Interview: Julie Delpy “Oscars? It’s 90% white men over 70 who need money”

“Oscars ? It's 90% white men over 70 who need money because they haven't done anything in a long time.”

18 mins read
BEFORE MIDNIGHT, far right: Julie Delpy, 2013, ph: Despina Spyrou/©Sony Classics/courtesy Everett Collection

Working with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Leos Carax in her native France before coming to America, Julie Delpy is one of the most successful French actresses ever to move to Hollywood. But just because she appears in critical hits like Before Midnight doesn’t mean she has sold out to the Hollywood machine, as her views on Harvey Weinstein and this week’s Oscar ceremony make very clear. Which is funny, seeming as though she is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s ceremony, and is a member of the Academy… 

Words by Raphael Clairefond, in Los Angeles.

You live in the US now. How is your work perceived here?

Julie Delpy

I still haven’t got into the system. I don’t really want to either. I like where I stand: I make independent movies funded by European companies. It gives me a certain freedom: 2 Days in New York for example. It’s both French and German, and there was no American money involved, even though it was filmed in New York. As I have a European passport, I can get a lot of help from governments, TV channels… and the money is easier to handle than the American, which is not that interesting [for me] because it comes with a lot of strings attached. Plus, American independent movies are under-financed. There’s nothing left. It [the indie scene] was killed by the Weinsteins. Now, real American independent movies have a budget of $500,000 at most. They are really small movies, which are mainly first features or experimental, but you can only ask people for favours once or twice to fund them. But me, I’m on my my fifth movie. I can’t ask people to work for free anymore, it’s not normal.

What do you mean when you say that the Weinsteins killed American independent cinema?

 I think they love cinema, but they also like to take a movie and give it an added value, then kill everything left behind. This has a lot to do with the Oscars. In the ‘90s, there were real independent movies, but they have slowly been crushed by the majors.

The minute they take over something, they crush it. It’s a bit like what happened in the ‘70s with Scorsese’s cinema. It was something quite cool. And that’s the same logic: majors think “oh there’s a market there”, so they take over and try to format it. Big studios hire original directors and make them do the same things as all the others. It’s a strange process, but it is how it works.

Nowadays, when you see the word ‘independent’ next to ‘cinema’, it’s more like a label: it’s a business. Most of the time, this kind of cinema has nothing to do with independent movies. The best thing for a director is to be financed by private investors who don’t get involved with anything artistic and trust you 100%.

There are very few of them, but there are still some left. For example, the people who funded Before Midnight were all a bit like that. And then, there are the people who say they are pro-independent but who don’t want scenes that are too much. I’ll always remember when financiers for 2 Days in Paris told me after seeing the movie: “you can’t release this.”

They thought that the scene where I argue with the racist taxi driver could not work in a romantic comedy. Luckily enough, when the film was shown in Berlin, everyone loved these scenes and the financiers forgot they wanted me to cut them.

I’ve told a lot of people to leave me alone when they have wanted me to cut some scenes, and in most cases, I was right. I knew I was right. I can see when people’s motive is fear. A lot of financiers and producers are scared, and no reaction coming from fear can ever be right.

Anyway, it’s not easy to make movies. I don’t know why I make movies. There are problems all the time and you always end up working with idiots (laughs).

“I like The Hangover more than Bridesmaids: drunk guys in Vegas on the other hand is closer to how I see the world than girls who want to get married.”

With 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, you made a concerted effort to go against the traditional American rom-com cliches…

In 2 Days in Paris, you’ll see things that could never happen in a traditional American rom-com. For example, you couldn’t see a woman who says ‘Welcome to Paris’ while making a Nazi salute. And I talk about sex very freely.

New comedies that I like are the ones like The Hangover, which I can relate to way more easily than Bridesmaids. I didn’t like that film. These girly things don’t speak to me; I don’t understand the idea of getting married, of hanging out with girls, of looking for the perfect dress. Drunk guys in Vegas on the other hand is closer to how I see the world than girls who want to get married (laughs). Plus Bridesmaids is a very well ‘planned’ movie.

I know that because they contacted me. They wanted someone to write something like The Hangover but for women. It’s something that has been thought through, and very thoroughly prepared by the studios. It’s ultimately formatted in the end.

One of the parallels that people keep making with your films is with Woody Allen. What do you think about that?

It’s amazing. I love Woody Allen, even the movies people don’t really like. Well, I didn’t think Midnight in Paris was that good. It was very exaggerated. But To Rome With Love made me laugh so much.

I found it very soft and creative. You’ll find something very whimsical and outside of reality in his films, there’s something ‘beautiful’ and ‘Technicolor’ in his movies which I love. I try to get that feeling in my movies too.

I try not to end up with something gloomy, because I get depressed quickly. My world is more feminine than Woody Allen’s, but we have the same neuroses. He’s definitely one of my favourite directors, along with Godard or Kubrick. I know that putting Godard next to Kubrick won’t please Godard! Or John Huston – I loved Fat City – or Cassavetes.

Not many people saw Minnie and Moskowitz but it’s an amazing film, and really optimistic. I love that side of Cassavetes.

But the ‘best of the best’ is definitely Hitchcock. They’re not fun [to watch], obviously, even though I do think his movies can be quite funny in a very perverted way. But they’re amazing.

