Three Great Things: Julie Delpy

The iconic French actress and writer-director, currently starring in The Lesson, on forests, tea and family movie nights.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the July 7 release in theaters of The Lesson, the new drama starring Richard E. Grant, Julie Delpy and Daryl McCormack, the beloved French actress turned writer-director shared some of the things that bring her the most joy in life. — N.D.

Walking in the Woods
Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved walking in a very green forest. Right now I’m in Brittany, directing a French film, and I picked this place because there’s still a beautiful old forest here. It’s called the Brocéliande Forest, which is supposed to be the forest of Merlin. I’m not really into those kinds of myths, but this forest has rivers and lakes everywhere, and when you walk amongst the trees, the way the light hits you is just magical. Not magical in a Merlin way, but in a natural way, because nature is incredible. It’s funny, but to this day, the light of the sun and very green leaves in the forest in the late spring, early summer really affects me – the color makes me almost drunk with euphoria. It specifically affects my brain, it’s like it triggers endorphins for me.

One of my favorite things to do in life to walk in a forest and then put my feet in a very cold stream. I just love the feeling of small rivers in the woods. Apparently when I was a kid, I would talk to trees. I suppose I was born a tree-hugger! I had a very vivid imagination as a child and I was obsessed with trees. I would go into the forest and my parents would see me many times talking to trees and fairies. I was always imagining that the trees were alive, like people.

Being in the forest as a child sparked my creativity and imagination, but the business I’m in now has nothing to do with being in a peaceful forest with beautiful leaves. There are wonderful people, obviously, but there are also a few wolves in the woods, waiting to eat you alive! My approach to work has always been very genuine and I had the opportunity to become a more successful Hollywood person, but that just isn’t me. And I can’t be someone else other than myself. I was raised by hippies who believed in freedom of the spirit, so I could never become someone who was part of a machine. I’ve been able to have a career, in spite of the fact that I always stay true to myself. Which is pretty good, I think! When I try to be someone else, it has to be on my own terms, because otherwise something within me stops me from doing it.

My Morning Cup of Tea
I go to bed every night looking forward to the morning, because then I’ll get to drink tea. And it’s not the caffeine or the kick, it’s the smell of English breakfast tea that makes me so excited. I love that smell in the morning. The smell of tea makes me crazy. It’s weird, I don’t know why, but it makes me look forward to life. Maybe I’m addicted. I mean, if I have an addiction, that’s the one. Because I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I’ve never done drugs, I don’t like cookies and I don’t eat chocolate ever, because I’m allergic. So tea is the only thing. And it’s the thing I cherish the most.

The very early morning is the best time for me to write, and that’s when I’ll have my first cup of tea. I’m not a night person and I cannot create anything at night, but my mind is so clear when I wake up and I’m very creative at that time of the day. I love to wake up at six, while it’s quiet and people are still asleep, and watch the sunrise. I like peace. Peace and tea.

I don’t like green tea, I only like black tea. Morning tea. And it’s a routine. I do it every morning. I drink at least two cups, sometimes three. I stop at four, because then I know I’m going to be hyper, so I don’t overdo it. Two cups of tea is not very much, but I really savor them, taking my time to drink and enjoying every second of it.

Watching Movies with My Husband and Son
I love films and what I really love to do is cuddle up with my husband and my son in bed or on the couch and watch a good movie. It’s one of my dear pleasures in life. We’ll start the film on the early side, around 8 p.m., but usually my husband’s asleep after 10 minutes, so it’s left to my son and I to watch the film till the end. My husband falls asleep much more easily than me; if I watch a movie, I can’t sleep. I have to watch it to the end.

Recently, I’ve really enjoyed showing films I love to my kid. That’s very special because, first of all, I’m getting to rewatch brilliant films that I haven’t seen for a while, and then I also get to see how intelligent my son is. When we watched Amadeus, he pointed out all the little brilliant details of the film to me and I thought, “Oh shit, my son is really smart and he really notices things. We also watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (we love Milos Forman) and there’s a moment in that film where Jack Nicholson’s character is trying to decide if he’s going to leave the institution or not. The camera actually stays on him and it’s a three-minute shot where nothing happens, where he doesn’t talk. My son said, “Mommy, you actually see him making a decision on screen and it feels like we’re there with him.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what good cinema is about, right?” I was so proud, because my son gets it.

He’s a funny kid because I’ve got him used to watching movies by directors like Hitchcock, so if he watches a movie that’s overedited or has no story, he’s not interested. He wants to watch North by Northwest again, rather than see a bad movie. I like to see a bad movie once in a while, but he’s more of a purist than I am. He will say, “No, it’s shit, Mom. I can’t watch it.” I love that.

My decision to do The Lesson was actually linked to my son and I watching movies together, because we were watching a lot of film noir, movies by directors like Jacques Tourneur and Sam Fuller, and that made me think, “I miss film noir. There are no more film noirs.” So when I read the script for The Lesson, I thought, “Oh, this is kind of a film noir. This is exciting!”

Featured image, showing Julie Delpy with Daryl McCormack in The Lesson, courtesy Bleecker Street.

Actress, screenwriter and director Julie Delpy is currently starring opposite Richard E. Grant and Daryl McCormack in the new thriller The Lesson, in theaters from July 7. In 2012, Delpy wrote, directed and starred in 2 Days in New York starring Chris Rock and herself, a follow up to her critically acclaimed 2007 film, 2 Days in Paris. As a writer, Delpy’s co-wrote Before Sunset and Before Midnight which landed her two Oscar nominations and multiple wins for best screenplay. Before Midnight has earned Julie a Golden Globe and Spirit award nomination for best actress. Since the age of 14, Delpy has worked with some of the world’s most esteemed directors, including Jean-Luc Godard for Detective, Agneiszka Holland for Europa Europa, Krzysztof Kieslowski for the trilogy Trois Couleurs, and Jim Jarmusch for Broken Flowers. In 2009 Delpy presented The Countess at the Berlinale, which Delpy wrote and directed. She won the director’s prize at San Sebastian film festival for her film Skylab in 2011. Lolo, a French comedy blockbuster was presented at TIFF in 2016, so was her feature My Zoe in 2019. In 2021, Delpy presented the series On The Verge on Canal+ and Netflix.