Julie Delpy has often said she doesn’t like like to be thought of as a movie star, but the problem is she is so electrifying as an actress that we have to think that way. It all began with her first role at 14 in Jean-Luc Godard’s The Detective. She went on to the Three Colors trilogy directed by the iconic Christoph Koslowski and the enduringly popular trilogy, which most movie lovers have seen, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and Before Midnight. She actually co-wrote the last one. Julie is, as we are reminded in her latest feature, Zoe, a talented writer and director. Julie Delpy appeared exclusively at a special theatrical screening of My Zoe, and Jeanne Wolf was there to interview and moderate the Q&A.
Jeanne Wolf: This movie is a project that you HAD to do. And looking into the history of this movie, how hard it was to get it made, how hard it was to get it financed, how much you had to do yourself, what was the drive? What was the point of creation of this and what kept you going?.
Julie Delpy: I wanted to tell a story that’s not stereotypical, what is expected of women for a character driven story piece. You know, I feel like, you know, in a way, even a woman kind of nasty or evil is kind of expected. It’s the other side of women that, you know, people love to explore that kind of witch. But this is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to do someone who does something truly controversial, you know, a woman serial killer. It’s just another twist on witches, you know what I mean, which has always been kind of a narrative in history, the evil woman. But this is not evil. This is way more complicated than that. And to me, that was really interesting because it’s really the opposite of what is expected of a woman which is, in history and in our society, women are expected to mourn and accept their fate. Right? And to me, because for centuries, women would lose baby at childbirth and even die most of the time. So they were expected to accept this condition. Right. And this woman goes into the complete opposite way, which for me was really interesting to try to explore as a writer and then as an actress and director was like, she’s doing something that’s truly unacceptable for a woman, which is like she doesn’t accept fate. She goes against it and she does something that’s not acceptable in a way.
Jeanne Wolf: As the picture develops, we see how you touch your daughter, how you play with her, how you love her and need her so we at least understand the strength of that. We understand the strength of that drive. It was important for you to show us how deep your love was so we would understand why you would go to these unusual measures.
Julie Delpy: You know, it’s interesting that touching and, you know, it’s not easy because you’re hiring a child and that person’s not your child. And it’s weird to touch a child all the time. And what I noticed on movies when I played mother before is that you avoid touching children in a way because they are not your children. It’s weird. You know, the parents are there. I mean, it’s always weird. So you touch them a little bit, but you’re not always kissing and hugging them. And the reality is, you know, as a parent, you are constantly reaching out.
So when I did this film, I asked the parents, I’m like, I’m going to be touching your kid. You know, there’s nothing with the society we live in, though, like that. But, you know, it’s like I’m going to be physical with her. I’m going to hug her and kiss her because it’s something that I knew is real. And to me, that was very important to have. It’s a detail, but it’s to me very important to have in the film.
Jeanne Wolf: Could you have done this film the same way before you were a mother yourself?
Julie Delpy: Probably not. I had it in my mind for a long time for it since I was twenty, twenty-two. But, you know, it’s weird because I was thinking of motherhood even when I was a child. When I was nine-years-old, I wrote my first story. I was sci-fi and about motherhood. So it was already a very different story. It was about a robot having a baby. Crazy story. But, you know, basically it’s true that it’s fed me something very specific, which is almost like, you know, I don’t completely agree with her. Obviously, she’s doing something. And really, first of all, we still can’t do it, even though we’re very close, technically, scientifically speaking. But, you know, I feel like, you know, would I do that? I don’t know. But I know that nothing would stop me from, you know, my mother’s instinct of protecting, saving. You know, it’s just like I will kill anyone. I will kill them to protect. And you know what I mean, I, I have no limit to my – you know, and I feel like a lot of parents are like that, you know, like you would give your heart for your kid, you know.
Jeanne Wolf: And you understand the fear, logical or illogical, of what can happen to a child.
Julie Delpy: Yeah. Yeah, it’s very scary. Yeah. But, you know, at the same, you have to let go and live with it because otherwise you become…
Jeanne Wolf: We have to raise normal people.
Julie Delpy: Or try at least.
Jeanne Wolf: You talk about writing sci fi, but in a way this is a projection and maybe that is partly sci fi. But how did you understand so much the science of this, I know you had a science adviser and why is that such an important thing to you?
Julie Delpy: I had a few scientific advisors, people that were, you know, in stem cell research. I had meetings with people, doctors kind of in London, in Berlin, and I pretty much everywhere. And all of it is really I actually made it much less of what I know because it’s quite scientific and, you know, it’s not very exciting and it’s exciting to some people, but some people would love that. It was exciting. But I was, you know, the first screenplay, I was going so much into detail of cloning, but it was like, you know, kind of like, OK, you know, so I kind of took it out. You know, I made it a little more storyline, you know, kind of drama based than scientific.
