PHOTOGRAPHY BY Lauren Dukoff ASSISTED BY Alison Bernier STYLING BY Anita Patrickson HAIR BY Richard Collins MAKEUP BY Molly Stern
Women in the movies aren’t like real women. They’re unattainably beautiful, they have it all together, (even when the film’s about how they don’t), and they always end up contentedly co-habiting with a hot/funny guy. Julie Delpy’s characters aren’t like that (except for maybe the unattainably beautiful part). Julie Delpy’s characters speak in broken sentences; they rant without there being a punch line; they gesticulate with a natural, nuanced French flair; and they have flaws that the entire plot doesn’t rest on. In short, Julie Delpy’s characters are as real as the female form comes on film, and yet they’re still intriguing, still entertaining. She certainly knows how to pick ’em, but that’s probably because she knows how to write them too. As the writer/director of 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, The Countess, and Le Skylab, she has shown herself to be a creator and curator of colorful characters who illicit response, demand attention, and breathe the air of subtlety and shade. But to many audiences it’s hard to separate Julie Delpy from Celine, the role she played and co-wrote for Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and the 2013 installment Before Midnight. A character whose screen-life exists in a matter of days, which translate into decades of depth, and one that has helped to define Delpy’s career. Of course, she wasn’t strolling around Vienna, Paris, or Greece alone – co-star Ethan Hawke was by her side in each film, and joins her here for a spot of reminiscing, romancing, and ruminating about Delpy – the filmmaker, the actress, the woman.
ETHAN HAWKE—Ms. Delpy, I’ll be your interviewer today.
JULIE DELPY—I know, it’s pretty funny! Are you OK doing an interview with me? Are you freaking out a little bit?
EH—I’m a nervous wreck; I’m so intimidated I can’t even speak.
JD—What are you going to ask me?
EH—I’m going to ask you questions that people really want to know. What, if any impact, would you say having one of your first film experiences with the maestro Jean-Luc Godard had on you, as an actor and as a filmmaker?
JD—I always feel like the first time is important. Not in sex, because in sex it’s always a mess, but for work. First of all, he was the first director that hired me, and I couldn’t get hired because a lot of people were saying I was too shy and I was never going to be an actress. And he’s the only one that said, you’re not that shy, and you’re not the introverted, but even if you are, it’s fine. And I’d seen most of his films, so I guess he was a bit impressed since I was 14, but I think he just needed someone to play clarinet in his film, and I happened to play clarinet.
EH—What did you take from that experience? How do you think that made you a different artist?
JD—It validated me. There were really bad directors I was auditioning for and they didn’t want to work with me, and this guy wanted to work with me, and I thought, OK, that means I’m not that bad, because I had a very low self-esteem.
EH—And your parents were both actors – they must have known who he was…
JD—My dad was elated, because my dad is such a Godard fan; he was jumping up and down he was so excited. So I was quite proud to work with him; it gave me a little more self-confidence. And then working with him, he was actually very nice.
EH—In what way was he different from other directors on set?
JD—He’s actually a little bit intense, and he never gives direction, like psychological direction, he only gives directions of what you’re supposed to do physically. He hates when people take themselves too seriously. And he gave everyone their lines a few hours before the shoot, so you never knew what you were going to shoot next, which was unsettling, but kind of refreshing too. And I loved that way of working, even though I’ve never done it again.
EH—Nowadays, it’s so difficult to work that way. Nobody would give you the money to make a movie like that.
JD—Of course, and that’s why he gets so little money to make his films, because I think people are very scared. It’s funny, on 2 Days in Paris, originally I wanted to do that, but of course, when people agreed on the budget they said, OK, but we want a full screenplay.
EH—They always want that.
JD—I ended up writing 120 pages of script… What I was going to say about Godard is that he gave me great advice in a book he wrote – Godard on Godard – it was a great letter he wrote to me during that shoot of Détective, which is the first film that I did. It said, be careful in your future, because you’re a river and there are the banks on each side of the river that are going to try and make you fit in, so don’t fit in. It was very interesting advice.
