On Both Sides of the Camera
by Jay S. Jacobs
Actress Julie Delpy has been a familiar face on screen – both in her native France and in the United States – for well over 20 years. In fact, as the daughter of French theatrical stars Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, she has been working on stage and screen since she was a little girl. However, now she has been spending much of the last decade behind the camera.
Delpy was really first noticed in the States (other than perhaps in a bit part in the hit film Europa, Europa) when she won the lead role in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s White, part of his acclaimed colors trilogy – the other two titles were Red and Blue. Soon she was in the States, making a bunch of English language movies like The Three Musketeers, Killing Zoe and An American Werewolf in Paris.
However, she really started turning heads with Richard Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise. The movie, about a French girl named Celine and an American boy named Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) who spend a night walking around Vienna, talking and getting to know each other, was a critical favorite. It was also Delpy’s first experience as a writer, an experience that opened her career up immeasurably.
While Before Sunrise did not become a huge hit at the time, video and cable grew the cult audience to the point that they were able to make the 2004 sequel Before Sunset, which also shared critical acclaim, and this time around was a fairly big hit to boot. The third film in the series, again at a nine-year interval, was the 2013 film Before Midnight. Together, the Before movies make up one of the most important film series ever.
It also grew Delpy’s love of writing and her desire to try directing. She achieved this dream (not including a couple of short films) with a barely remembered French film called Looking for Jimmy in 2002. However, for the last decade she has thrown herself into filmmaking. First was the popular 2007 comedy 2 Days in Paris, in which she and Adam Goldberg played a squabbling couple visiting her parents in France. That film was followed by the 2012 sequel 2 Days in New York, in which Chris Rock took over as her character’s current relationship. Between those films she made the creepy period drama The Countess and the coming-of-age drama Skylab. She has written and starred in all the films she has directed (though she only had a supporting role in Skylab.)
Her latest film is a return to her native France, and it is her wildest film yet. In Lolo she plays a fortyish fashion industry PR person who finds herself falling in love with a goofy guy that she met on holiday, but not realizing that the relationship is being sabotaged viciously by her grown son. Lolo pairs Delpy with some of the greatest names in French comic filmmaking, including Dany Boon (Welcome to the Sticks), Karin Viard (The Chef’s Wife) and young up-and-comer Vincent Lacoste (Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor).
A couple of days before the New York premiere of Lolo, I sat down with Delpy to discuss her new movie and her career both in front of and behind the camera.
Nice speaking with you again, we did an interview years ago when Before Sunset was coming out.
That was a long time ago, yeah.
This is your sixth film as a director, but I believe this may be the first time that you’ve directed completely in your native French – I know a certain amount of 2 Days in Paris was also done in French and I’m not sure about Skylab.
Skylab is in French as well. That wasn’t a comedy, more like a coming of age movie.
Why did you decide this project would work better in French?
You know, just the way I started writing it. My co-writer is French. The producer that we started talking with. It was generated from a conversation with the producer of Skylab, Michael Gentile. We started talking about making a French film and I never even thought about writing it in English. It’s a great thing to accept the fact that you’re making a French film and go all the way with it and make a French film. (laughs)
Both as an actress and a director, what are the differences between making a French film and an American film?
Both are a different experience, I think. The way crews work in France, it’s a different life on set. You have long lunch breaks where you pour wine. (laughs) Choosing the catering is very important to everyone. It has to be the best food in town. That’s the goal in every French film. (laughs again) You usually get high-A quality restaurant French food on set, which is really nice. I would say the food is mainly the difference. (continues laughing) Pretty much, if you had a good crew in the US and a good crew in France you get a good result. It’s great to work with people. The food is the big difference.
As the son of a divorced mother, I’m very familiar with the whole idea of the kids not giving a new guy a chance. Of course Lolo takes that to a whole new extreme. Your own son is obviously much younger than Lolo is, so how did you and Eugénie Grandval come up with this idea?
You know, the film has nothing autobiographical in it. There is nothing further from Lolo than my son. He has so much empathy for others. He always looks at the smallest kid in the classroom and goes and protects him. He’s like the good kid. I’m very lucky and I intend to keep him that way. (laughs) But, people change, you never know. I think Lolo is like, there was this film in the 50s called The Bad Seed. [ed. note: That film starred Patty McCormack as an angelic looking little girl who was actually a psychopath.] I always thought of that film when I was writing this. What did these people do wrong in The Bad Seed to have a daughter that is so mischievous and evil? She kills the cat. Really, really bad stuff.
They probably did nothing wrong…
You never know 100% what you get as a parent. You can do everything right and something comes off wrong. It’s always a question you ask yourself as a parent: Am I doing everything right? Is telling a kid everyday that he’s the greatest thing in the world really the answer? Definitely putting down your children is bad. That’s definitely bad. That will never make someone happy, someone that functions happily in life. But is putting people on a pedestal – to the point of turning them into people that do not understand that they are not the greatest thing in the universe – is that good or bad? I don’t know. Even myself, I wonder. The way I was raised, my parents always took my side. It was an extreme. Then I realized, oh, I had to face many things from being an only child and being very much loved by my parents.
Your writing has always had a strong humorous content, but this is probably the most blatantly comic film you’ve written yet. Were you looking to do more of a broad farce with this film?
