Julie Delpy's Culture Clashes: On the French, Interracial Dating and Aging
The French actress-writer-director reflects on her latest film, "2 Days in New York," and how messy relationships are universal.
It was never Julie Delpy's plan to make a sequel to her 2007 indie hit 2 Days in Paris. Sitting in a suite at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo, she laughs, "I didn't even know I was going to finish it financially, much less a sequel."
But five years later, here she is, now a well-established writer and director, about to release the transatlantic followup, 2 Days in New York. Delpy stars again as Marion, a semi-frazzled French ex-pat with a crazy, meddlesome, but somehow lovable family. While in the previous film, Marion and her boyfriend (played by real-life ex Adam Goldberg) were visiting her hometown in France and dealing with the consequences of culture clash and the difficulties of adult relationships, here she is in her adopted home of New York, her family invading the settled life she has created with her son and new boyfriend, Mingus.
Mingus is played by Chris Rock, who, in thick black framed glasses and Park Slope intellectual wardrobe, is a revelation in a role completely different than his brash standup comedy persona or usual outspoken, wise-cracking movie parts. He was Delpy's first choice for the film, and that they form an interracial couple is almost besides the point.
"I was like, okay, we’re not in 1962, I’m not going to make a mix couple where, that’s the subject matter of the film," she says. "And I think that’s why Chris liked the script, because he was like, it’s not about that. That’s not the movie. Their problems have nothing to do with interracial. Intercultural, maybe. And that’s what I told him. This is a movie, it’s a man and a woman, that’s the problem. Men, women. That’s enough of a problem!"
An edited transcript of Delpy's conversation with THR follows below:
THR: What’s the difference between an American in Paris, and French people in New York? What’s the difference in culture shock?
Delpy: It’s different -- I mean, an American in Paris was really a fish out of water. The city was taking over, almost the city was more present. It was almost like a shark. I always think of 2 Days in Paris like Jaws, and I actually made the music to sound a bit like Jaws, like “dah dah, dah dah,” because I really wanted that feeling like, he is in Jaws. Ex-boyfriends, the city, taxi drivers, the people: everything seems like it’s attacking and closing in.
Here it’s very different, like everything is fine, they’re in New York, they’re in their element, everything should be fine. And then the little elements that show up, those little creatures, and they slowly and insidiously kind of bring up shit into Marion’s life and his life, and suddenly their loss of intimacy, they lose their life basically by having those intruders.
And it’s subtle; they’re not doing crazy stuff. I mean, if you were living what they’re living, it’s not like insane. Even like, a pot dealer at home, it’s not insane. I mean, not that I have pot dealers at home, because I don’t smoke pot, but I have friends that smoke pot all the time, and having someone drop someone off, I’ve seen it happen, it’s not a big deal. But things get, one on top of each other: the ex-boyfriend flirting with the sister of Mingus, everything starts to wear them down, one thing after another, and then it gets to the point where it starts to get ugly.
THR: How much would you attribute that to them being French, versus just family members.
Delpy: I think the French adds a little bit extra misunderstanding, miscommunication, obviously. It adds an edge to the thing already of meeting the family.
THR: A lot of what I took from the first film was, once you’re out of the first-met-and-blissfully-in-love phase, it’s a matter of knowing the person and accepting and embracing their flaws. And now you have a new boyfriend in this one. Why decide to have a new man in there?
Delpy: I like the idea that Marion is a confused person that can’t really settle. Not necessarily confused, but it’s just the times in this world we live in, where it’s harder and harder to stay with the same person. Most people I know have kids with someone, moved to someone else, had another kid, moved to someone else. They have series of relationships that don’t work out. Not everybody, but I would say half the people. And that’s interesting. It’s not my personal situation, because I’m with the same person that I have my son with, but I see that situation happening a lot. So it’s something I wanted to explore. As well as bring up losing your parents, having kids, more responsibility in life, compromises.
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THR: What drew you to having Chris Rock in the role?
