'I hate the idea of sexiness'

 

French writer, director, musician and actress Julie Delpy returns to our screens with her second culture-clash comedy, 2 Days in New York. She talks to TARA BRADY

‘I HATE SEXY women. I hate the idea of sexiness. Ugh.” Don’t get her started. Julie Delpy, a woman plenty of folks would identify as “sexy”, is going off on one of her characteristically hilarious rants.

A storm of a girl, to borrow the Courtney Love phrase, she seldom pauses for breath as she spits out the words: “When people are naturally sexy or sexy in a beautiful way like Marilyn Monroe or Angelina Jolie that’s fine. I love those women. But I hate the idea of women being objectified and playing along.

“I hate those magazine covers where the woman is just trying too hard. It looks so vulgar and trashy. I don’t know why – and it’s not because I’m jealous – but it makes me so mad. And here comes the girlie voice: ‘Look at me: I’m a housewife slash little girl slash submissive slut.’ It makes me crazy. I just want to grab them by the hair and hit their heads off the wall. I want to punch them.” She laughs – an infectious, conspiratorial laugh that would reduce even the dumbest such sexy hyphenate into giggling hysterics.

Plus ça change. This is the same Julie Delpy, who, during a 1990 screen test for The Double Life of Veronique was asked by Krzysztof Kieslowski to do something sexy on camera. So she pulled her ears and stuck out her tongue.

“I know that makes me sound like a fundamentalist but when somebody asks me to do something sexy for a role I get pissed off right away. With Kieslowski we ended up being friends when we worked together later on the Three Colours films.

“But for Veronique it was ridiculous. It was for that scene in the movie when there’s the flashback to when they fall in love and she’s not being sexy at all. She’s talking about her vagina muscle. She’s talking about queefing. How is that sexy? How?”

At 42, Delpy retains the “tomboy feminist” principles of her late mother, Marie Pilet, a veteran of ’68 and one of the original pro-choice signatories of the Manifesto of the 343 Bitches. The only child of the avant-garde performer Pilet and underground theatre director Albert Delpy, Julie predictably finds “girlie girls” annoying and loathes the colour pink, especially on little girls.

“You know who should be objectified and put in pink instead?” she asks. “Men! They’re such pretty little things.”

Last time we sat down for a chat with Julie Delpy, she had just finished work on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and was shopping around various screenplays for various projects including the comedy 2 Days in Paris and the revisionist historical gothic, Countess Bathory. Nowadays, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter is recognised as an auteur as well as an actor. It wasn’t an easy transition but, by her own admission, she’s a steely, determined sort.

“When I started out it was a nightmare,” she says. “When I was 20 and I said I wanted to direct, people would not take me seriously and they would hit on me. They would set up meetings and treat them like dates: ‘Oh, you’re such a pretty actress’.

“But – ha – those days are over for me now. Ha. Now I want to have sex with producers and financiers but can’t get any.”

Delpy has worked with most of the great European directors. At 14, she appeared in Jean-Luc Godard’s Détective. She’s been directed by Volker Schlöndorff (Europa, Europa), Léos Carax (Mauvais Sang), Bertrand Tavernier (La Passion Béatrice) and Carlos Saura (La Noche Oscura). But since 2006 she has only appeared in her own films: The Countess, Le Skylab, 2 Days in Paris, and its sequel, coming soon to a picturehouse near you, 2 Days in New York.

Is this a reflection of the roles she’s been offered elsewhere? Or does she need to create to this degree? “It’s true that I’ve only worked with myself. But I’ve made four films and had a baby so it isn’t like I woke up in China. I guess now I’m ready to act in other people’s films but I’ve just been so focused on directing that I’ve been turning everything else down. When you have to think about financing you’re not really in a position to say yes to other things. I’ve just shot 2 Days in New York and Skylab back to back. But this year I’m only going to be acting in movies and writing. I’m really excited about that. It’s going to be a holiday compared to the past six years.”

Between writing, directing, performing and composing the music for her movies, she’s found domestic happiness with German film composer and Ridley Scott regular Marc Streitenfeld. The couple’s son, Leo, was born in January 2009.

