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Dream Life: An Interview With Julie Delpy

by Dan Heaton

Julie Delpy has starred in acclaimed independent and European films and worked with numerous renowned directors. She is best known for her work in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise, Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Trois Couleurs" movies, and Jean-Luc Godard's Detective and King Lear. She's most recognizable to American audiences by her roles in Killing Zoe and An American Werewolf in Paris. She recently reprised her character from Before Sunrise in a brief scene with Ethan Hawke in Waking Life, Linklater's beautifully animated and complex 2001 film. digitallyOBSESSED! recently talked with Julie about Waking Life, her recent roles, directing a film, and the continual downward spiral of Hollywood cinema.

dOc: Let's start with Waking Life. How did you initially become involved in the project?

Delpy: I'd worked with Richard Linklater on Before Sunrise, and he called me and told me he was doing a picture with digital animation on the subject of dream life. He didn't have a script, and I didn't know much about what was going on, but I had confidence in Richard, and went over to Texas.

dOc: How much of your scene was scripted? Did you improvise much?

Delpy: This was actually completely scripted, just like Before Sunrise was. The difference was that on Before Sunrise we workshopped the entire film. For three weeks, we wrote and worked on it. On this one, we more or less did the takes that he gave to us because it was on a more limited subject. It's not like on Before Sunrise, where we could get all of our own little stories into it. [Laughs.] It was a more specific subject, so we did the dialogue that he gave to us.

dOc: The scene lasts for only four minutes. How long did it take to film it?

Delpy: It took about a day, an afternoon really.

dOc: Was it shot in Austin?

Delpy: Yes, it was.

dOc: How does it feel to act in a scene when you know everything is going to be animated afterwards?

Delpy: I didn't know how it was going to be made or know too many things about the animation. Since Richard was doing it, I knew it was going to be an interesting project because I know he always does very good things, and I had confidence. It really was lovely to see yourself being animated, and I think it was amazing.

dOc: What was it like seeing yourself animated on the screen?

Delpy: It was fun. I was happy, plus they gave me a really nice animation. I love the animation. It was alive and like a constantly moving thing; even the backgrounds are moving. I love that about it.

dOc: Both you and Ethan Hawke were returning to characters you initially played in Before Sunrise. How did you go about rediscovering the personality of your character?

Delpy: It was funny. It's almost like the characters never really left us. We just went back and did it very easily and automatically. It's almost like the minute Ethan and I are together, we go back to that dynamic of talking and bouncing off ideas. Lines are even lifted from Before Sunrise. And, we have a third interlocutor when in real life, which is Rick (Linklater).

dOc: Much of this story focuses on lucid dreams. Do you have many lucid dreams of your own?

Delpy: Oh yeah, I have lucid dreams, very much so. It's crazy. I have so many dreams it's scary. dOc: What are some of them about? Delpy: My dreams go from horror to porno, just like everyone else. I just happen to remember most of my dreams. I know a lot of people that don't remember them. I remember them in detail, and it's great. There's quite a lot of horror, fears, and scary things, but also kind of beautiful, amazing things, especially colors. That's what I love about Waking Life in that it really translates the beauty of it into animation. It has such a dreamy quality to it.

dOc:Your conversation with Ethan Hawke's character talks about reincarnation and the idea of a collective memory. Personally, do you think much about these subjects?

Delpy: I don't really believe in reincarnation, but I believe in something, I don't know what it is exactly. I believe there is something collective in memory or fantasy that has no words to define it.

dOc: Waking Life was [recently released] in the United States on an excellent DVD. Do you have much of a DVD collection or interest in the format? Delpy: I'm just starting my collection. There's just so many out there to buy.

dOc: What are some of the DVDs that you've enjoyed recently?

Delpy: I've watched Red Beard from Kurosawa. Also, I love Dr. Strangelove. I watch it over and over.

dOc: That's a great DVD.

Delpy: I'm just starting to get really excited about DVDs. I don't have enough, and I want more.

dOc: There's always so many that it's impossible to keep up.

Delpy: I know. I buy them one-by-one, here and there when I really want them. But sometimes it's hard to always find DVDs and you can only find them on tape. It's not the same.

dOc: You've worked in the past with so many incredible directors. Who are some directors you've love to work with and haven't yet?

Delpy: I feel so terrible because once you start making a list you forget people. Mmm, who do I love? I love Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch.

dOc: Woody Allen actually just released a new film here. What attracts you to his work?

Delpy:You know, I like comedy. I like the neurotic, dark sense of humor that he has. Love and Death is one of my favorites.

dOc: You've moved into directing with Looking for Jimmy and a few others within the last several years. What made you choose to tackle directing?

Delpy: For now, I've really only done a few short films. It's such a part of me. I really have a passion for movies. I'm more of a cinephile. I've enjoyed films from all around the world and they're inside me. To direct is always something that I've really wanted to do. I love acting, and I would never give up acting, but it's something in which I would feel totally fulfilled as well. It's something else that I can do in films.

dOc: As far as Looking for Jimmy, you basically did everything on this film.