You started out working with two directors – Jean Luc Godard and Leos Carax – who are known for being very hard on their actors…

Godard can be nice with some people, and he definitely was with me. I was young, slightly innocent, and most of all, I wasn’t a social climber. I think he understood I was not an enemy. He’s always been nice to me. I saw him being obnoxious with others, and it often made me laugh a lot.

He’s obnoxious in a very smart way. It’s abrupt and scathing, but brilliant. Godard is also one of those who supported me when I decided to direct. He wrote me the nicest, most supportive letter. Krzysztof Kieślowski gave me a lot of advice as well. He used to tell me: “Make movies that fit you.”

If you like David Lynch’s movies and you meet him, you understand why he makes David Lynch movies! It’s his world, and this is how he is in real life. He is the only one who can make David Lynch movies! I would never be able to make movies like that (laughs). I don’t have the same personality, and I don’t pretend to. This is where the danger is.

If you want to make movies like David Lynch but you aren’t David Lynch: you’re in trouble.

And what about Carax, for whom you starred in The Night is Young in 1986?

Carax was the opposite. He was a bit annoying. He’s obsessional and insane but I didn’t care. I got over it. It was hard at first, but he wasn’t the worst to be honest.

You also starred in An American Werewolf in Paris, which was directed by Anthony Waller, who is known for being very difficult to work with. Was he the worst one?

Not with me. But he’s clearly a psychopath, completely crazy and horrible with actors. He insults them all the time, he was screaming on set.

He was throwing stuff on the floor. He has a psychotic problem I think. Filming that movie was annoying, there was hysteria all over the place, and the movie was crap. So, it was a case of being bored on set, and making a bad movie on top…

“Let’s be honest: 90% of movies made in Hollywood are crap.”

Have you been surprised by the working process on a film with a big budget, compared to what you did before?

I’ve made some big movies before already. Crap stuff like The Three Musketeers. Every time I’ve become a part of the Hollywood mainstream, it’s been crap! Let’s be honest: 90% of movies made in Hollywood are crap. There’s still a good 10%, but they’re not necessarily completely ‘Hollywood’ movies either. They are often movies with independent financing. Even Terrence Malick goes through independent funding. He doesn’t make studio movies. He only uses studios for a small part of the distribution process, but that’s it. The same goes for Cronenberg. Studios only play a small part in their movies. The typical studio movie is The Avengers. Sometimes, when you see something, you can’t help but wonder: “Are they smoking crack or what?” I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on the plane. It was pretty shit, but it made me laugh. The idea that slave owners from the South are vampires is quite amazing. I thought: “They’re nuts!” In a way, it’s not a commercial movie. It’s crazy. I’d like to do a commercial movie for studios one day. I’m reading scripts at the minute, just to see. The problem is, most of the time, it’s nicely written, and well thought out, but I get bored. I want to get hit in the face, or read a joke and go “Hell yeah, they’re saying this!” I’d like a movie that goes beyond what you usually see. But most of the time, characters are too likeable. Even if they are drunks, they’re still cute. No one is mean, no one is racist. They’re all lovely and pink. I get bored. I like movies from the ‘70s. In The King of Comedy [Martin Scorsese, 1983], all the characters are douchebags. Or Mean Streets, or even Woody Allen’s movies. I like bad people, beacuse it’s more interesting. Even the dumb ones. I’d love to see dumber characters. I don’t want them to be plain stupid though, let’s be honest! I love Todd Solondz’s films, like Life During Wartime... it’s a strange one, with some horrible stuff in it. The father who raped his kids, that was very dark. I’d also love to make a thriller I wrote, even though it’s a bit camp, and a bit ridiculous in a way, with murders and a psychopath. It’s quite funny but very unhealthy.

How does it work when you arrive in Hollywood and you want to make movies?

Well, you need to have experience. When I arrived, I had done the Agniezka Holland movie [Europa, Europa, 1990], which was known because of the Oscars. I also did Bertrand Tavernier’s Beatrice, which was well received here. I had a few things, and I had a job: I was already hired to do Roger Avary’s Killing Zoe. I only planned to stay for a year; I’ve now been living here for the last twenty! I feel like it’s Circe and Odysseus all over again. I’ll come back to Ithaca when my beard is white. Well, I have to get a beard first (laughs). Anyway, Hollywood is not easy. You have to be strong. I’ve had some hard times here. After 1998, it was like being in a black hole for 5 years. There was nothing, but then, slowly, it started to improve, but it took so long! A lot of people would have either killed themselves or left (laughs). But I stayed. I didn’t kill myself. I nearly did, but I didn’t. I got close to both, but stuck with it.

Are you joking?

Yes, I don’t have suicidal tendencies. Well… not anymore at least! Nah, I’m kidding. It either breaks you or you get through it. I got through it. But there are a lot of broken Hollywood dreams. A lot of people go bad. It’s a very cruel town, but I’m not too bothered anymore: ‘People like me? People don’t like me? What’s happening? Won’t anyone give me a job?’ I don’t give a crap anymore. I make my own path.

Is there anyone you’d like to direct?

There are a few: Mortensen, Ruffalo, De Niro…

Is it hard to get in touch with a De Niro?

No, the first, initial contact isn’t impossible; it’s not that hard. But then, you need to give him a good script, a really good one. I’m not sure I could do it!

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