We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Julie Delpy has officially starred in and helped create both the most romantic movie set in Paris and, now, the least romantic. Having set hearts aflutter with co-star Ethan Hawke and director Richard Linklater in the breathtaking Before Sunset, she approached financiers with the idea to set another film over a short period of time about the relationship between an American man and a French girl in the City of Love. You can almost see the dollar signs lighting up in their eyes. What she didn’t tell them is that her directorial debut, Two Days in Paris, would be about the clash of cultures and everything that goes wrong in relationships.
Black comedy and some astute observations about relationships in general find their way into the melting pot of this very witty first turn, and we recommended it as one of the best of the bunch at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Rotten Tomatoes UK caught up with the actress and director on a brief stopover in London to find out more about the film.
How are you enjoying London?
Julie Delpy: It’s nice. Everyone’s very nice. British people are very nice, not like the French. I’m kidding! [laughs] Some French people are nice. Only some! [laughs]
How do you manage to write and star in the most romantic film set in Paris and go on to write, direct and star in the least romantic?
JD: It’s both sides of me, I tell you! You know, I thought of this one before I thought of Before Sunset, and I’m the one who wanted to set Before Sunset in Paris because I wanted to do this film. So it’s kind-of all related in a weird way, even though I made sure to make a very different movie in tone with Two Days in Paris; like, entirely different.
And it’s true that in Before Sunset all that I wrote about romanticism and love and caring and all that is a side of me which is true to me and then this other side is true to me as well. So I think within one person you can have very different emotions and energy.
Does spending time away from home give you more of an insight into France’s cultural differences?
JD: Well I do see the certain fucked-up things about Parisians way more. I do become one of them again after a few days back, but there’s a few days of adaptation to being pushed around on the subway, the bus, and having to listen to horrible taxi drivers telling you about Jews being the reason for the end of the world and shit like that. You’re like, [sigh]. Anti-Semitic racist cab drivers…
I didn’t put it in the film but you’ll have African taxi drivers telling you about Arabs and how bad Arabs are. It’s ridiculous; racism from every side of the coin. It’s really stupid. I think taxi drivers get angry because they have to drive in Paris and it’s the most horrible thing in the world, you know, it’d turn anyone into a fascist! It’s really hard to survive if you’re just a normal person! I know a few really nice taxi drivers – I’ve travelled with some – but it must be really hard to keep it together and not be angry because it’s so horrible driving in Paris. Even walking around you have to watch out, they’ll run over you at a red light, it’s really bad. I mean, it’s bad everywhere but Paris is very aggressive, very Latin. It’s a real pain in the ass!
So I basically have to adapt to my Parisian self when I get to Paris and that’s when I notice all those things. In the film they’re kind of clichés, stereotypes and stuff, but they’re real; if you go to a market you’ll see rabbits, you’ll see piglets, you will see all this. We didn’t make it up, it’s there.
I guess French culture is not necessarily as reserved about those things as American or British culture.
JD: Yeah, and you know what you’re eating, you know, you’re eating a baby lamb, and it’s very cute but you’re eating it anyway. I think Americans would rather see a steak – even if they kill as many cows, if not more, as the French – and there’s more waste because of it; they just don’t want to see it as much.
And it’s the same with sexuality in a weird way; they probably do more than the French but they don’t talk about it as much! So in a way I kind of show those cultural differences that are not huge but they do show up. Their sense of family is very different as well. If you marry a French woman you marry her mom and dad as well – And the sister, and the brother, and probably cousins as well – whereas more Americans will be able to cut their ties. Maybe it’s different for Jewish and Italian-American families in the US, there’s more togetherness, but I don’t know.
So it’s little differences and I point them out because it’s kind-of from his point-of-view. I mean, obviously, not every Frenchman, if you go to a party, will talk about sex alone. They’ll talk about other things but I point to that because that’s what feeds his paranoia about Marion being faithful.
I guess those are the moments he’s remembering; he’s not remembering the regular conversation.
JD: Yeah. I show a moment where everyone’s talking and he’s bored out of his mind and there’s music. He’s not listening to the rest of it, but the only thing that sticks is when he finds out that she had an affair with that guy and he’s talking about fascist vagina, you know!
Adam Goldberg is fantastic in the film; how did you find him? Were you friends?
JD: I’ve known Adam for many, many years and what I like about him is: first of all he has great comedic timing, which I knew because I’d seen his work, but I also noticed that he’s the sad clown, the more you hit on the head the funnier he is. The more you torture him, the more he’s in pain, the funnier he gets. To me that was essential, you know, he looks very funny when he’s upset and he’s often upset! [laughs] So it’s pretty easy you don’t need much to get him to that state!
What’s cooking for you?
JD: My next movie I’m directing that I wrote and will be starring in is a drama. It’s very scary, I’m going to a totally alien genre for me. It’s like throwing myself into another world. I’m excited about it, though, I’m excited to do something soon, as well.
You mentioned you’d had trouble getting a project that wasn’t essentially Before Sunset: Redux off the ground…
JD: [laughs] Yeah. This film was financed on the idea that it was a field that I knew, which is romantic stuff, even if I made it much darker. The financiers felt at ease with that, they didn’t get scared. It’s a much harder sell when a French woman wants to make a movie about Japanese soldiers; it’s scary to financiers. But that’s why this is my first film, but I’ve written many other things and hopefully I’ll get to make them all one after the other!