EH—When you were a young girl, which actors most inspired you?
JD—I loved Ida Lupino because she had been a director at probably the worst period for women to be directors. I also liked Ingrid Bergman very much. I think I liked a lot of guys: Brando, De Niro – all the seventies guys – Pacino… All the Italians.
EH—Like all of us.
JD—Yes, but I was really inspired by them as an actress. Because I always felt like women were a little more limited in what they were given for range and for men it was such a great thing, what they were able to do.
EH—It’s a strange thing. There won’t be more women filmmakers until more women are writing.
JD—I read a screenplay the other day and there’s one 42-year-old woman, and she’s described as bitter and angry – so one-dimensional– I was really stunned. I was like, wow, that’s what men write of a woman after 40. That’s pretty depressing. I don’t know many 40 year olds that are like that. She sounded like the witch from The Wizard of Oz.
EH—There’s just so few women out there writing and directing, and giving themselves permission to do that, and to take that charge. I’ve always thought that because you had these early experiences with these major powerhouses – Godard, Kieślowski, Volker Schlöndorff – people who are true visionaries, that must have helped you in some way, but I’m not sure how.
JD—I’ve always wanted to be a director. That’s the bottom line. I wrote my first screenplay when I was 16. I never showed it to anyone because I was embarrassed. I read one line or two to Sam Shepard on the set of Voyager and he told me it was shit.
EH—He only likes things he wrote!
JD—Yeah, but he’s a fantastic writer, and I was just 20. I read him three lines. He said something like, “You’re very pretty. Do no write.” It was funny. I eventually got over that, thanks to Before Sunrise. I was like, oh, I can write and people like what I’m writing. But I always wanted to be a director. I remember when I was 19 and I came to New York for the first time, the only thing I was interested in was meeting directors, and not to work with them. I wanted to meet Scorsese, and I was lucky that I was able to see him when he was editing Goodfellas. And for me that was a total trip because I was not trying to push myself into working with him like most actresses would have done. I wanted to meet him and he was a great inspiration for me. It’s always been for me about directing more than acting, in a weird way. I love making movies. If that involves me being in it because it helps, then I’ll be in it.
EH—I think for you, it’s going to be a really interesting experience the first time you direct a movie without being in it.
JD—Yeah, I’m looking forward to that actually. Because sometimes it’s a lot of stress. You know what it’s like when you’re acting in something you’re directing – it adds a tremendous amount of stress, and you have times where you lose control a little bit.
EH—I’ve done both too, and it’s much harder to bring out the best in your fellow cast mates when you’re acting with them. It just is. It’s easier to really be other people’s director when you’re not also their scene partner. What’s the next film you’re going to direct?
JD—I’m writing a film right now for Gaumont, set in 1908, in America, which is really hard to write, because every word I write I have to research. I’m probably going to be directing… I might not even star in that Gaumont film actually. I’m just having a hard time finishing it, because being a mother and being a woman director is actually really hard.
EH—Would you say that I am definitely the greatest leading man you’ve ever worked with?
JD—Yes, definitely. But that’s not saying much! I’m joking!
EH—When you think back on Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, how are they different experiences for you, or do they seem like one experience?
JD—They’re different. They’re very reflective of who I am and what I’m going through during the experience. The first film was very intense for me. I was suffering. I was suffering all the time when I was in my early twenties. I don’t know why. In my thirties I was suffering much less. And in my forties I was suffering again, but a different kind of suffering, you know? More grounded and different. What’s great is we get back into our thing when we’re together almost right away, and that’s really pleasurable, to just go into that creative mode.
EH—I feel that way too. That’s the most magical thing. Our lives are all so different. We spin, we go different ways, we do different things, and then I find myself in a room with you and Rick [Linklater] and it’s like we never stopped being in that room somehow.
JD—And it’s funny, I was thinking, Wow it’s the same people, we look a little different, but not crazy different. And it’s just time passing but we’re the same people and we keep on going. It’s kind of fun. It’s really exciting actually.