Jeanne Wolf: But the doctor says to you and other people, it won’t really be Zoe. And you say something like,” it’s in her DNA, her wishes, her hair,” you know.
Julie Delpy: Well, you know, what’s interesting about cloning is that that’s why it’s called cloning and not IVF. It’s that cloning is actually taking someone’s DNA and reproducing it. I mean, the whole idea of Dolly the sheep and all the other animals that are being cloned, they’re actually clones, probably. Yeah, I hear more and more a lot of folks in Los Angeles, maybe very rich people, you know, they can afford to clone their pets but basically. Yeah, I mean, the idea is that it’s a twin from the child. It’s not exactly the child because the upbringing and everything is different. Obviously we all know that. But, you know, it’s genetically the same child.
Jeanne Wolf: I don’t want to have all the fun. If anybody wants to ask a question, stand up or raise your hand and please try to be, you know, raise your voice a little bit.
Audience question: Because your films are philosophical, what would you express about life and the human condition?
Julie Delpy: Well, you know, as long as I can remember as a child, I was intrigued by people’s behavior. I was intrigued. And what and, you know, for example, the sci fi part, every sci fi I liked had an aspect that was philosophical. And that’s what I liked about sci fi when I was a kid, is there’s a metaphysical aspect that’s beyond, you know, just a bunch of, you know, spaceship going around, you know, um. So for me, it was essential in a way, it is a philosophical approach and analysis of human beings. A study in a way, you know, sci fi can be used as a real deep study on human behavior. And I’ve always been obsessed with human behavior. And as long as I remember, I would be at the bus stop and listening to girls talking and trying to understand, like what was going on in their mind and why they were like this and all that stuff. So I’ve always been, you know, it’s annoying for people that live with me because I would be at the restaurant and I’m listening to people’s conversation, you know, even looking very not discrete, like kind of staring. And, you know, because I need to constantly listen and feed myself with people’s behavior and why they behave like this.
Audience question: What was your writing process and about how long did it take and how did you approach writing the script?
Julie Delpy: Well usually when I write, I have an idea that is kind of an idea and then I think about it for years and years and years and then suddenly it hits me that that’s the way to approach it. And I wanted to approach it as like a three-piece drama with like the first part is kind of this separation, which is very you know, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety in their break-up. You know, it’s not an easy one. And then there’s the drama, the death, you know, and then the third part is kind of the rebirth, you know. And I wanted it to be very three three acts, about twenty, twenty-five minutes each, you know, very clear, almost as a kind of a mini-trilogy within a film. And, um, so it was a very long process of writing. I wrote and rewrote.
Audience question: Please tell us about how you chose and introduce the sci-fi elements in the film.
Julie Delpy: I wanted to make a sci-fi film, but obviously in a very subtle way, I didn’t want to be flying saucers or like, you know, or like flying cars everywhere, because I don’t believe they’re going to happen in the next 10 years. You know, I believe so far the technology that has gone really has really changed is connectivity. Our phones, our computers, our tools, you know, but not. And science, like medical science, is tremendous. Like in 10 years, you know, 10 years ago, you know, if you had macular degeneration, you were done. And now they inject you in the eye and that’s it. You know, pretty much, I think every week something terrifying. But, you know, like things are moving so quickly that I sometimes don’t even know what’s happening, you know? So I keep up to date all the time because I read medical science all the time. But pretty much that’s all I read. But, you know, I do. And so I wanted a touch of sci-fi, you know, and I had just gone to China and there was like a guy there at a dinner that was showing me the future of phones. And yet this completely flexible, flexible screen that was thin like this. And and yet I was like, oh, you can put it around your wrist and he was like, yeah, that’s my goal. Like one of those snap bracelets.
Jeanne Wolf: You are not the only beautiful actress who got frustrated with other people thinking what she should do or other people presenting her with projects that didn’t seem acceptable. So now you see Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts and go down the list of women who have decided to take their career or take their creativity. How come you got to that in an early age and do you welcome this change in attitude, which is, OK, I’ll star in your film, but you’ve got to let me do the things I want to do.
Julie Delpy: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s essential for you know, I think if women want to have a voice, obviously it needs to start from the start. I think the voice needs to start in the writing. Right? And then the producing and then the directing. It definitely has to start from somewhere.
So now it’s changing and it’s good because women are more than one. So sexy girls. Right. It’s like you want to be more than that. Right. And so, so, so now it’s changing and you see more and more, you know, diversity from every kind and also, you know, for women finally to be able not just, you know, a certain kind of woman to be able to express themselves and have a voice. And I think people like it. You know, it’s not just I mean, some people like it. Some people don’t like it. At least it’s there. And some people can choose what they want to see, you know?
Jeanne Wolf: Well. You have accomplished in your writing and your story work and in person, you’re not one thing. You’re very special. And I saw this movie really. It got to me and, I’m sure, to many who see it.
Julie Delpy: Thank you so much.