As her new film My Zoe opens, the actor-director recalls being enchanted by Jarmusch, Godard and Chéreau – and dancing rock’n’roll at the Paris Boum Boum
Interview by Andrew Pulver – The Guardian
Julie Delpy and Rumble Fish, Les Rita Mitsouko and Nastassja Kinski as Tess. Composite: Maarten de Boer; Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock; Allstar/Columbia; Alamy; Guardian Design
When I was a teenager I was very much into films – a little bit of music maybe, but mostly films. I went to the cinema a lot. I really liked older stuff like Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, and my dad was a big admirer of John Cassavetes, so I was a fan of A Woman Under the Influence. But I really remember being blown away by [Francis Ford Coppola’s] Rumble Fish. It’s funny: I’ve seen it since and I like it, but I wouldn’t say it was my favourite any more. But back then, I thought it was just really great: the music, the way they use black-and-white and colour. I used to listen to the soundtrack all the time, too. It was by Stewart Copeland of the Police. And I loved the early Jim Jarmusch films, particularly Stranger Than Paradise, the first of his movies that had an international impact. Those two – Rumble Fish and Stranger Than Paradise – were really important to me as a teenager, along with Down by Law, which came along a bit later.
You know, I had a very boring life, just watching movies. I’m not a very particular person when it comes to music. I was into Tom Waits, probably because of Jarmusch; I grew up with my parents listening to Bowie, Lou Reed, glam rock, all that. When I was 14 and 15 I listened to things that were cool at the time: new wave music, Depeche Mode, all that shit. I remember friends turning me on to U2, but then I went to their concert in Paris: it was in this giant place in the suburbs, full of mud, and there was a stampede. It was a horrible, horrible experience so I was over U2 pretty fast. One of the French bands I liked was Les Rita Mitsouko, they were one of the biggest bands in the 1980s. You should check out their song Andy, it’s really great.
I got really into Godard early: A Bout de Souffle, Pierrot le Fou, all of his films. And then when I was 14 I started working with him – he cast me in Détective, which was a real honour. It was a very weird journey. I had been auditioning for a lot of people since I was 13, and I wasn’t a very – how do you say? – seductive person towards directors and people in the movie business. I think that’s the right word to use now we know all about it. I had a whole year with a lot of people telling me I wasn’t going to get work because I wasn’t playing the game, blah blah blah, so it was a little tricky, even at that age. It may be shocking, but everyone knows in France there are people walking around, making movies, who were openly dating 13-year-olds in the 1980s.
But Godard didn’t care about that. He just liked my personality. He was a very honest man – in a way, very straight. Within all his craziness he has a very high sense of morality. He’s not a creepy guy at all.
‘She was so beautiful in the film’ … Nastassja Kinski in Tess. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia
I was obsessed with the movie Tess and I was really in love with Nastassja Kinski. It was a real girl crush. Tess looks like a weird movie now for obvious reasons, but there’s a great side to it. She was so beautiful in the film, you know, and she was so good. She is such a good actress.
Another of my obsessions was Francis Bacon. I even came to London to meet him when I was 16 or 17. He had agreed to do an interview with a friend of mine, a really cute boy (obviously). I was told to leave the room, but at least I got to see him for a few seconds.
Paris Boum Boum
I wasn’t a typical teenager. I became very involved in the Paris night scene at one point when I was in my late teens. I was a party animal. Before that, when I was 14, I used to go to a place called Paris Boum Boum to escape my parents’ home at night. It was a 1950s revival theme in a beautiful sort of cellar. I learned rock’n’roll dancing there. Later on, in my middle teens, I would just go to regular clubs; I was dancing a lot. I loved dancing. And smoking two packs a day.
My parents were in theatre, and because of them I watched a lot of amazing shows. The best I ever saw was a version of Hamlet by Patrice Chéreau. If you don’t know him, you should: he was the most amazing French director. I have never seen a production in English that was better than this – sorry to tell you that! The theatre pieces he directed were just mind-blowing, so beautiful – the scenography, the directing, everything. The way he made Hamlet, on this flat stage with pieces of wood coming in and out – the way it was thought out was just magnificent.
It was at the Avignon festival, with a stage in front of the Palais des Papes, an amazing medieval building. The play starts as night falls – it’s an experience I will never forget. And it was not just the setting. I’ve seen other plays there and they sucked. It was Chéreau. Chéreau was Chéreau, you know?
- Julie Delpy’s new film My Zoe is available now on digital formats