In 2005, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke shared a best original screenplay Oscar nomination for "Before Sunset," about a chance meeting that unexpectedly links two lives. At a nominees' lunch get-together in Los Angeles, Delpy met Chris Rock, who was hosting that year's ceremonies. Life echoed art as their fleeting conversation sparked a long-running friendship. Now they're co-stars in Delpy's daffy, endearing romantic comedy "2 Days in New York," which opens locally Friday.
Born in Paris to performer parents Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet in 1969, she became a star at 14 when Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his "Detective." In her later teens she moved to New York, attending NYU and studying at the Actors Studio. People magazine named her one of "The 25 Most Beautiful" in 1995, but she rebuffed efforts to craft her into a Hollywood starlet. Choosing roles with such renowned international directors as Bertrand Tavernier, Agniezska Holland and Krzysztof Kieslowski, she became one of the most popular French actresses of her generation. She has lived mostly in the United States for the past 15 years.
Although she's also a screenwriter, director and film editor, Delpy is best known to American audiences as the star of 1999's "Before Sunrise" and its sequel "Sunset," which trace the course of a cross-cultural romance. It's a theme that attracts her time and again.
Return of Marion
In her new film Delpy plays Marion, a quirky neurotic introduced five years ago in her comedy "2 Days in Paris." In that film she and her edgy boyfriend, Jack (Adam Goldberg), tried to reignite their romance with a quick trip to visit her bohemian parents, where every cliché about French rudeness proves true. The new film picks up several years later, with Marion and radio host Mingus (Rock) sharing a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment, raising the little boy she had with Jack and Mingus' young daughter. The domestic balancing act is thrown for a loop when Marion's father, sister and her obnoxious lover drop in for a visit.
"I thought it would be fun to do the reverse shot, you know, showing French people in New York. Also as we get older, have kids and lose our parents, life is tough," said Delpy, 42, in a phone conversation this month. Delpy's parents played Marion's mother and father in "Paris." Her mother died in 2009, and Marion's new status as a half-orphan is much on her mind in "New York." Delpy wanted to portray those ideas in a comedy; "Better laugh than cry," she said. "The film's an homage to her, but I wanted to keep it light because she's a very happy person."
She also wanted to resist the stereotype of "the French being very classy people wearing Chanel," she said. Her dad arrives wearing a tacky American flag necktie and smuggled sausages taped to his chest, her sister is an exhibitionist, and her boyfriend -- one of Marion's myriad of ex-lovers -- tries to bond with Mingus by singing the praises of '80s rappers Salt-n-Pepa.
"It's exaggerated, it's a comedy, but it's not far from the truth. The critics who take offense at that are American. When the French see this they say, 'Omigod, that is so my family.'"
Her wild-eyed, large-bearded father is "a depraved Santa Claus," she said, and a delight to direct on film. "He was an actor before I was born, I've seen his work in theater all my life, and it's great to give him a fun part to do onscreen. Obviously it's not always easy 'cause I'm his daughter and I'm giving him directions. He's not always agreeing with me, but in the end I'm the boss."
Delpy's a mom now
Because of the casting, some viewers mistakenly assume that Delpy's "2 Days" films are autobiographical. Not the case, she says. "I've got well-constructed relationships. I met a guy, had a baby, and I'm with him." She lives in Los Angeles with Marc Streitenfeld, a prolific film music editor, and their son Leo, 3.
As far as the character of Marion goes, however, there's a degree of self-parody. Like Delpy, Marion can't see without glasses and, "like me, she's not a very good artist. She's using relationship things in her art and exposing things, which I'm doing a little bit."
Eventually, Marion sells her soul as a gesture of conceptual art, but becomes so agitated at the implications that she does everything in her power to get it back. "I don't believe in the soul, and I would never have to sell mine anyway," Delpy said. "I try to always have an idea of what I'm doing and why. To sell out would mean making movies that are totally impersonal. That's something I'm not doing. I've passed that age," she said with a laugh. "It's too late for me to do that."
Delpy and Rock talked about making the new film over a period of years, and though his screen acting is not at the level of his supremely accomplished standup comedy, she never wavered from the feeling that he was the ideal co-star.
"I like him and I wanted someone who wasn't the obvious first choice for the boyfriend in an indie movie. It's an unusual choice, picking someone from the comedy world who's such a persona, but that's what I like about it. I like breaking rules. It doesn't matter anyway. Talent is talent."
Delpy said that she didn't create the film with European or American audiences in mind. "I've lived all over and I have friends from everywhere in the world. Believe me, dysfunctional families are international. Relationship problems, international."
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186