At 42, Julie Delpy considers herself a director first and an actress second. She had been greatly inspired when working with Richard Linklater on Before Sunrise (1995) and with Krzysztof Kieślowski on The Three Colours Trilogy (1993-94), and of course her early encounter with Jean-Luc Godard on Détective (1985) had had a profound effect too.
Even if her first feature, 2002’s Looking for Jimmy, wasn’t up to much, Delpy had been buoyed by her Oscar nomination for the Before Sunset screenplay (co-written with Linklater and Ethan Hawke) and went on to make a splash with her second feature, 2 Days in Paris (2007). Her wildly adventurous follow-up, The Countess, about the 16th century Hungarian Countess Erzsébet Báthory (who bathed in the blood of virgins in order to attain eternal youth) was a huge flop. Now again sticking with what she knows best—cross-cultural comedy—Delpy has produced a minor gem with 2 Days in New York.
Her friends and co-stars, Alexia Landeau and Alex Nahon, collaborated on the screenplay and she also enlisted her father, Albert Delpy, to again lend his jocular presence to the proceedings. Her actress mother, Marie Pillet, has passed away since 2 Days in Paris and Julie, now a mother herself, dedicates the film to her.
The story follows on from 2 Days in Paris with Delpy’s photographer Marion having relocated to New York and having split from Jack (Adam Goldberg). Now she is in a new relationship and is raising Jack’s son with Mingus (Chris Rock), a hip talk-radio host who also has a daughter from a prior relationship. The pair seem to be totally in love—until her dad Jeannot, following her mother’s death, arrives from Paris together with Marion’s scantily clad sister Rose (Landeau) and her sometime beau Manu (Nahon).
“The film is about relationships and how you make them work,” Delpy explains. “It’s also about how to rebuild a relationship once you’ve already had a relationship and a family and to show how it can fall apart so quickly.”
It wasn’t as if she deliberately set out to make a film about changing relationships. But when she came to write a sequel to 2 Days in Paris, she realised that if she again cast Goldberg as her lover in the story, it would have born too much resemblance to the recurring Ethan Hawke role in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and now Before Midnight, which the trio have just filmed.
“I wanted Marion to be this person who keeps on trying to make it work with different men and the first person I thought of when I started writing was Chris. So I wrote it with Chris in mind. Then as we were shooting he ad-libbed a few lines but he pretty much followed the script. I wanted the character to be its own thing away from his comedy persona and that’s why Chris wanted to do it.”
Even if he is ultimately the straight man of the piece around whom all the French mayhem swirls, Rock still manages to be very witty.
Rock: “I loved the script from the first moment I read it, but I immediately went, ‘Is Ethan Hawke dead? What’s going on?’ I couldn’t believe Julie called me because I was really into those movies. Afterwards when I talked to Ethan and realised he wasn’t dead, I agreed to do the movie. Ethan has beaten me out for a few parts so it felt good to finally win.”
Even if Paris-born Delpy has lived in the US for 21 years, she still raises most of her financing from Germany and France. Luckily she enjoys mining the humour in the cultural differences she knows only too well. Another good friend, Germany’s Daniel Brühl, who co-starred with Delpy in The Countess, plays a minor role here as he had in 2 Days in Paris.
The big surprise, though, is the deliciously self-parodying Vincent Gallo who buys Marion’s soul.
“I was looking on eBay one day and thinking how people sell their old underwear and really weird stuff,” Delpy recalls. “I was like, ‘What if I sold my soul on eBay?’ I liked the conceit but then it brought up all these questions in me, like why does the soul exist? Then I wondered who in the world would actually buy this piece of conceptual art. And I thought of Vincent. He said, ‘You know, I’d be the kind of person who’d buy that. So it’s perfect you’re sending it to me.”
As a writer-director, Delpy has been compared to Woody Allen and with this film more than ever. “I love Bananas, the dumb jokes in that film. I love early Woody Allen. But I never think of Woody Allen or anyone else when I write, and I also love a lot of other filmmakers, like Vincente Minnelli and Jacques Tati. Hopefully 2 Days in New York has a lot of layers.”
One of the funniest scenes is when Jeannot, who like her dad doesn’t speak word of English, is held up by U.S. customs for attempting to smuggle in some tasty French sausage. “My dad gets in trouble with U.S. customs all the time,” Delpy admits, “If it’s not food, then it’s Cuban cigars. I have no idea why he does it.”
Clearly Albert Delpy is a rabblerouser and his famous daughter (an only child unlike in the film) takes after him. What characteristics does she think she inherited from him? “I inherited a joie de vivre. We both love life and I inherited his tendency to eat a lot. He loves meat. I really enjoyed working with him on 2 Days in Paris as he is a very funny actor and I wanted to work with him again. I had seen him on stage all of my life as he is a theatre actor mostly.”
Delpy displays her own considerable feistiness when Marion comes face to face with a pretentious art critic at an exhibition of her photographs. “Over the years I’ve been lucky—the critics have been more positive than negative,” she says. “But sometimes people attack you and you feel so vulnerable. Even if you make a comedy you expose yourself. Then suddenly people latch onto you and sometimes it’s not even about the film or work. It’s almost personal. So in the film there’s a scene where I tell a critic I’m gonna stuff all my photos up his ass basically. But in a funny way.”
2 Days in New York is released in cinemas November 22.