Goldberg is a writer, director and actor who chooses his projects based on his own passion. Now he teams up with ex-girlfriend Julie Delpy taking on a character who seems like the proverbial ugly American, in the new romantic comedy/drama 2 Days in Paris. Goldberg sat down with Paul Fischer to talk candidly about Hollywood, Paris, acting and filmmaking.
Question: If you look at your career, you’re the kind of guy who plays it safe all the time.
Goldberg: Yeah. I mean, I guess I never really felt I had anything to lose, exactly. I still don’t really feel that way.
Question: Where does that come from?
Goldberg: I don’t know, because I guess I sort of feel like, I mean, this whole idea of needing to express yourself is sort of neurotic, I suppose, in a way, in and of itself. I mean, needing to express yourself in this public fashion is a bit of a neurotic impulse to begin with, so I feel like, as long as you’re going to do that and kind of lay yourself bare anyway, and put yourself on camera and write things and expose your personal ideologies, why do it in this sort of half-assed manner?
Question: Having directed yourself and (words?)… Is that the reason you were drawn to Julia’s script?
Goldberg: Well, as it was, when we started there wasn’t a script, so it was just this idea about this couple going to Paris, and everything going wrong, and meeting her ex-boyfriends and meeting her parents. So that’s really all there was to it, and so one of the appeals was to get in on the ground floor of this thing and be part of the development process. And particularly because of movies that I had made, that I had written, were much more introspective. As a filmmaker, I sort of like cutting the dialogue and showing things, and dealing more with feeling space and that kind of thing, so I relished the opportunity to be able to exercise the more verbal part of myself.
Question: This guy’s a gregarious, loud American. Is he stereotypical or is he typical of the American tourist?
Goldberg: I don’t know. I kind of beg to differ only because I feel like, I think one feels a need… In other words, there are certain things about the movie that are familiar. Meeting the parents, cultural differences, and all this kind of thing. But I think that what’s interesting about it is that it uses that as a jumping off point to deal with I think two fairly nuanced characters, and whether I not I deliver that as a performance is complete subject to people’s…
Question: I think you do.
Goldberg: But I guess what I mean is that I think this is a guy who really badly doesn’t want to be an ugly American. I think that that’s the thing of it is, is that here’s a guy who’s trying really hard to assimilate, who’s sort of quote / unquote “hip” or trendy. It was the always idea, this was a trendy couple, smart and trendy and all that. Yes, there’s all this kind of neurotic things, neurotic trappings of being brought up in a urban atmosphere or whatever that we’re familiar with, but that he finds himself becoming increasingly ugly because of what he’s being exposed to about herself, what this place is bringing out in her. So ultimately it ends up being more about two people being a little bit – two people kind of goading each other in different ways, but the outcome is still the same, where they’re both being kind of ugly to each other.
Question: Does it culturally take sides, or do you feel it’s balanced in the French and American perspectives?
Goldberg: I think it’s certainly her perspective on these cultures, which I think are totally valid, because that’s her experience. She is a French woman who has lived in the States and does go back to Europe. So I feel like, in and of itself, that makes it authentic. Whether or not that’s going to ring true for everybody is a completely different story. I can be more specific, which is that she and I used to be in a relationship, so one of the things that came up oftentimes was she would say, “Oh, well, I’m just French, and that’s all there is to it.” In other words…
Question: Julie and you used to be in a relationship?
Goldberg: Oh, yeah. This is years ago. Oh, yeah. In fact, the first thing we ever did together was this pilot that I was producing about a couple who can’t get along and are very antagonistic relationship. So this idea of blaming your own background to me always seemed a bit like a copout, but then once I actually saw Julie not just playing this character, but actually saw Julie in her natural habitat, it became clear to me that how there really is something to be said about this nurture element to what makes a person who they are today.
Question: Was it strange to be working and doing love scenes with your ex-girlfriend?
Goldberg: Well, that’s just it, there’s no real love scenes, so it never got that weird. Because it’s all these unrequited sex scenes. So she made it easy on us.
Question: Talk about working with Julie the director and Julie the costar and how different or how challenging that was.