Yeah, I really wanted a broad farce. That’s what I was going for. The film did really well in France, so I’m happy that’s what I did. Very happy I did that, because I had never really done it. My films always have this indie vibe, especially in the way it is filmed. In this film, it’s not a complete mainstream movie because it goes a little bit too far, sometimes, you know? Visually I tricked people into watching a film that’s pretty and glossy and everything is shiny and colorful. And the camera doesn’t move too much, it doesn’t make you sick. Yet, the content of it is a little darker than the usual broad mainstream comedy. It’s a mix of both.
You are both star and director. While on the set, what is it like to juggle the two positions?
It’s always going back and forth. It’s sometimes quite exhausting. But the truth and secret is a lot of very good, thorough preparation. As a director, with the crew, with as many people as you can, with the first AD [assistant director], have a perfect shot list, everything is pre-planned. Everything is thought in advance. Every prop is pre-picked. Everything is picked in advance for every scene. And also you know your lines in advance as an actress. So, it’s to be very prepared.
You have been doing more and more directing over the years. I believe in recent years the only role you have done simply as an actress is Avengers – Age of Ultron. At this point is your writing and directing more vital to you than your acting?
Last year I did a Todd [Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness] Solondz film [called Weiner-Dog] that was in Sundance and that is coming up. So, I did work with other people. I love working with other people, if it is the right people. I find it a lot of fun and in a way, very relaxing.
Dany is such a terrific comic actor. Did you plan the role for him? Was it tough to keep a straight face working up against him?
He is indeed a fantastic actor. He’s a great guy to work with. A real sweetheart, and a really good comedian. Really fun to be around. I wrote it with him in mind. I’m lucky that he agreed to do it. 90% of the time, he doesn’t do films [for others]. He mostly does his own films. So I was very lucky he agreed to do my film.
I really had enjoyed Vincent in Hippocrates as well. How did he get involved and what was he like to work with?
I worked with him on Le Skylab. He played one of the cousins. He is a fantastic actor. I was really, really impressed. He was 16, he turned 17 on Skylab, and I was impressed by how professional he was. How serious and focused he was for his age. Really a guy that cares about movies, cares about his craft. It’s really great to work with people like that. It’s funny, because even though I make comedy [and] it all seems crazy and playful, I really like people who are very serious about their work. I take my work seriously, even if I make comedies. I like to really work hard and do the best I can.
Karin Viard was also in Skylab, what do you feel she added to everything? She had a smaller role, but it was a very important one.
I told her when I was writing, “It’s not going to be the lead, because I can’t have too much going on at all times. But it’s going to be a very, very noticeable role. It’s not going to be something you’re going to forget. It’s not the kind of part where you have ten scenes but no one remembers you.” (laughs) She has like eight scenes, but you remember each of them. My dad [French actor Albert Delpy] always says, “You gave her the best lines. You didn’t give it to yourself. You gave it to Karin.” I accept that. I wanted the really fun, fun friend, a very memorable supporting role. When she read it, she was like, “Great! It’s so much fun. I’m very excited to do it.”
I was hearing that you are working on a streaming series called On the Verge. I know it’s in the really early phases, but what can we expect from that?
You know, I hope something and maybe nothing. It depends. Streaming and stuff, they make decisions, and I have very little to do with the decisions they make. If they like it, they’ll go for it. If they don’t, they don’t.
What else do you have coming up?
I wrote a drama that I will be directing, I think in the UK, called Zoe. That’s my next film. I also have a film called A Dazzling Display of Splendor, which is a very, very fun epic about actors and moviemaking. It’s really, really sweet and fun and family and funny. I’m hoping to make [it] right after Zoe.
I have to tell you that I think that the Before Sunrise series is one of the most important film series in history. Obviously, you’ve been working on and off on that series for over 20 years now.
Actually for 23 years.
Looking back, what has it been like to be part of such a groundbreaking and beloved group of films?
You know, I put so much of my romantic ideals in the first film. It’s a weird thing, because when you write something, they take it away from you, in a way. It changed me as an individual, as a romantic person. I put all my sweet romantic young woman ideas in that first film. Then the second film, I put more of my young romantic ideas in. The third film, it was a little more bitter and sad. It’s an interesting evolution. It’s a very personal film for Ethan [Hawke] and I, and Richard [Linklater]. Ethan and I are really growing with the characters. The films are almost, I think, more personal to Ethan and I than anyone else. And Richard, obviously.
Did you ever have any idea they’d catch on like they did?
It’s been an interesting journey. Not always easy, because sometimes when you write things down, you take them away from you, in a way. It becomes everyone’s. The idea of writing is weird. You share with people, and at the same time, it’s not yours anymore. A lot of my romantic ideas went into the first film and maybe took away from my romanticism. (laughs) I wasn’t credited [as a screenwriter] on the first film, so it was hard to take in the fact that all those very romantic moods and stuff came from me, but no one knows they did.
But you did get the credit as a writer for the second and third films.
Yeah, afterwards. Thank God. Thank God.
Since you have worked so closely with Richard and Ethan over the years, how exciting was it to see how well Boyhood did last year?
Oh, that was great. That was great. What a beautiful film. I was very happy for Richard and Ethan. And Patricia [Arquette], who I love.
When I last talked to you, Before Sunset was just coming out and you told me that you didn’t think it was likely that a third film would be made in the series. Obviously that did happen, and we are way too early to be thinking of a fourth film, but do you think it is possible we will check in again with Celine and Jesse around 2022?
The truth is, I have no idea. I really have no idea. I really don’t know if we’ll do another one. I have no idea.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 11, 2016.
Photos ©2016 Courtesy of Filmrise. All rights reserved.