Julie Delpy is a wonderful contradiction. Never fitting easily into the “pretty blonde European starlet” mold, though she has all those qualities in spades, almost from the first she revelled in more thoughtful, spikier roles. From Dominique in “Three Colors: White” to her most famous international role as Celine in Richard Linklater‘s ‘Before‘ trilogy, she has often played the beautiful object of a man’s desire, or even obsession, yet she’s rarely passive. Delpy’s characters tend to have actual personality, they have kinks, they have wit, they have a command of language (French and/or English). They have interior life, something that characters with her external attributes are often denied. Perhaps it was only natural that she would move behind the camera at some point, but now, as female director with six features under her belt, she is in another way, statistically speaking, close to a contradiction in terms.
Her latest film, “‘Lolo” (review here) which played in the Venice Days sidebar at the Venice Film Festival, and in which she also stars, shows some of those slightly paradoxical instincts: it’s a comedy with a dark-spirited center in which the tone varies from breezy to bawdy to base. It’s frequently very funny, but a little all over the place — a little like how our chatty interview on the Lido went, then, as Delpy talked about raising a sociopath in “Lolo,” feminism, motherhood, and whether or not she’d take a crack at directing a Marvel movie.
There was a lot of laughter at my screening of “Lolo.” How has the reception seemed to you?
Good, yes — I mean, the film will offend some people and some of the jokes are kind of obvious. But I wanted something simple and fun and enjoyable. I’m not trying to make a huge statement or anything, I’m not saying “all kids are sociopaths,” I’m not saying “all women are neurotic.” I know that some people find some of the language offensive though.
And do you think that’s because — this is a question I’m getting really sick of asking, so I’m sure you’re sick of answering —
I know. I am sick of answering it, but go ahead!
Do you think that people give a sort of scrutiny to the film because you’re a woman, that they wouldn’t necessarily if it came from a male director?
Yeah, probably. I think some people accept less in terms of crudeness coming from a woman. It’s like, “Yes, you can make movies, but this is what you need to do. This is how far you can go.” But I wanted this character to be crude, and funny, and disrespectful, and I don’t give a shit if it makes for easy jokes. I know people like that. I am a bit like that — I’m the worst. I make crude jokes all the time. If people heard my conversations with my father, they’d be horrified. Life is short and I don’t know, I’ve reached a level where I don’t even care if people get upset at it.
The great consolation of getting older is just giving less of a fuck about everything, actually.
Exactly. I give less of a fuck and I feel better.
Funnily enough, the crudity of the two women was the thing I loved most in “Lolo.” I think a lot of women watching it will find it refreshing.
Thank you… And some people will find it offensive. I know that.
It’s inherently feminist that these two women are talking, often about sex, and they have this strong relationship, but it’s not politically correct. It’s an interesting area where you can be feminist but not PC.
Well, that’s me! I’m a feminist and I’m not PC. I’m very dedicated to feminism, but I can laugh at women also. I can laugh at my own feminism sometimes, and my own feminist side. I have a friend, for example, that was horrified at “Borat,” when he’s sitting around the feminists and he’s saying the most horrible things. I thought it was hilarious. I’m kind of past that — I know we’re not there yet, but I think by feeling good in myself about being a woman and about being a feminist, I can make fun of it too. I think that’s the next step.
And you know, when people say, “Oh, the world would be a better place if it was governed by women,” I’m like, “Not necessarily. Not all women are good.” Even if I’m a feminist, I don’t think all women are perfect. If we’re equal to men, we are also imperfect like men.
And we should fight to be allowed to be imperfect.
Yes, that’s part of feminism, to embrace the fact that we are imperfect. Often, men who want to be feminist, try to say they think that women are better than men, and I want to tell them, “No.”
I’d kind of suspect those guys of not really being feminists, though. Like, maybe they’re just trying to get into your pants.
Yeah! That’s probably what it is.
In my review, I mention the film is a bit like a hate letter to motherhood. Does that seem right to you?
[Laughs] It’s a weird thing, because I love being a mother, yet I made a film that’s… I mean the character of Ariane says, “What a pain in the ass to be a Mom.” Because the truth is sometimes it is really hard to be a mother. For example, I work and I’m completely constantly filled with guilt. If I was a man, a father, I would not be filled with guilt. Just that makes me angry at being a woman at times, because I have so much guilt in working. I’ve never met a man that had that kind of guilt.
And I don’t want to give up my life as a working woman because first of all, I’ve got to pay the bills, no one pays them for me. But also I don’t think it’s good to give an example, to especially a little boy, that a woman is giving up everything to raise a child. I keep on working also because I think it’s a good example to give to the next generation of kids about equality.
But there’s a side of me that would love to never work again and just take care of my kid. But it wouldn’t be right, for me or for him, for that matter.
Your character in “Lolo” perhaps feels a similar guilt? Is that part of what feeds into her son’s behavior?
Yeah. It’s exactly what this is about, which is she probably felt guilty because she was working, so she never said no to him.
Yes, she’s overcompensating, and then you kind of raise monsters. Not always, thank God. But you have to be careful when you have that guilt, because then you start letting the kid do whatever they want and you completely lose authority. Children need limits.
Is this where the idea for “Lolo” came from, like a worst case scenario of what could happen in your life?
Oh, haha, the very worst case. It’s not going to be like that. I wanted to study a sociopath, because it’s this very small part of the population that everyone’s talking about now. It’s on “House of Cards,” all those narcissists. And when you meet them, it’s very striking: such a crazy personality, just completely perverted and sadistic and they like to hurt.
