Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Julie Delpy: Up in smoke

If you think there’s something ditsy about Julie Delpy, prepare for a sock in the mouth. She talks tough about acting, men, and why her new script features so much castration

By Ryan Gilbey  /  THE GUARDIAN , BERLIN

Julie Delpy smokes and smokes. She smokes so much she should consider wearing ashtrays as trinkets. We are in a faux-rustic restaurant in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, where she is promoting the sharp and funny 2 Days in Paris, a romcom with bite, which she wrote, directed, produced, edited, scored, starred in and presumably smoked all the way through making. At first I think the only time she’s not smoking is when she’s talking. But she has so much to say — she can rattle off an entire exhaustive answer before you’ve finished asking your initial question — that eventually the division between speaking and inhaling vanishes, and the words are tumbling from her mouth wreathed in smoke. It doesn’t sound very attractive, but remember this is Julie Delpy. She could be up to her elbows in offal, belching the Marseillaise, but she’d still have admirers establishing cults in her name. And chances are she’d still loathe that kind of attention.

“I hate being a male fantasy,” she spits. “So many times I’ve been in a room pitching some movie to the financiers, and they’re blatantly just staring at my legs.” Before this conjures images of a stereotypical Hollywood executive leering from behind his desk, Delpy is quick to point out she won’t take that behavior from revered arthouse auteurs either. In the early 1990s, she auditioned for the dual lead roles in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. “He asked me to do a sexy gesture,” she says, her incredulity undiminished after all these years. “That really bothered me. So I did this. ...” She pokes her tongue out and tugs on her earlobes like a playground brat. “I knew by the look on his face that I hadn’t got the part. But I was really mad with him. All that younger-woman bullshit you get. That fucking pervert. That ... man!” She makes the noun drip with derision.

Delpy and Kieslowski eventually worked together in Three Colors: White (1994), in which he cast her as a woman who divorces her husband when he fails to consummate their marriage. And the pair enjoyed a friendship — Delpy now says that the late director was “the greatest man in the world.” “I think my audition for Veronique convinced him I could play someone a bit hard to handle. Not that I’m bad-tempered. But I have my pet peeves. I always hated, when I was growing up, all these directors who wanted to be my Pygmalion.”

Hearing this, it’s impossible not to mentally run through the roll-call of filmmakers on Delpy’s resume. At 14, she appeared in Jean-Luc Godard’s Detective, having been encouraged to act by her parents, Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet, who are both actors (they have crowd-pleasing turns as her on-screen folks in 2 Days in Paris). Later she worked with Volker Schlondorff (Europa, Europa), Leos Carax (Mauvais Sang), Bertrand Tavernier (La Passion Beatrice) and Carlos Saura (La Noche Oscura). That’s a lot of potential Pygmalions to choose from. “I like to be the Pygmalion, instead of someone else,” she decides. “I prefer to make people into things, not be molded by other people.”

The most interesting thing about the 37-year-old Delpy in person is her unexpected hardness. I suddenly realize she’s never shown it fully in any of her performances. Yes, there was a hint of it in Three Colors: White. But while she is sublime in her signature role, as the idealistic Celine in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and its sequel Before Sunset (2004), she only gets to play the odd prickly moment. Even in An American Werewolf In Paris (1997) — which, like her brief spell in TV’s ER, was one of the few mainstream concessions in a stubbornly marginal career — she is a smiling lycanthropic temptress, never quite dredging up the darkness necessary to tip that film from comedy into horror. The woman herself is another matter. Beneath the playful indiscretion and hearty laughter is something flinty, businesslike and brusque.

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