The Zen of Julie Delpy

 
The Zen of Julie Delpy

Raised in Paris by theater actors, Julie Delpy followed the family tradition in her own way, winding up in film and on a different continent, living half the year in the United States.

Delpy was only 14 when she was cast by Jean-Luc Godard in Détective in 1983. Two years later, she won a French César award for her role in Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, and in 1990 played her first role in English, alongside Sam Shepard in Volker Schlondorff’s Voyager. Since then, she’s acted in more than two dozen other films and branched out to writing her own scripts and her own English dialogue, singing and composing music-she released an album in 2003-and, most recently, directing her first studio release,2 Days in Paris.

It was when she moved to the States to study film at NYU in 1990 that she began to see American culture from the inside, says Delpy in an animated interview in San Francisco. Dressed in a simple gray knee-length dress and ballerina flats, her hair pulled back loosely in a bun, she spoke French for the most part, comfortably tossing in English words and phrases here and there.

“Living here, with Americans, ‘dating’ Americans…I’ve experienced a lot of emotions in English. I can play a breakup scene [in English] because I’ve been through break-ups with American boyfriends; I know how the words come out at times like that.” She wrote much of her own dialogue, uncredited, for just such a breakup in her role opposite Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater’s 1995 Before Sunrise.

But Delpy still spends nearly half of each year in Paris, affording her the perfect bicultural slant for 2 Days in Paris. In the film, a stressed-out New York interior designer (Adam Goldberg) and his Parisian girlfriend (Delpy) spend 48 hours in the French capital when they pass through to pick up her cat, Jean-Luc (homage to Godard), from her parents’ house. Unlike many movies that romanticize Paris, 2 Days shows a rawer side of the city. No romantic dinners by the Eiffel tower here, but plenty of run-ins with sex-obsessed ex-boyfriends, racist taxi drivers and fast food-hating terrorists.

On the whole, the French took Delpy’s cultural self-parody in stride, but a few objected to perceived stereotyping.

“They’d say, ‘How dare you show Paris cab drivers as racists!'” She laughs: “I’d just say, ‘If you’ve never run into any, you must have a car!’ I’m not making it up; these things are inspired by real events in my life.” There’s no intent to generalize, she adds. “I’ve had plenty of cab drivers talk about ‘dirty Arabs,’ and then I’ll run into a super nice one who starts quoting Boris Vian to me.”

The idea of showing Paris’s downside, she says, came to her one nightmarish New Year’s Eve when she and her best friend found themselves stranded at the far end of the city, unable to get home. “It was the worst night of my life!” she says, laughing in retrospect: “We’re stuck way across town, there are no taxis, the métro’s not running, it’s raining, it’s cold, people are vomiting all over the place… it was a horror show.” The thought occurred to her, “It’s a good thing I’m not with some foreign boyfriend who doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know what’s going on. That would be hell.”

Although she cast her real-life friends and parents in 2 Days, it would be a mistake to confuse her screen role with Delpy herself. Unlike her character, Marion, “I don’t flirt. When I’m in a relationship, I don’t even look at other men; I don’t know they exist. I am monogamous to an extreme,” she says. “And I don’t get mad at people” the way Marion does when she blows up at a taxi driver and a restaurant owner in the film. “I’m more the type to hold things in.”

The real-life Delpy also differs from her image in certain celebrity magazines, which tend to portray her as abourgeoise. In childhood her home atmosphere was very modest-a tiny apartment with the bathroom down the hall. “My parents were in avant-garde theater, so they had no money. I never missed it. We were very close and had a lot of fun. My parents were really happy, so the rest wasn’t that important. Money’s just a thing.”

This easygoing attitude carries over into her professional life. If problems arise on the set, “I don’t react. I wait for it to pass.” She demonstrates her point by taking a deep breath. “I’m really zen when I’m directing. You should never get upset when you’re filming, even when things look disastrous.”

She recalls an episode from the making of 2 Days: With a limited budget and razor-thin time frame, Delpy and crew set up an interior shot for a scene in a taxi. Lights and camera were mounted on top of the vehicle, aimed through a hole in the roof. “We had one hour to get it done,” she says, “when suddenly, there’s a huge cloudburst. I mean rain comes pouring into the car. We’re in water up to our knees, the lights go out…. What can you do at a time like that? I looked at my chief op and we just burst out laughing.” True to form-or perhaps in character- “Adam was annoyed; he kept telling me the scene was getting ruined, and I’d say, ‘What do you want me to do about it?'”

Sometimes, she notes, “you just have to put things in perspective. It’s not the end of the world…. The secret is to take it lightly, be very zen. As long as no one gets killed, everything’s fine.”

What’s next for Delpy? This fall, she’s filming her own script of The Countess, a bloody historical drama. “If the movie isn’t well received, I’ll just have to go back to comedies,” she laughs.

Julie Delpy’s Paris Favorites 
In Paris, you may see Delpy  walking around Ile St-Louis or Canal St-Martin, or hanging out by the Fontaine Médicis at the Jardin du Luxembourg. On Sundays she often goes shopping at the Marché de la Convention (Métro: Convention, 7 a.m.-3 p.m).

For a good dinner, Delpy likes the Vietnamese restaurant Le Palanquin. 12 rue Princesse, Métro: St-Germain-des-Prés, 01.43.29.77.66

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