Delpy: He’s the first person I thought of. I wanted to work with him. I sort of liked the idea of taking someone who is so not an indie figure. A lot of people were like ‘You can get this person, this person.’ I was like no no no, this is Chris Rock, I want Chris Rock. Then I went on IMDBpro, called his agent, I buy the membership, $19 every three months [laughing], oh his agent is so and so, I know this guy, he used to be my agent. So I called his agent and said, ‘Do you think Chris would be remotely interested in working with me, does he know my work?’ And he called me back two hours later and said ‘Yes, Chris would be remotely interested in working with you, so keep on going, write a good script, and he’ll do it.’ So it was pretty straightforward.
THR: A lot of people have been saying, ‘Finally, someone figured out how to use Chris Rock.’ Have you heard that?
Delpy: Yeah yeah yeah. People were surprised that he actually plays the straight man. The best compliment for him, and for me as a director, is that you forget it’s Chris Rock. And it’s so hard for comedians to be forgotten in a part, to really lose themselves in a character. And he totally fits the character of Mingus. Even when I’m watching the film, I forget: is this Chris Rock? He’s such a persona, he’s such a famous guy, and that’s what he wanted to achieve.
THR: So he disappears behind those glasses.
Delpy: Yeah, his character is his character. And I even worked with him, we spoke about how the guy’s dressed, that he wears glasses, that is hair is longer. He changed his hair, and actually since he’s been growing an afro ever since. He’s changing his looks. I worked with him also on a physical level, just physical appearance. I wanted him to look like this guy.
THR: With a white woman and a black man, there could have been a real racial comedy aspect to it, but there wasn’t really.
Delpy: Well I didn’t want it to be. I wanted it to be not the issue of their relationship. Yes, they have the character of Manu that is dumb, racist but not mean, kind of dumb racist, like without even knowing it. Not hating black people, but wanting to be black, thinking every black person is cool, that every black person smokes pot. The worst kind of guy, but at the same time, not even mean, just a loser. Which I think is funnier because it’s this kind of caricature of the racist, hates black people. He’s not that, he’s just a dumb guy. Which is much more fun. And I wanted to keep it that way.
And I was like, okay, we’re not in 1962, I’m not going to make a mix couple where, that’s the subject matter of the film. It’s like now, you make a movie where the woman is 40 and the guy is 37, and the film is going to be about an old lady dating a young man. It’s so tiring, I can’t even watch movies like that anymore. It’s so on-the-nose, it’s keep people in that bullshit. And I think that’s why Chris liked the script, because he was like, it’s not about that. That’s not the movie. Their problems have nothing to do with interracial. Intercultural, maybe. And that’s what I told him. This is a movie, it’s a man and a woman, that’s the problem. Men, women. That’s enough of a problem!
And if Chris had not done it, I don’t think I would have had a black actor. I would have changed it entirely. It would have been a whole other thing. I would have gone totally different, I don’t know who because I never brought my mind to it.
THR: How do you think you’ve grown as a director? What are the new challenges? How was it this time around?
Delpy: I’m getting better at what I’m doing. I’m getting more comfortable directing movies. I’m very good at handling a crew and making decisions, I’m very very quick, very organized. But I was pretty much like that from the beginning. A little less, now I’m very very, I know what a movie is, I finish on time, I never waste a dime. I’m actually a bit, because I know that actually directing is 20 percent creativity, and 80 percent managing things and making decisions, problem solving. Which actually fits my personality perfectly. Because originally I wanted to be a scientist. I became an actress, writer and director, but originally I’m more drawn toward science, anything to do with rational thoughts is something I like.
THR: Was the funding easier this time?
Delpy: It was easier at the beginning, and then suddenly one little financier, one little part of the funding dropped out two days before shooting, and all hell broke loose. I mean literally, it was insane. I spent seven days on the phone with banks in Europe, I had to guarantee, I had to put my company in jeopardy, I had to say okay, you can have my soul if the movie is not finished. Financiers are very scared. They want security over security over security over security. They want some guarantee, it’s insane. I went through hell for two weeks, the film was pushed for two weeks, and finally we were able to shoot.