Julie Delpy is highly unusual in the history of cinema. She is best known for the portrayal of two characters that each appear in multiple films over a long period of time. The first is Céline, whom Julie has played for seventeen years. 1995’s Before Sunrise captures Céline with whole life ahead of her. In Before Sunset in 2004, she remains the same engaged and passionate person, but her youthful exuberance has been supplanted by hesitancy and a wariness of human interaction. It’s a melancholic, beautiful transformation, made real by the actual decade that had passed. She has just finished filming a third film about Céline, Before Midnight. Julie has also returned more than once to Marion, the lead in 2 Days in Paris and its 2012 sequel 2 Days in New York, which she also wrote and directed.
The sheer diversity of her professional interests also makes Julie unique among her peers. She has been an actress, director, screenwriter, producer, editor, and singer-songwriter. Forthright, open and very intense, she gives the impression of someone with little interest in being euphemistic, unafraid to say exactly what she thinks. This, too, makes her a rarity.
The “2 Days” films aren’t about you, but do you see them as a snapshot in your own life? Do they capture where you were at a certain point? You know, there’s nothing to do with my life in them. They’re similar in one level, which is that I’m French and I live in the US, but everything else is not. There’s a tiny seed of truth and everything else is fiction. I probably should say Marion is me and it’s autobiographical because it sells, but it would be lying, and I don’t feel like lying today.
Marion has nothing to do with me, as a personality or what she does in her life. She’s funny, you know? I’m not funny. At all. My life is very unfunny. I’m the straightest person on the planet. I never go crazy, I never get angry. I’m not a very emotional person. She’s the opposite. She’s everything I’m not. She’s inspired by a lot of my friends who are in that emotional state, about to have a nervous breakdown. It’s funny that people assume it’s me. That means I’m good.
Does writing a character like that gives you a chance to express things that you don’t normally express? Yes. It’s fun to play someone who does the wrong thing at the wrong time and says the wrong thing to the wrong person, who acts without thinking, who does things that have repercussions in her life without really realising what she’s doing. She’s not aware of how crazy she is. Very normal people are not that funny. Neurotic people are good to watch.
It’s quite rare in cinema to return to a character a few years later What’s the appeal for you? I like studying characters through time. It’s something people don’t do, ever. There’s James Bond, but then they change the guy eventually, and it’s really the same movie over and over. There’s no progression in the character: still the bimbos, still the bad guys. Here we have some progression in emotions and people growing with time. It’s very unusual to do that, I think. It’s almost like an anthropological study.
Céline and Jesse seem different because they’ve aged. How do you make a movie about people in their forties, as opposed to people in their twenties? It’s very interesting. In your forties, you have kids, you have more baggage. I don’t know why people told me when I was a kid that life gets easier. Life doesn’t get easier. It gets more complicated. There’s more baggage, more complications. I think you’re better in your head eventually. I say that, but I’m now thinking of a million people who aren’t. I can’t make generalities about anything anymore because every time I’m proven wrong, every single day. I think people have themselves together and I find out they’re more messed up than anyone else. I don’t know what the fuck happens when you get older. As people age they’re less impulsive, less crazy. Yet they do go crazy sometimes. I’ve learned not to say anything because I know nothing. That’s what I’ve figured out lately. I know absolutely nothing. On relationships, on people, on humanity, on how people behave. People are driven by something and I don’t know what it is. It’s complex. Human beings are complex. What’s for sure is there are endless stories to be told about anyone.
Often there’s a willingness in mainstream cinema to reduce people to types that fit a narrative. They simplify people and make them into cardboard cut-outs. Whereas in fact if you dig a little everyone’s multidimensional and has all sorts of sides to their personality. You don’t know who you’re with, ever. Do you stay away from films that are simplistic? I’m naturally drawn to complex things, even in my comedies. I love some mainstream films, but I think a lot of those romantic comedies don’t work. I have the feeling I’ve seen the same one over and over. I find the women are either too cute or they go to the extreme opposite and they’re too trashy. They don’t have anything in between. In America, it’s either porno or puritanical; a caricature of a woman or a fantasy of a woman.
You’ve just finished filming Before Midnight. Did you feel the pressure of people’s affection for the first films, or were you excited to return to that world? No no no. It’s pressure, a lot of pressure. But it’s the sort that’s exciting. It’s a lot of fun to work with those guys. We’re like a bunch of kids when we’re all together. We play. Our writing sessions are extremely intense, though, and the work is too. It’s really hard because you have to learn twenty-page scenes overnight and be extremely precise in the dialogue. So it’s tough but it’s also a revealing, cathartic experience every time. We dig inside ourselves a lot, we go deep into our emotions and it’s really cool to be able to do that and get paid for it.
Published in Oh Comely Issue Thirteen. Photograph by Iñaki Pardo.