Since being discovered by Jean Luc-Godard at the age of 14, Julie Delpy has been a mainstay of international cinema. Lately, she’s also cornered the market on art-house franchises, first with the Before Sunrise/Sunset series, and now following up her 2007 loosey-goosey directorial effort 2 Days in Paris with 2 Days in New York. Delpy sat down with PW to talk about freedom, control freaks and her unconventional attitude towards sequels.
We’re used to seeing sequels to action movies or superhero pictures. But not so often with romantic comedies.
It’s kind of a weird thing to do sequels to independent films because really nobody is that interested. But for me, it’s like the Antoine Doinel series, where Truffaut was revisiting the same character over the years in real time. Yes, five years went by since 2 Days in Paris, and nine years went by between Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It’s an interesting concept to continue characters, to not let them die after the film is done.
I was surprised to see Chris Rock in a romantic comedy—and even more surprised to find him playing the straight man.
Chris was the first person that came to mind when I decided to write a sequel. He had seen my work and agreed to the idea of doing a movie with me before I had written the screenplay because I wanted to write it with someone specific in mind. I think he liked that it wasn’t the typical Chris Rock doing standup in every scene. It was a collaborative effort, trying to create a character that was as real as possible. But if Chris had said no, it really would have been hard for me because I was more or less set on him.
You have worked with so many giants: Godard, Kieslowski, Jarmusch—the list goes on. What did you take from those experiences when it came time to step behind the camera yourself?
The main thing I learned from all these people is don’t try to imitate anybody or be something that you are not. I always say the best example is David Lynch. When you meet David Lynch, you know why he’s making David Lynch movies—because he can’t do any others! It’s the same with Godard. When I met Kieslowski, I understood. What I have learned from these people is to be yourself. Yes, of course I am very lucky to have worked with these directors, but I just do what is in tune to who I am. I am making comedies because I like to make people happy. I write romantic films because I want to believe in love–not in an obvious, cheesy way, but more convoluted. I believe in relationships. But they are not simple.
Not a lot of people would break up the couple in-between movies.
Yeah, it’s pretty cynical. But at the same time, she tries to make it work with somebody else, so all hope is not dashed. After all, what is life but spending short, ephemeral, beautiful moments with people you love? There’s not much to it besides that.
There’s a playful looseness to your 2 Days movies, particularly in the crowd dynamics, that reminds me of Robert Altman. Was he a big influence?
I knew Bob Altman, and I loved his films very much—the way he handled groups and reality and naturalism. I just saw again his film called A Wedding, which is not perfect, but there are moments of brilliance. It’s so free. It is great to see movies that are free. Now, everything is so controlled. The studios have control, and directors have become control freaks. It’s like they’re not breathing. I love seeing movies where you feel the freedom of expression. It’s actually very refreshing. I find now that cinema is very formatted. It has become very narrow. There’s nothing sticking out. I don’t like that. My film has a structure, and it’s very written, but I try to give a little feeling of freedom, a little madness. That’s why I love cinema from the 70s. I love early Scorsese and late John Huston—films that are not perfect around the edges.