Last Friday, getting over an illness, I hauled my buns into a darkened recording studio where five other Belgian-based Americans gathered. We were there to be part of hubbub crowd scenes in Julie Delpy’s next feature film .“2 Days in New York”.
Usually for such work, someone connected to the film tells you when to make what kind of sounds or words that will be crafted as a sort of background soundscape by the sound engineer. For this film, there were scenes in restaurants, airports, gallery openings, and suchlike. The talent tries to make it fun, knowing we will end up as unrecognizable background.
So we sat down, all six of us, three men, three women, lined up in chairs, with me taking one on the end near the door in the event I felt something physical coming on from my illness. It was going to be a three to four hour session. We started with a woman suggesting, and it became your-turn, my-turn, our-turn, doing variations of sentences or conversational improv, until about forty-five minutes in, we had an entrance.
Light suddenly streamed into the darkened room and a woman saying, in French, “There are no taxis in Brussels. I called at 8:45 for a taxi and was told there would be none until 10:00. No taxis in Brussels. Impossible! Sorry I am late. How is it going?” It was Julie Delpy, writer-directer-actress-singer.
Okay, this was unusual. And she took off her coat, took control, and wanted to see what we had done, saying bonjour and started adjusting what had already happened. She took up residence at the table next to me. She was not well, wore no make-up or attempt at actress glamor and placed a see-through plastic bag of medicines before her. I felt empathy.
Often, between takes, she was sticking sprays up her nose, blowing said nose, sucking on a throat lozenge, taking a pill, digging around in her bag for something extra. I remarked, “I see you brought your pharmacy.” That lead to talking illnesses going around. Never heard her complain once about her feeling bad, although while waiting for the engineer to find the next scene I’d glance over and she’d be holding her head bent into her hands, very still.
Mentioning illness, she talked of her mother dying from cancer two years ago, and her own giving up smoking last year (“I began smoking when I was 14”), and the horror of her mother going through chemo, and “it may have been worse than her disease.” Then we speculated on how DNA and cigarettes impact, and diet. I told her my grandmother smoked until she was 65, gave them up and died of natural caused in her sleep at 96. “See!” she said. “It’s all a roll of the dice,” I replied.
Before working on a scene, we watched each individual scene to get a sense of it. Many of the scenes everyone laughed quite heartily (it’s a nervous comedy from what I saw). It must have pleased her, since we were, in a way, her first test audience, and I glanced and she was smiling at the laughter. There was one scene in a restaurant where the man playing her character’s father (her father in real life) complains that the prices on the menu was so high. Her character replies something like, “It’s not euros, dad, it’s dollars. They are not worth anything. So order whatever you want.” Our little audience roared, and Julie mentioned that many in the USA didn’t get that joke, “They say, what is so funny? Which is funny.” Seems even in Hollywood they don’t get the dollar’s weakness abroad. She said, “Everyone outside the USA always gets it and laughs.“
Later on, when there was a technical breakdown, a microphone going mysteriously screwy, I turned to Julie and asked, “So, “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset”. When’s the next one?” She said that after this film she was going to begin working on the script. “But I have no ideas. I don’t know what to write. I have nothing more to say about relationships. I don’t know anything about relationships. I want to write about computers and aliens, things that explodes. Anything, just not relationships!” She paused. “But Ethan will have ideas. He always has ideas. That will help. I need a couple of months break.”
I can report that Julie Delpy’s fingerprints will be on every sound mumble and frame of the film because she really does care. There was not one moment when she wasn’t completely frank, spontaneous and enthusiastic. Couldn’t detect any artifice. As the dubbing progressed, she made real effort to get everyone’s name, and had them all by the end of the dubbing session. She was unrelentingly kind, treating us all like artistic colleagues, and even accepted some script change suggestions. “Americans say pictures, not photos,” someone remarked, and she replied, “Really? Okay.”
I departed thinking highly of this talented artist, and I hope her film is extremely successful so she’ll be given the budget to make one with high-tech exploding gadgets that go off whenever some character says the word “relationship”.
To quote Roger Ebert, the film critic, “…Julie Delpy is an original, a woman who refuses to be defined or limited. Her first great roles were in Bertrand Tavernier’s “Beatrice” (1987), Agnieszka Holland’s “Europa Europa” (1990) and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “White” (1994); she was in Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” “Waking Life” and “Before Sunset” and she dumped Bill Murray at the beginning of Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers.” In between, she studied film at NYU and made herself available for 30 student productions.”
If you want to get a quick idea of her humor, CLICK HERE.