Delpy: Yeah, it was more of an experimental film. We shot it in 24 hours on digital video. It was very experimental in that films haven't been made that way very often. It was more of a challenge to shoot in 24 hours nonstop and edit it down to an hour, and I did a bit of everything.

dOc:How were you able to juggle all the tasks?

Delpy: It was very nerve-wracking and I would never do it again. [Laughs.] That's for sure. I shot it all in 24 hours, and never again. But I'm happy with the result; it is what it is. It's not a perfect film, but it's from a different perspective.

dOc: There's no perfect films, although some come pretty close.

Delpy: Well, it's not Dr. Strangelove, but I think for what it is, it's very successful. It's entertaining, and that's what I wanted.

dOc: With a few exceptions, you've avoided the Hollywood machine and been very successful. How have you been able to avoid it?

Delpy: Well, it's not easy. It's hard, and I've decided that maybe it's not just a good idea to strictly do small films. I've decided to do more Hollywood movies, but not only that, because I could never do only that. I'll always be doing independent and European films too. I think I should do more mainstream films, which will give me more freedom to choose later. Often independent filmmakers go for Hollywood stars, so it doesn't matter anymore. The gap is smaller and they help to get movies financed.

dOc: The line often blurs between independent and Hollywood films. It seems that the overall quality of mainstream films has gone down lately.

Delpy: Yeah, that's true. I don't know why. When I was thinking about what mainstream movies have become, it's crazy. I think that now they're sure of what makes money and what doesn't make money, so now they control the market, which is very dangerous. If The Godfather was made now, it would have a hard time, because the characters are too dark. You can't have dark characters now, which is so wrong. Everyone loves the dark, lead character that's a twisted and sick guy. It's totally untrue to think that something far more twisted would not be attractive to watch. Even when characters have an edge, they make them kinder and sweeter.

dOc: They have to be redeeming in some way even when they're really not.

Delpy: Yeah, he can't be killing people, only killing by accident. Even when it's a true story, they change it to make them nicer. Or, he's a terrible person, but he was beaten as a child. There's all the reasons. Sometimes people are horrible without having reasons. It's just not reality.

dOc: I think the marketing process has become almost more important.

Delpy: People just don't have a choice. I think the public is not as dumb as people wish they were. I think they're smarter. They want more diversity, that's for sure.

dOc: Even Waking Life was showing here in just one theater.

Delpy: The whole publicity machine has one movie make millions over the weekend, then it can die. It makes tons of money over the first few weeks, and then we forget about [it]. No one ever even hears about [it] again, except to rent on video or whatever. It's weird that in the theaters in America, if you don't go see a film in the first three weeks, it's nearly gone after that.

dOc: It's even a week for some movies. If you miss them in the first week, then you have to wait six months for video.

Delpy: I know. In France, after six months a film will still be showing, even if it was not a huge hit. It's fun. There's so much more diversity. I open the paper and there's thousands of movies showing.

dOc: Here, it's very tough if you're not in a few big cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Delpy: Yes.

dOc: You also recently appeared on ER in a guest role. How was that experience?

Delpy: I actually enjoyed it a lot. It's a truly different experience. At first, they threw me into the set and I didn't know what was going on. There was screaming, with people running in every direction. And then I realized that you actually adapt very fast. It's very professional, and it's good training because you have to be good on the first take. I enjoyed doing it.

dOc: You recently starred in Villa des Roses.

Delpy: It's a Belgian film. I'm not sure if it's going to be released in the U.S. It's very beautiful. I've done a lot of films in Europe, and you never know which ones will come out in America.

dOc: What current projects are you involved in?

Delpy: I've been doing stuff I wrote: one that I'll be starring in and one that I'll be directing. I've been working on getting everything together. Both are very different. I can't even talk about it anymore. They've fallen apart too many times. One seems to be going forward that I'll be starring in. It's unusual. I might end up with people really liking me or people really hating me. [Laughs.]

dOc: What caused you to go into acting?

Delpy: I think it's my love of movies and theater. I've always been fascinated by theater, and I've always been in that world, right away with my parents. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the freedom of it.

dOc: So, what was it like growing up having both parents involved in acting?

Delpy: It's not always easy. It has its ups and downs. They worked for years, and then didn't work for a while. There's so much pressure and all that. When I started acting, I was trying to keep everything in perspective. I know that it's very tough.

dOc: One more question. What do you like to do besides films? What are some of your hobbies?

Delpy: Music. I like to sing. I like to write, but that goes with films. I like to torture my cat. [Laughs.] I don't really torture him. I do bug him and play with him. That's it. And I hang out with my friends and watch movies. Sometimes we like to watch really bad movies. Or really good movies. It's one or the other.

dOc: Sometimes it's better than picking the dull ones in the middle.

Delpy: Exactly. We like to go with one or the other. Because in-between, we just get really bored.