EH—I feel like the three of us are like a little band and that inside the context of that band we all know what our roles are. So it’s very easy to play together.
JD—It’s really great. Personally, this time was a little stressful because I was under so much pressure. It took a while. The first two weeks it was pretty difficult for me as you might remember. But I think what I was feeling in those two weeks was actually helpful later for the film, in a weird way… For a while I was like I can’t do this film, because I just directed two films. I’m exhausted; I’m out of shape; I’m dying… And in the end I like that my character is an overweight mother who has no time for herself. You can’t fake that.
EH—You certainly can’t fake it as a writer if you don’t know it.
JD—If I had six nannies and I was working out every day and I had a mansion, I don’t think I could write about it. I could write about it but I would make it into a stupid romantic comedy, and I would draw my examples from Cosmopolitan.
EH—If you had to say whether I was a better kisser on Before Sunrise or Before Midnight what would your answer be?
JD—You’ve always been a terrible kisser. You’re doing OK now. You’re like a C. You used to be a D.
EH—Good to know… Before Midnight, wasn’t it the first time you acted for anybody but yourself in a few years?
JD—Yeah, for a long time. Since 2006 I hadn’t worked with anyone else. It was so great. I have to say it made it much easier. Even though we had shit-loads of work, it was nice. I never checked the monitor, we just trusted Rick. When I’m directing myself, I have to do it all the time; I have no choice. I can’t rely on anybody to tell me if a scene was good or bad. It was nice to do the takes one after another and not have to check what I had just done. It’s a nice feeling because you can just stay in the moment.
EH—And not start thinking about the result and let Rick do that.
JD—When I’m shooting my own films all I’m thinking about is how I’m editing the scene. Do I have enough stuff to edit the scene? Do I have enough coverage? Do I like this bit? Am I going to play it like this or like that? I didn’t have to think about anything.
EH—I want to get back on another subject… It’s strange in this day when we feel like women’s liberation is a thing of the past, and we live in America– a country with a black president – but there are still so few female directors. I’ve been acting in movies since 1984…
JD—And you’ve worked with how many female directors?
JD—I know. I think, first of all, it takes a long time to become a director, and I think for a woman it takes even longer. I think it’s different in Europe, but in the US a lot of people financing the films are businessmen, and I think there’s nothing they’re more scared of than emotions, and women have this reputation of being more emotional. I think it’s bullshit, because I think everyone has emotions, but I think there’s this image of women being hysterical. Also, not knowing technical things. People think of a director, which is true, as a very organized person that sets up a shot, that does all those things, and there’s this idea that women are not like that, also that women are not logical, not technical, they don’t know about computers…
EH—But Julie, that is true with the financing thing, but the one thing that women are in control of is whether or not they’re writing their own stories. What’s so cool about this chick – the one who does that show Girls – is that she’s writing her own story, and she’s making people money. These men, the film financiers, I don’t think they really care if directors are emotional or not emotional, they give a shit about whether they think they’re going to make them money, and that’s where the belly of the beast really lives I think.
JD—Also, people are less forgiving to women. I think tomorrow if Lena Dunham does one thing that doesn’t do well, that’s it. It’s almost like the fact she’s a woman, “Oh, it was bound to happen,” you know?
EH—Denzel Washington felt that really strongly [about his career]. If Tom Hanks has a couple of bad movies, it’s OK. Brad Pitt’s had 80 million movies that are flops, but he’s still considered a movie star. But as an African American…
JD—If you’re black and you do two flops or if you’re a woman and you do two flops, you’re finished.
EH—And you’re on a much sharper edge. I think that’s really true. I have three daughters, and I love the kids spending time with you, seeing a woman writing her own movies, directing her own movies, because I think half the battle is seeing mentors, seeing that it is possible.
JD—Not thinking it’s impossible. Exactly. Even people like Agnieszka Holland were great examples for me. I realized that women can direct. Women are the same as men, truly, and more… I make my shot list – I’m like any other director. I have nothing different from a guy director, nothing.