I knew this person, he would fire people or do terrible things to someone, and he would have a giggle about it beforehand. It was terrifying. I find that really evil. It’s so creepy. I thought it was funny to use a kid as that, because on top of it it’s so far from reality. My kid is six, he’s a sweet bunny.
Though the mom in “Lolo” thinks her boy is a sweet bunny too…
Oh, you think my son is really preparing my…
He’s definitely planning your downfall as we speak.
Oh no! He’s been plotting it since he was two! No, I think not. I think kids are actually beautiful and if you raise them well they’re the most loving, wonderful thing you can have in your life.
But it is true that this type of personality is very good at play acting.
They actually can make you believe that they’re the nicest person on the planet! Then you realize they are the worst person on the planet. It’s actually crazy to which extent they can make you believe that they’re a good person.
Maybe it’s because they believe it. In Jon Ronson’s book, “The Psychopath Test,” there’s a kind of checklist of traits that psychopaths, many of whom are wealthy and successful, have. And apparently most people reading start to wonder….
“Am I a psychopath?”
Exactly. But his thing is if you’ve ever asked yourself that question, you’re not a psychopath. They don’t think that way.
I was talking to my shrink about it and she said, “Psychopaths, sociopaths, all those people, those extreme narcissists, they always think they’re right. They rarely go to therapy, because they think they have no problem.”
You know how they spot a sociopath? There’s a list of things that shrinks in America ask you. “Have you ever been depressed? Do you ever think of suicide? Have you ever been angry?” A sociopath will check ‘no’ to everything. They’ve never lost their temper…? Who has never lost their temper, anyway? They’re “perfect” people.
I wanted to explore that a little bit with the son, but obviously in a funny, silly way. I wanted to make the things obvious. You know he’s going to do bad things every time he’s going to do it. To me it was important that it’s announced, so it doesn’t become a thriller, it stays a comedy.
I was wondering about that, how you negotiated that balance between the comedy and the darkness.
When I was editing, I was like, “Oh, I could do it more serious and more scary, but it’s not as funny.” It’s fun to know more or less that he’s there to destroy him. And he’s amused by it, because that’s one side to sociopaths. They love doing bad things and not getting caught. Pushing [Jean Rene, his mother’s boyfriend] to madness is a good thing for him, it’s fun: “Look at this dork. He’s going to end up crazy, and I’m going to destroy his life!”
It’s interesting as well to have Jean Rene be so dorky. Perhaps she’s attracted to the naivete in him that her son does not have?
And should have. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s completely pure in a way. Also, I find the most attractive quality in a man is pure kindness. Maybe it’s because I’m in a world of fucking cynical everything — and there’s also this thing where in the movie he is from an opposite kind of world from her.
Thats right — one of the things the film does too is this divide between sophisticated, snobby Paris and the rest of France. And actually, many of your films yours have a very strong sense of place. You seem to take a lot of inspiration from certain cities.
Since I started writing my films I always kind of decide on the place [early on] For example the ‘Before’ trilogy: Vienna was decided by Richard [Linklater] but Paris, we decided the city first, even before starting to write it. For Greece it was a little different, but basically we wrote it there. And we always knew it was going to be a place by the Mediterranean Sea. Either Italy or Greece.
I feel places define a lot who you are. If you’re Parisian, it’s specific. If you’re a New Yorker, it’s specific. And because I’ve traveled and lived in different cities all my life, I’ve always felt strongly a sense of me being the stranger. I always love to talk about being the outsider, like in “2 Days in Paris,” he’s coming to Paris, and “2 Days in New York,” the guy feels an outsider in his own city, because he’s invaded by the French. It’s always a great thing for comedy, being the outsider.
Tell me about your upcoming projects. One of the things that I read about is that you’re writing a TV series, about women in their 40s. Is that right?
I’m developing one, for Amazon. We’ll see if it happens. You never know, but I wrote the pilot. We’re going to rewrite it and then we’re going to see. It’s a very slow process.
Would you be in it?
Possibly, yes. Also I have a project called “Zoe” that I really want to do, but it’s a drama, so it’s harder to put together.
It’s harder to put together dramas?
Yeah, because I’m known for comedies and I think people are more comfortable with me directing comedies. The only drama I’ve made is called “The Countess.”
Which is very much what we’re talking about with sociopaths and psychopaths.
Yeah, there’s another one there! And also there was the inequality — in that it’s a woman. But not many people in America saw it, and so it’s very hard for me to promote myself, to convince people, because they don’t know that I can direct drama.
How about the Todd Solondz movie, “Wiener Dog,” that you’re in, has that finished?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s finished shooting, went great, was great. I play a monstrous woman — it was a lot of fun.
And finally, being part of the Marvel machine [Delpy had a tiny role in ‘Age of Ultron’], even a little bit, how was that?
Oh, it was a very little bit. I was one day on the shoot. But was really interesting to see how those huge movies get made. It has nothing to do with my little films, and it’s interesting to see another part of the industry and how it’s working. It’s in a whole other world.
Is that something that you’d be interested in exploring further if you could?
If I ever get a chance to do a huge movie, if someone ever gives me the chance I would completely do it. I don’t think I would have a hard time managing it, because I’m very comfortable working on set with crews and stuff, and if I can manage 60 people, I think I can manage 400.
Yeah. Especially as many of those extra people are really there to manage the rest of the other people for you.
Exactly. I realize how much they delegate. And how much a bigger movie is about delegating more and having more people doing things for you.
So for the record, in case there are people who do not believe that women want the big gigs, you’d take it. You’ll take the gig.
Oh, I’ll take it, yeah!
“Lolo” will be released in France in October.