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"2 Days in New York" Q&A with Julie Delpy: Humor Always Helps

The writer/director/star talks about her fascination with annoying people, Chris Rock’s confessional relationship with Obama, and her love of Scorsese comedies like “Goodfellas”—wait, what? “2 Days in New York” is now playing in theaters and on VOD.

When the indie hit 2 Days in Paris premiered in 2007, writer/director/actor Julie Delpy’s character Marion was involved with Jack (Adam Goldberg), and their neurotic coupledom made for some hilarious fish-out-of-water set pieces when they visited her family in Paris.

Five years later, in 2 Days in New York, the tables are turned, with Marion living in the city and her family about to upset the Big Apple cart. Jack is out of the picture (but the couple’s young son Lulu remains), and Marion is now living with Mingus (Chris Rock as a hilarious straight-man), a radio host with a young daughter of his own. An aspiring photographer, Marion has invited her father (Jeannot, played by Delpy’s real-life father, Albert) and her sister (Rose, Alexia Landeau) to town for her gallery opening, and tagging along unexpectedly is Rose’s on-again-off-again boyfriend Manu (who also happens to be Marion’s ex). It’s a lot of people for one downtown loft—especially with the inevitable culture clashes—and Mingus doesn’t quite know what hit him. We feel his amused bewilderment.

When 2 Days in New York played at TFF 2012, audiences were delighted with this very funny romp across cultural boundaries and family dynamics, at times reminiscent of Woody Allen’s early comedies. Mingus and Jeannot cannot communicate, Rose craves the attention of all the men around her, Manu is like a teenager on the loose in NYC, and Marion is trying to smooth the edges wherever she can.

When we sat down with Delpy earlier this week, her charisma, energy and determination were on full display. She is an expressive and lovely actress—best known for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (the latter of which she also co-wrote) and Kieslowski’s Red, White and Blue trilogy—but she also seems attracted to the whole of filmmaking. (She’s also an accomplished singer.) And while she appears to crave chaos, at the same time, it’s also clear she is totally in control.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tribeca: So, when we meet back up with Marion and her family, it’s five years after Two Days In Paris. Did you always have in sequel in mind? If not, when did you start thinking about it?

Julie Delpy: You know, I didn’t have always a sequel in mind because it was my first film and I made it for for 500K Euros, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the film. So, the sequel came later, when the [first] film got quite successful worldwide—you know, an indie kind of success: everyone made their money back, and everyone was happy. I started thinking, “Oh it’s too bad, it’s such a small window, those two days.” I kind of wanted to explore a little more on that subject, and the character of Marion.

When I decided to start thinking of a sequel, I didn’t want her to have the same boyfriend. I wanted Marion to have moved on to someone else—she’s kind of a confused person, not sure of herself—and the first person that came to mind was Chris Rock.

Tribeca: Where did that idea come from?

Julie Delpy: I have no idea! I had met him briefly once, for like 30 seconds [at the Oscars]. It was during the nomination of Before Sunset, and he was the host that year. He actually barely spoke to me—he spoke to Ethan Hawke. We met him for like thirty seconds, and I was thinking, “Oh, interesting.” He has such a persona, you know? His stand up and everything else is very interesting—he has, like, different energies. And then I thought, “Oh, that would be a good match—a good mismatch, in a way.” We’re very different, we come from very different backgrounds, and I thought that was going to be interesting, and he’s so not the obvious indie actor. I always like to go against the idea of the obvious choice.

Chris Rock / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tribeca: Did you cast him before you wrote it?

Julie Delpy: I starting writing it with him in mind, and then I realized, “I’ve got to find out if he’s even interested in doing an indie film with a French director...” So I went on IMDB Pro and I found out who his agent was, and he happened to be an agent I had in the past. So, I called his agent and I said, “Hey, you think Chris would be remotely interesting in working with me?” He called me two hours later and he said, “Yeah, Chris knows your work, and he’s remotely interested.” [laughs]

So I kept on writing, knowing that I had a chance to get him. His agent said, “Just write a good script and send it to us.” I finished writing the script, I got friends involved in the screenplay, and we finished writing, and he did it.

Tribeca: Did he add anything to the script? Like the part where he talks to the cardboard cutout of Obama? Or was that all yours?

Julie Delpy: No, that was one of the first things I wrote, those moments where he communicates with Obama. I would say he ad-libbed a few lines, there and there—there are a few lines he added in those scenes, like the coconut, or the thing about me being on my knees in five minutes or something. [laughs]

But actually, I had written the rest of it for him, thinking he would say things like that. I love that idea that Mingus is kind of the straight man in the film, but he has his little crazy side, which is that he shares his life and his personal issues with Obama. So I love the idea that Obama is in my film!

Tribeca: Have you heard from the White House? Have they reached out for a screener?

Julie Delpy: I don’t think he would like it. [laughs] No, it’s really harmless. I’m such an Obama supporter; I think it’s obvious. I don’t think he would like the bit where my dad says, “Obama: Socialist!” That’s the wrong thing, the thing really people around Obama don’t want to hear…

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tribeca: Why did you move your setting to New York? There have been a lot of comparisons to Woody Allen with this film, which feel justified. Were you inspired by him?

