The next step is breaking free of those expectations.
In 1994, when she was 24, Delpy told GQ that she was writing a film to direct and star in, featuring a heroine who was "not evil, not slave, not bitch, not mistress. I can do better than be naked on top of somebody." This quote appeared in a spread whose raison d'Ãêtre was to dress actresses in menswear.
Years would pass before she'd direct a feature. "No one wanted to finance my films," she says simply. At one point, "before I was an actual director," she sent a producer a script with a man's name on it, just to see what would happen. "That's what Colette did," she shrugs. "But that was, like, 120 years ago!"
She hates being lumped in with "women filmmakers," she says. "By making it obvious that it's rare, you also minimize my work." But she also talks at length about gender discrimination in the film industry on both sides of the Atlantic. She accuses powerful French film entities — the Cannes Film Festival, the financing and sales outfit Wild Bunch — of being dominated by a jockish mentality. "In French, we call them footeur — footeur means they watch soccer," she says. Hollywood is not much better in her opinion. "Sometimes, I go to meetings, and people will ask me if I know what a dolly is," she says. At least in L.A., she rationalizes it as part of the local corporate culture.
"I think women have this image of being emotional. A girlfriend of mine is in meetings for producing a film, and I was like, 'Don't be passionate.' Because the smallest sign of emotion is terrifying to Hollywood because the people financing films are businessmen. And so they have no emotions. Or they [repress] them so much, they'll die of ulcers."
In a roundabout way, Hollywood's ingrained assumptions pushed Delpy into the director's chair. Before Sunset began as a series of conversations between Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke, which Delpy then worked into a 40-page first draft. While she was writing it, she remembers: "My agent called, and he was like, 'What are you doing?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm writing a screenplay with Ethan and Richard for a sequel.'
"And he was like, 'Why are you doing that?'
"And then he called me back an hour later, and he's like, 'Well, we had a meeting, and you know, we think you're not focusing enough on your acting career.' I mean, he asked me to play a sexy Latina in Rush Hour 3 or whatever." The agent, she says, would send her to read for parts that were already cast, just to keep her busy.
"And I'm like, 'You guys have sent me on one audition in six months, and you're saying that because I'm writing, I'm not a dedicated actress?'"
The agent responded, "I think the film will never be made, and even if it's made, no one's gonna go see it."
Delpy says, "A year later, I was an Oscar nominee for writing the screenplay."
The nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, which she shared with Hawke, Linklater, and Sunrise co-writer Kim Krizan (they lost to Sideways), made "people take me seriously," Delpy says. "Which is crazy."
She knew she had to take advantage of that craziness, and fast. "I wrote the screenplay [for] 2 Days in Paris quickly because I realized from years of going around with screenplays that people like to finance the same thing over and over." Her pitch? A man, a woman, Paris. "I went to European financiers kind of selling it as Before Sunset, but then I wrote something very different in tone. So I kind of tricked them."
Starring Delpy and her real-life ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg as a New York — based couple on a bad European vacation, 2 Days in Paris uses the classic romantic travelogue form (Delpy's opening voiceover implicitly references Roberto Rossellini's Voyage to Italy) as a container for an equal-opportunity inspection of the fault lines in a long-term adult relationship. Delpy's actor parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy, co-star as Marion's parents, their long-term happiness contrasted with their daughter's self-admitted difficulty with "deciding to be with one man for good."
Goldberg's character initially seems like a toxic jerk, but over its running time, the film's point of view flips, and boyfriend and girlfriend switch roles. Ultimately, Paris plays like a referendum on the idealized version of a captivating Frenchwoman put forth in the Before films.
"I hate that men's fantasy of how women — especially Frenchwomen — should be cute, sweet," Delpy says, noting that she created the character of Celine "with two guys, so I had to be a little more in the male point of view. Obviously, with Marion, that fantasy is out of the way. She's not an unbearable person, but she's real. She's a lot of work, like any other woman. And like every man is a lot of work. I mean, men are a lot of work," she says, laughing. "Men are prima donnas more than women now. They're very sensitive. They get offended for no reason."