EH—You have a vagina.
JD—I have a vagina. But seriously, I see no difference. The truth is, a lot of the financiers and producers I worked with recently, all my life actually, were all European, and I’ve never had an issue with any of that.
EH—I would just love to see more women making movies.
JD—But there’s definitely one thing that happens to women after a while – women have kids. And I guarantee you women are expected by the man, no matter how open-minded he is, to be the mother. And there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on being a woman and working at the same time. I know some people don’t feel that pressure. The minute I had a kid I felt it really strongly. And it was not easy to keep on going. Maybe that’s why I kicked myself in the butt and I was like, I’m going to direct two films in the next year. I made myself, because you know what, otherwise it’s going to get me. And now I’m fine, and I take care of my son a lot and I barely have any help. But I’m fine because I’m able to actually do the work and handle motherhood at the same time, but at the beginning it was very difficult. I have to say, I realized the loss of freedom and creativity. So it’s very hard, but I’m not going to stop. Anyway people are giving me money, because my films made money, to a certain extent, so I’ll keep on going. But it’s a struggle every day, because I think deeply men want women to nurture them, and when you’re a woman director, you have no time to take care of your kids and take care of your boyfriend.
EH—The truth is, males and females getting along and raising families all over the world has been a problem for centuries. That’s the bulk of what any of us are concerned with is how to have love in our lives and at the same time achieve, be the fullest version of ourselves. That’s a struggle for every person.
JD—I know. It’s a pain in the ass.
EH—That’s why I recommend for all people to wear condoms, and not have any children, and then they can get everything done. No, I’m kidding… I have another question for you: your parents are both actors and they’ve both acted a lot on the stage, do you ever feel drawn to do live performance?
JD—I did as a musician for a long time. One of my favorite things is to watch theater, but the truth is, I’m not very drawn to it. I think it’s because I really love the medium of cinema, the storytelling of cinema going from wide shots to close ups, all the technical aspects, and as a director I love anything to do with visual effects. I love post-production, spending hours in a dark room listening to sound for hours and hours. I love that shit. And that’s why I was never drawn to acting in the theater, because I was always drawn to movies. Maybe I would love being on stage, but I just never think of it. I would probably be awful.
EH—I bet you’d be great; you’d be amazing.
JD—I have a loud voice. You can hear me on the other side of the world.
EH—You don’t have to tell me that! Here’s the question every journalist always asks me, so I guess I should ask you this. Do you think there will be a fourth Before Sunrise?
JD—Fuck. I don’t know. What do you think? I don’t want to think about it yet, if there is. I don’t want to know.
EH—After the second one I really thought we should make a third one because I felt like it wasn’t really finished. The ending of the second one is great, but it begs for a resolve, and now I really don’t know and I really don’t want to think about it either. I have a feeling that you, me, and Rick shall go out to dinner in about five years and we’ll start to know…
JD—The only way to know is time.
EH—What if we made a bunch of them and the last one has us on a spaceship, and we’re literally doing it on the moon, or something. That would be cool?
JD—Space travel doesn’t look very good. It’s very expensive to travel people around. Trust me. I’m obsessed with the idea my son will be the first man on Mars, but I don’t love the idea either. We’re going to be dead by then. No one will care by then about the film, or us, or anything.
EH—Exactly. I can’t wait to see [Le] Skylab. That’s the movie of yours I really want to see.
JD—Do you know who plays my mom in that? Emmanuelle Riva. She’s a fantastic actress, well everyone knows that now. So, I think that’s it. I have nothing to say really. My life is boring. I spend my life writing. What do you do these days? You just finished up your play right?
EH—Yeah, we just closed last night.
JD—You must have been exhausted?
EH—I am. It was totally exhausting, but it was incredibly fun as well. I’m going to see you at the Tribeca Film Festival right?
JD—Yes, I’m going to that. I look forward to it. Big kiss, bye!