If you were into art-house cinema in the 1990s, you were into Julie Delpy, whether it was her boho-romantic Celine in Richard Linklater’s classic “Before Sunrise,” her ice-cold vixen in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s magisterial “Three Colors: White,” or even the clichéd hooker-with-a-heart in Roger “Pulp Fiction” Avary’s “Killing Zoe.”
Delpy could easily have gone on to coast in Hollywood as another pretty face with a French accent (they need one every generation), but she took the money from her career and poured it into studying filmmaking at New York University. By age 25, she had directed a promising short, “Blah Blah Blah,” which displayed a great sense of humor that the casting agents clearly hadn’t detected.
After a hesitant start with “Looking For Jimmy,” her first feature in 2002, she hit it out of the park in 2007 with “2 Days in Paris,” a comedy that featured Delpy and old friend Adam Goldberg as a French-American couple who experience a relationship meltdown while visiting her parents. (Delpy cast her real parents, Albert Delpy and Marion Pillet, with great results.)
Delpy returns this month with a sequel to her most popular film titled “2 Days in New York,” tweaking the formula to a new city and a new lover for her flaky protagonist, Marion. The man in her life this time is played by comedian Chris Rock, and while the new film is as funny as the first, one of the most striking things about it is how the interracial-couple aspect is taken for granted.
In a Skype interview with The Japan Times, Delpy explained, “It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s actually a big deal in America. The fact that I made a movie and the issue isn’t that he’s black and she’s white, it kind of offended a lot of people, because these people want it to be a problem. In reality I know a lot of mixed couples, and it’s not. Actually, that’s why Chris agreed to do the film, because it’s not some melodramatic bullsh-t movie making it like it’s such a problem for blacks and whites to be together.
“There’s still a lot of racism in America; it’s very subtle, but it’s very present. You can make jokes about blow jobs as a white woman when you’re next to a Jewish guy, but you can’t do it next to a black guy. I think for a lot of people, even those who think they’re liberals, the idea of a white woman being with a black man is unbearable. They feel threatened by the big black cock, just like their great-grandfathers felt. I’m sorry, I’m going off, but I hate racism and it makes me so angry.”
Dropping the “C” word in an interview is not something most actresses do, but Delpy is clearly not “most actresses.” She’s certainly willing to get risqué in her movie; one of the film’s most deliciously uncomfortable moments comes when Marion’s father is in a sauna with Chris and asks him with a devilish grin how the sex is in their relationship. Part of this is playing on American stereotypes of the French, but, says Delpy, “it’s true the French are not very puritanical, not even the bourgeoisie. People talk about pretty much anything; I know so many women who have had conversations about sexuality with their parents, while in the U.S. it’s almost taboo.”
While Julie’s father Albert returns in the sequel, her mother Marion passed away shortly after the last film was made, and “2 Days in New York” is dedicated to her. Delpy explains how “originally, I wanted to do the sequel for my mother. I started writing it because I wanted her to have something to look forward to, but she was too sick. So after that I put the project aside for a while, and I didn’t really want to go back to it.”
In the end it was the involvement of her friend Alexia Landeau — who plays Marion’s sister Rose in the film — who helped her get back to work on the script.
“To me it was important to have friends around,” says Delpy. “Otherwise I don’t think I could have done it. In a sense, I think I did it because I wanted it to be an homage to (my mother), but a happy homage, not sad and depressing.”
Given that Delpy’s last two films — “Skylab” and “The Countess” — did not find distribution in Japan, it’s clear that sequels have their advantages, and Delpy cites greater presales as one. Yet while “2 Days in New York” seems a bit sillier and looser than “Paris,” Delpy notes that it was a much harder shoot.
“There was a lot of pressure. When you shoot in NYC you have the union, so you can’t go over time by even 10 minutes. You have a whole union crew; it’s a lot of people, they’re not very happy to be working on a movie it seems. Not everybody, but some of them. It’s a woman director, they’re not used to that in America, y’know, it’s all sorts of stuff.
“The goal was to make it seem very funny, but the shoot was definitely not fun. I had a lot on my shoulders: I was producing the film, directing, casting and dealing with all sorts of things. “Paris” was a little easier. The truth is I was so concerned with all this other stuff that when it was time to do my scenes, I didn’t even think; I was just doing them. I was like, ‘I’d better be good because there’s only 20 minutes left!’ I had to kind of put aside all my insecurities and get the work done. But sometimes it’s better that you don’t think so much as an actor.”