“My husband is working all the time so I’m taking care of my son a lot and I love it, love it, love it, love it. If I’d known how much I’d love having a kid I would have had one years ago,” she tells me. “Sometimes it’s so much work you want to die and I’ve had to adapt and start writing in three hours what used to take 10. But it’s the greatest thing in the world. I’m only now thinking I could do this over again, but I’m 42 – I’d have to get started right now. Like right this minute. Where’s my husband got to?”

The zany, frenetic 2 Days in New York sees Delpy once again assume the post-Annie Hall persona of Marion, the flighty artist heroine of her 2007 Parisian jaunt. That film saw the City of Light have a detrimental impact on Marion’s romance with American boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg). The new film sees her visiting Parisian family have a similarly corrosive effect on the happy home Marion shares with Mingus (Chris Rock).

A terrified Mingus repeatedly retreats to a study to talk to life-size cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama. It’s Chris Rock, but not as we know him.

“I wanted to do a sequel that didn’t have the same guy or it would have been too similar to the first film. And I thought Marion would have moved on because she’s not a very stable person. Chris was the first person that came to mind.

“I was trying to think of someone who would be interesting and who could make up one half of a weird dynamic couple. I hate watching movies where the couple have been pre-planned and focus-group-tested by the studios.

“We have friends in common, like Nelson George the documentary film-maker, and his agent – who I’ve known forever because basically I’ve hired and fired everybody in town at this stage. And I think he was really happy that I wrote a part that’s pretty straight for him because he’s actually a pretty straight guy a lot of the time.”

Sure enough, Rock turns out to be the “normal” one. Our heroine’s sister is now dating her sleazy ex-boyfriend. The entire party is accosted by customs as they attempt to smuggle cheeses and sausages. And dad (Julie’s real dad, Albert Delpy) will not stop asking about his daughter’s sex life.

“People say to me that the dad is so naughty,” laughs the writer, director and star. “But those people are not French. There’s a reason the Marquis de Sade is French. In America anything to do with sex is pornographic. But in France perversion is legitimate among intellectuals. Les bijoux indiscrets, by Denis Diderot, is highly regarded. And it’s about a penis and pussy that talk. Seriously.

“My dad comes from that old current of thinking that is free-spirited and kind of naughty. He’s constantly asking about my sex life. It would be weird for him not to ask.”

Still, 2 Days in New York, in common with its predecessor, does rather explode the notion of romantic Paris and dashing Parisians, does it not? “Good. I’m glad. I’m always laughing with my French friends about how crazy they are. It’s a huge culture of unique thinkers meaning that every single person is different and a whole lot of them are crazy.

“I think a lot of American audiences want their French pure. They want the girl at midnight in Paris in the rain. And she’s quiet and mysterious and not one of those obnoxious French women at all. But it’s not true.

“French women are not quiet. Only Italian woman are as bossy as the French ones. They don’t feel guilty about going back to work when their kid is six months old like American women do. They’re not submissive little bunnies. They have lives of their own. They don’t retreat into kitchens. And their men better not fuck around.”

Delpy became a US citizen in 2001 and divides her time between Paris and Los Angeles. Her dual citizenship has given her perspective regarding her homeland, but perspective isn’t always an easy sell. Shot right after 2 Days in New York, Le Skylab follows a squabbling, lower class French family on a day trip to Brittany. Last September, the film took home the Special Jury Prize from the San Sebastián International Film Festival.

“It’s been really shocking taking the film around French festivals,” says Delpy. “The French love it. But people who weren’t French have been really shocked by it. And finally I worked out that this is because the family in the film are white trash. They’re a family with uncles in the military and that sort of thing. And people kept asking about this. What do they think France is? Do they think we’re all walking around in a Chanel commercial? How retarded!

“France is like any other country. You have rich people and poor people and bourgeois people and people who have barbeque parties for eight hours straight. We’ve just had elections where 20 per cent of people voted for Marine Le Pen. Now that’s trashy. You don’t get much further from a Chanel commercial than that.”

Much as she loved science at school the one-time psychology student describes herself as a film geek and suspects she was always destined for life in the movies. She’s currently working on a Joe Strummer bio-pic, is ploughing her way through the Charles Bukowski back catalogue and is pondering a return to the Before Sunrise-Before Sunset sequence.

“We’re friends, all three of us – Richard [Linklater] and Ethan [Hawke] and I. But I don’t know what the fuck. Maybe it’ll happen soon, maybe it’ll happen never. We’ll just have to sit down together and see.”

2 Days in New York opens May 18