Julie Delpy Is ‘The Complete Not-Right Person to Be an Actor’—But Still Became One

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

For as long as she’s been an actor, Julie Delpy has been a writer, too, penning her first screenplays in her teens as her career was kicking off in France in the 1980s. In the years since, her writing and acting careers have grown simultaneously, with Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” and widespread acclaim for the same film trilogy, alongside Ethan Hawke. Now, she serves as executive producer, writer, director and star of the Netflix series “On The Verge,” a snapshot of four friends in their late 40s in Los Angeles. 

How does writing and directing a television show differ from the work you’ve done in film? 
I think of it as 12 episodes of 30 minutes [of] story with all those characters, and the possibility of even more stories. In a weird way, I’ve done series—the “2 Days” movies and then the “Before” series. I like to explore characters throughout time and a longer format than just an hour-and-a-half or two hours with a beginning and an end. I don’t like endings. I don’t like to finish things and be done with things. This series came almost naturally to me. 

I read that you did most of the casting for “On The Verge” via Zoom. How was that?
It wasn’t easy but quality stands out no matter if you’re on Zoom [or in-person]. I didn’t just do the self-tape and pick people. The people I liked I went over a bunch of times, auditioning them over and over to make sure I was sure, especially for leads and kids. There were many callbacks on Zoom. The process is just a little more tedious. We adapt very easily and eventually I got used to doing so much stuff via Zoom. It was not an impossible task. It was harder, but not impossible. 

As someone who has experiences on both sides of the table, what audition advice would you give to actors? 
I personally always liked putting myself on tape. I was almost always more successful at doing it just because I’m very, very shy. I’m very insecure so I spent my young life coming into casting offices like, “She’s going to get the part” and leave. Unless it was something I really wanted to do and I was fighting for it, most of the time I was like, “Forget it.” I’m also logical. I’m in this audition to play a sexy Latina. I’m not going to get that part anyway, what the fuck am I doing here? I didn’t like the audition process. Self-tapes, people have to think of it as a plus, not a negative. You can really prepare, really do your best job, do it with someone you like and trust, and give the best take. 

What is your worst audition horror story?
I had a phobia of auditions for many years. I remember being so terrified I’d have panic attacks in the waiting room. I remember running away from auditions. I would be about to do an audition and I would panic and leave. It was not an easy process for me. That’s why I’m very kind to actors in the audition process. I’m very respectful because I know how hard it is and how painful it is.

What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say just don’t [audition] anymore and write sooner. I know that sounds crazy and I wouldn’t say that to everyone, because some people have no problem with [auditioning]. I really had so much anxiety, it would keep me up at night. It would make me self-destructive. Some people are great at presenting themselves [in] the way they talk to people. I’m shy, I’m insecure, I’m uncomfortable in public. I’m the complete not-right person to be an actor, in a way. I became an actor, that’s the weird part. 

What do you think writing opened up for you?
I was always into telling stories and I was more into storytelling. I loved acting, but my impulse to go to the cinema was more of my love of storytelling. When I was hired on “Before Sunrise,” basically we were hired because Richard [Linklater] asked us if we were writing. That’s what he wanted, people to entirely re-write and reshape the character. And that’s what we did with Ethan. I think he cast us just because of that, because we were actually writers more than actors. Ethan is really an actor but I think there’s a side of me that’s a little more on the writer side than I am on the acting side. Also, my parents were actors and I saw them struggle a lot with not working. I had tremendous anxiety about this world. I love acting, but I have to say, I feel more in my shoes when I can have the freedom of doing both. Or just do the writing. 

READ: How to Audition for Netflix

What’s the wildest thing you ever did to get a role or get a project made?
I’ve never done crazy stuff in auditions. The only crazy thing I’ve done is leaving auditions after walking in. I’ve run off from many auditions where I’m walking in and I’m like, “What am I doing here? This is not for me. I’m wasting my time and I’m wasting their time.” It’s important to know your limits and what you are. I know I’m not supposed to be certain things and it’s OK. It’s more sad when people are pushing for things that are not possible in their life.

Do you think pushing for roles that maybe aren’t right comes from a place of scarcity? 
Because I was raised by two actors, I have seen that in my home. It’s really stressful. It makes people very miserable. From the age of 9, I was writing stories, ideas, short films. I remember, even though they were so educated, they didn’t have the capacity of writing. I saw them suffering a lot. I didn’t want to be that. I understand that some people don’t have the ability to do other things, but for me, it was this or I was going to stop eventually and go into another field. 

How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?
I think it might’ve been “Killing Zoe” or there was something else before. Was it “Voyager”? It’s either that at 20 or “Killing Zoe” at 22. 

What performance should every actor see and why?
Anna Magnani in “The Rose Tattoo.” I saw it recently and I was amazed by how accurate, modern, how of-now her performance is and it’s a film from the ’50s. She’s incredibly modern, meaning she wears no makeup, she’s real, she’s funny, she’s angry.

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