Julie Delpy: You know, I hope I have a tenth of his career, and a tenth of his talent. Basically, in the first film, it said Marion was with Jack, he was an interior designer, she was a photographer, and they both lived in New York. They seemed like such a New York couple—so not L.A or anywhere else. Then, it just made sense: Marion would still be in New York.

Tribeca: Who are your inspirations for comedy?

Julie Delpy: You know, Woody Allen is an influence, but not an obvious one. When I make my movies, I don’t think of anyone. I’m just trying to make my day and my shots, and when I write, it’s true there’s an element of my characters that are neurotic, and a bit annoying, maybe like Woody Allen. But those films don’t please everybody. I know some people who can’t stand these kinds of characters, they want these perfect, not annoying people, but I like annoying people. Maybe that’s kind of the common thing, those people who are full of flaws and neuroses; that might be the Woody Allen connection.

I would say I love also comedies by Scorsese—there aren’t many. I actually love comedies about psychotic people, almost more than neurotic people. After Hours, King of Comedy, Goodfellas—which is actually a comedy, because I saw it again recently, and I never remembered it as a comedy, but it’s actually a comedy.

I also love the naturalism of Robert Altman, this mayhem. I saw Marriage [A Wedding] again recently—it’s all this madness and people talking on top of each other, I love that stuff. Actually, in my films, I love to add all this mayhem around, with everyone talking at the same time. Because to me, it reflects life. Life is not like: one person talks, one person talks, one person talks—no, everyone talks. It feels more real. The world is not perfect. We don’t speak in paragraphs. We speak on top of each other. When you’re sitting at a big table, you have two people having a conversation, and you have three people having another conversation; it happens all the time.

Albert Delpy and Chris Rock / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tribeca: This is a reunion from the last movie, with the actors playing your family, and your actual father playing your father (!). How did Chris fit in? Were there culture clashes like there are in the movie?

Julie Delpy: It was a good clash. Because, actually, Chris and my dad couldn’t communicate at all, which was pretty funny. But they got along in their own way. They were from such different worlds, and they’re so different in personality, and it was really funny. And when Chris first read the screenplay, he said, “The dad doesn’t speak English at all? That’s not possible. I went to France. People speak English!” But he met people from our generation. With my dad’s generation, it’s just like English doesn’t exist.

And then he met my dad. He was was really surprised to witness that my dad actually doesn’t speak a word of English! It’s actually worse than the character, even. Like he really has no clue what’s going on. [laughs]

Tribeca: How do you like to work with actors? Is there a rehearsal period or do you just dive in from the script on the first day?

Julie Delpy: I always wish there was a rehearsal period, but I end up not having any rehearsal period, because no one’s ever available in the end; it’s hard to get a group of people together. What I do is spend time together with the people, and try to, on set, create a feeling of relaxation. I want people to feel really comfortable with each other. I try to make them feel like we’ve been friends forever, like there’s no barrier between me and them. You know, it’s not easy! Like with Chris, I don’t know the guy, but I’m in bed with him, doing my scenes. I try to make a lot of jokes so people feel really at ease.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tribeca: Is that something you learned from other directors that you’ve worked with? Is that what works for you as an actor?

Julie Delpy: That’s what I’ve learned from interacting with human beings in general, even beyond acting or directing or anything. But also maybe from acting so young, and having to have sex scenes with actors [when I was] 17. You don’t know the person, you’re on top of them, and you’re like, how do I handle this? Do I get really nervous, or do I just make a joke, and everyone laughs, and everything is very relaxed?

Usually humor helps; it’s always been kind of my weapon against uncomfortable situations. I mean, in this film, there’s nothing to do that’s very difficult, it’s very simple, but even like the dinner scene, or a scene where we’re walking down the street—how do you make people feel comfortable? Well, by making people feel closer to you, they feel comfortable, they feel at ease, they don’t feel a threat of any kind. I think it makes people act more natural on screen, which is my goal—I want to make people feel like this film was entirely improvised, when it’s 97% scripted.

Tribeca: What were you like on set?

Julie Delpy: I’m very direct. But people don’t get offended, because I’m not truly aggressive. Just like, “Come on kids!” I’m like the schoolteacher. But people listen to me, actually. Not always, like 99% of the time. Sometimes they rebel, and that’s when I have to crack the whip. [smiles]

Chris Rock and Julie Delpy / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Tribeca: What’s your favorite New York movie?

Julie Delpy: I love Hair. I mean, I love that musical so much. But I love the film, from 1979. As a kid, it made me want to move to New York. I love that film so much. Just New York in 1979, there’s something about it, even though it was set in the late 60’s or early 70’s, it was shot in ’79. It was funny, because I got to work with Michael Hausman—he was the first AD on Hair, and he was my AD on this one. [smiles]

2 Days in New York opens today in New York, with more cities to follow. Find tickets. The film is also available on nationwide VOD.

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