Comedy was therapy after death of director's mum
Julie Delpy's new comedy 2 Days In New York was meant to be a family affair, until her mother died. The writer, director and actress tells Albertina Lloyd how the film helped her cope...
Julie Delpy learned her craft from watching her actor parents Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet.
"I'd seen them on stage before I could even speak," says the French actress, on the phone from her adopted home of LA.
So it was natural that, when she wrote and directed 2007 comedy 2 Days In Paris, she cast them as her artist character Marion's on-screen parents.
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The plan was, that they'd return to their roles for the sequel, 2 Days In New York, but Pillet passed away in 2009. Unable to see how she could carry on with the project, Delpy initially scrapped the idea all together.
Eventually, though, she became inspired to start again, knowing her mother had always wanted her to make the film.
"In a way it was an homage," she says. "So I went back to zero and threw away the original script. I went back to writing something where I talk about the loss, without making it melodramatic. I know people love melodrama but I didn't want to do that out of respect."
Struggling to find the words, Delpy says it would have felt "disgusting" to play too heavily on her mother's death, but found it helpful to pay tribute to her through comedy.
Did she find it therapeutic?
"As much as possible," she says.
"But the thing is, you never recover from losing a parent. I went through hell myself, but I would never expose that in the film."
Delpy has been acting since she was 14, when Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his crime thriller Detective, in 1985.
As her career progressed, she began writing and directing her own movies, and now lives in Hollywood with her three-year-old son and German film score composer Marc Streitenfeld.
2 Days In New York is a hilarious comedy, fresh with the realities of modern life.
Having split up with Jack, her partner in the first film and father of her child, Marion is living in New York with her young son and boyfriend Mingus, played by Chris Rock, who's decided to sell her soul to the highest bidder to help get publicity for her latest exhibition.
Marion's father and sister are visiting from France for the dramatic soul auction, and Mingus is preparing to meet the family.
On set, Rock was in much the same boat as Mingus, preparing to meet Delpy's real father, who reprises the role of Marion's dad, and her real-life best friend Alexia Landeau, who plays Marion's sister. And just like Mingus, Rock doesn't speak a word of French.
"It wasn't easy because of the language. I mean, it was funny sometimes," Delpy recalls, laughing.
"Sometimes it was overwhelming because we would stop the take and I would talk to my dad in French but forget to translate to Chris, so he had no idea what we were doing.
"My dad was exactly the same with the English."
Delpy says directing her father was something of a role reversal.
"At times it got a little tricky when I'd have to crack the whip – and you don't crack the whip with your dad!" she says.
"It's hard for him to take orders from me at times, so sometimes he rebels."
Delpy admits a lot of the film is inspired by real life.
At the beginning, Marion's father is delayed at the airport after customs officials strip search him to find he has stuffed his clothes with French sausages.
"It happened to a friend of mine whose dad came with a full suitcase of food. They almost sent him back!"
The film begins with a puppet show, which explains to a small child why his parents are not together anymore and that his grandmother is in heaven.
Delpy used the same technique with her three-year-old son Leo to explain to him that she was going back to work.
"It was really good. He's one of the happiest kids I've ever seen in my life, so I must have done something right.
"We're so attached to each other and we love each other beyond anything. Maybe that's too much love! But he knows he's the most loved human being on the planet."
Delpy said she felt it "essential" to go back to the work she loves, but admits that it isn't always easy.
"Being a mother is always complicated because a woman feels an extreme amount of guilt when she spends too much time far from her kid. And not just guilt, just missing him.
"I've always found a balance between working really hard, but also spending every minute that I had off with my son. So I was pretty exhausted because I basically never had a minute to myself."
Delpy, who became an American citizen in 2001, admits Los Angeles is where she feels at home, and notices the difference in culture when she returns to France.
"I don't feel a stranger when I'm there at all, I do feel French. But it takes me a few weeks to adapt to Parisian life, because it's pretty tough. People are kind of tough."
Earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Delpy said in an interview that she was retiring from acting, but now insists it was a "misunderstanding" because she was "exhausted".
"I'm retiring in the sense of the typical acting thing of running to auditions," she explains.
"Nowadays, in LA, it seems every actor wants to get a TV pilot – I'm not going to pursue that. I make a living as a writer and director."
2 Days In New York is released in cinemas on Friday, May 18.