties, he was petty and cruel.

I kept being like, “She’s not doing anything wrong!” What was his appeal to you?
Wow, the standards have really evolved in the new generation. Men better be careful. Wow!

To me, Jack is a nice guy. He’s kind of complain-y, but that’s nothing compared to a real abusive asshole. He’s not really abusive. Their dynamic is funny. He’s kind of cute. He’s kind of lost. He’s unable to express his feelings. Unable to manage his emotions. He’s neurotic. I find that endearing. As much as I love flawed women, I love flawed men, too.

I like his tattoos.
That’s it?!

I am obsessed with your father, though, who plays himself in both movies. He’s so funny and endearing and lovable.
In real life, he’s very endearing and lovable, and sometimes he’s a handful. I haven’t shown that side of him. He’s a case. Talk about crazy. If there’s one person that’s crazy, it’s my dad. He’s an unpredictable human being. He’s 80 years old and has the spark of a 25-year-old. I mean, a 10-year-old, if anything. He’s been through insane childhood trauma and yet, he survived everything and he’s fun and a great actor and if I could put him in everything I do, I would. The other day I said to him, “Dad, you have to protect yourself because of the virus,” and he said, “Julie, it’s only old people dying of it.” I’m like, “Dad, you’re 80 years old.”

I read an old interview with you where you said, “Sometimes I dream that I’m Larry David.” I wondered if you could elaborate on that, because I can kind of see the similarities.
When I watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, I felt like, Oh shit, I’m this guy. I put myself in situations. I always tell the truth to people. I am completely unable to control. I’m bad at lying, pretending, living through the codes. One day a friend of mine told me she was still breastfeeding when her son was 7 years old, and I couldn’t help myself. I said, “You’re fucking nuts.” Even someone I knew! And she was like, “You’re right. Nobody dared to tell me.”

Has that quality been a hindrance to you in Hollywood?
It was not good at the beginning. I have to say, it’s never great. Now I’m very careful, especially with the press and stuff. Because I say it bluntly and people turn it around, now with social media. You can have enemies by saying, “Save the planet!” Like, “Oh, that bitch wants to save the planet!” Everything you say and do now is under scrutiny, and it’s traumatic. I’m not gonna tell you what happened to me the past few months, but little details of things — “Oh, wait, I just said something about feminism that might be interpreted as something else.” Even when I told you we can’t go overboard into a witch hunt, it might be said that I’m not a feminist. Everything can be interpreted as anything nowadays. So I forget what I was gonna say …

About if that truth-telling quality has been bad for you.
It’s not great, to be honest. It’s not great in this business. I’m learning. I think I have a weird mental issue. I think they have a name for it now. It’s like a form of disability. I have no capability of not speaking my mind. It’s actually a condition. Now they have a condition for everything! I read somewhere that it’s called something-something syndrome. I’m sure I have it now. I’m convinced. So maybe I can claim disability. [Laughs.] No. No, it’s not a disability. It’s a syndrome. I don’t want to say disability and people get mad at me. It’s a mental issue. Maybe I’m crazy. After all that said.

And you know what? The truth is, if I have to be careful every step of the way, it’d drive me insane. Really insane. Crazy is the other side to me: people who control everything. I know we live in a society, but I’d rather have moments where people are like, “nya nya nya” on me than to have to control my life completely and live in this kind of fantasy of who I am.

More From This Series

See All
She had also directed two short films, and had been credited as a composer on Before Sunset. (She composed the score for 2 Days in Paris.) Delpy has a son, born in 2009, with German film-score composer Marc Streitenfeld. She is married to Dimitris Birbilis.
Julie Delpy Answers Every Question About 2 Days in Paris