Julia Louis-Dreyfus has written the next chapter in her budding film résumé: Picture Paris, a whimsical (and unexpectedly demented) comedic short film that premiered on iTunes this week in which the Emmy-winning Veep star plays an L.A. Francophile seeking love, wine and a certain je ne sais quoi from her middle-aged years.
Collaborating with her writer-director husband Brad Hall, Louis-Dreyfus tells The Hollywood Reporter about dipping her toes into filmmaking, how most Parisians actually didn’t recognize her and why the labor of raising two teen sons may finally pay off in their next project.
In Picture Paris, which was showcased first at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, you portray a California woman whose son is leaving for college. In last year’s feature film Enough Said, you portray a California woman whose daughter is leaving for college. Is this a total coincidence, or you are obsessed with reliving the painful days before your own first child left home for college?
(Laughs.) It was actually purely coincidental. I made those films about a year apart, but it wasn’t that long after our oldest son went to college that Brad wrote the script. We wanted to dip our toe into indie filmmaking, having never done it before. Somehow that seemed more manageable and more economically feasible. And there we went! Also the crazy horror plot twist in the story was Brad’s original intention. All those twists and devices were there from the beginning.
Before that twist, we see your character foisting her fixation with Paris on her husband, which drives him away and ultimately leaves her to pursue her dream alone. Did this story grow out of you or Brad having an annoying obsession that the other didn’t?
It’s interesting that you ask that. Neither of us were aware of any, but we do fantasize frequently about what life is going to be like post-kids. “Oh my God, we won’t have to get up at 6:30 a.m. and take someone to school! We’ll have months to do anything we want! We can move to New York or Paris!”
Do you share your character’s love for Paris?
I’m definitely a Francophile. I have a huge family background in France as my father was born there and we spent a lot of time there growing up.
The film begins in suburban Los Angeles and moves to Paris halfway through, when the palette changes to a more dreamy, colorful one. How did you accomplish this visual switch?
I will tell Brad you said that! He worked very hard with our DP Brandon Cox. We wanted to create a look that was separate and delineated from the scenes we shot in the states — the way it’s color-corrected, the filters, the whole kit and caboodle.
How difficult was it to shoot in the streets of Paris?
It’s not easy at all. It was very hard to get permits, so we had to sort of run and gun and steal shots the entire time. It was crazy! There’s a scene that takes place in the Louvre at night and we shot it lickety-split before anyone noticed. Our producer Julie Snyder was such a huge help there. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Are you quickly recognized by Parisians? You made this film before Veep, but clearly there are Seinfeld fans all over the world.
Not too much, but one day we were shooting in Luxembourg Gardens, and there was a high school band performing very near where we were trying to get this shot. I went over and I could tell they knew me, and asked, “Would you mind stopping for a few minutes?” Then I went back and hung out with them for a while. So it helped in that circumstance that someone knew who I was.
You and Brad have worked together numerous times, including on Saturday Night Live and on the NBC comedy Watching Ellie. Did anything surprise you about this particular collaboration?
Nothing surprising, more reaffirming that we have so much fun working together. We have the same taste. When he says he likes the way the shot looks, I don’t have to look at the lens. I trust him!
Are you planning any other film projects?
We are developing a feature script now. It doesn’t have the extreme thematic right angles of this film, but there are definitely a lot teen scenes in it. We might as well capitalize on all these years we’ve spent raising two sons. There should be some payoff, you know?