Goldberg: Not really challenging. It seemed like a very natural… I had always felt that she should be making movies. She had felt she should be making movies. I always liked the scripts that she had written, and I felt completely confident that the two of us would be able to at least bring this thing to life. Whether or not people like it, again, is obviously a matter of taste, but it just felt like a very organic thing. It was an extension of such a long gestation period of talking and working together and corresponding and all that before there was a finished product. So by the time I was there it was just an extension of our own living rooms, only a little more people around.
Question: Paris is obviously one of the stars of this movie, but what Julie avoids doing is spending too much time on Parisian tourist locations. How important a role did the city play in this?
Goldberg: Well, I think it plays an important role in that it’s unusual how it doesn’t take front and center, how it doesn’t paint the picture of Paris much in the same way as other American-in-Paris movies might, or even Parisian movies themselves might, because it ends up… The point, I think, of the movie, part – one of the points, really, is that there’s a dual metaphor working. You have, on the one hand, this cultural chasm between the two people that represents, I think the chasm between two people who can’t fully expose themselves to one another, who can’t truly who can’t truly be intimate with each other. On another level you could argue that our relationship on film is a metaphor for the political and cultural chasms between the United States and France, you know what I mean? So they both operate as representations of the other, and what begins to happen to Paris through this guy’s camera lens is that it starts to disintegrate, much in the same way that this over-romanticized, over-idealized French woman that he’s with begins to rear her head, to really show herself to be who she really is and that sort of thing. So in that regard I think Paris is used in a really interesting way. It’s not a postcard.
Question: How did you like to work in Paris?
Goldberg: Well, it was odd, it was strange, because I’d always thought this was, this was honestly a dream. I think I thought when I was a teenager, and in my twenties, that I would be some sort of ex-pat filmmaker working in Paris. I’m fairly sure that that’s where I thought I was going to end up.
Question: The starving artist working in Paris?
Goldberg: No, not starving, because I figured that that’s where they would understand me. I’m starving in America. I thought I would go to Paris and then finally I would feel at home and people would understand these movies that I was trying to make. But the actual reality of the day, and the day-to-dayness of it became, again, just much like in the movie, overly romanticized, I think partly because – and this is sort of shallow, but it’s amazing what a huge role it plays – it’s just the inability to be able to communicate is really major. I mean, I can’t speak a word of French, so it became sort of an alienating process. Plus just stupid stuff, like I’m not used to getting to work at ten and then breaking for lunch at eleven. You know what I mean? And I felt like if we had just shot straight through, we could have gotten this film done in two weeks. But between the bank holidays and these protracted lunch breaks, we ended up being there for four weeks.
Question: Do you plan on directing more now?
Goldberg: That’s always been the goal. It’s just that I don’t want to do it for the sheer sake of doing it, I want to do it when I feel like something – a movie has to be made. Again, whether or not somebody likes it or somebody gets it is a completely different issue, but I feel like so many movies are kind of unnecessarily made, and I don’t want to just… You know, I would rather, if I don’t have anything to say at that moment, just sit back and be a fan of movies.
Question: Are you planning on acting in anything? Do you have anything set to do?
Goldberg: Yeah, there’s about three movies right now that I’m sort of attached to do at some point in the next year, and I don’t know which is coming first or in what order.
Question: Are you creatively happy at this point in your life? Are you achieving what you thought you would have achieved by now?
Goldberg: Well, no, but I think that’s partly because, I think that, at least in my experience, I had such a specific, goal-oriented way of viewing my life. And I think I also thought once this was achieved, and this was checked off the list, then I would be happy. But I didn’t realize that I think that the struggle that comes with being somebody who is creative or feels that they need to express themselves is that that will never be sated. I mean, that’s something that is never going to go away.
It’s almost as though you can’t express yourself enough, so just because you’ve done this, or checked this thing off the list, then you have to – there’s something else that crops up that needs to be expressed or exercised or something. But now that I’ve resigned myself to that and stopped giving myself these arbitrary deadlines based on whatever, Orson Welles’ career or something like that, it’s been a lot easier to sit back and say that a certain amount of life is not something that you can control. I was very existentialist, a student of Sartre guy when I was a kid, like we create our free will – you know, free will creates our lives. I was not a fatalistic person, but as I get older I start to feel like there’s a certain amount of just allowing yourself to relinquish a certain amount of control, because otherwise… It’s very rare to be able to say, “I need to do this right now,” and then it happens. Very few people are lucky enough to have that happen in life, and I think once you let go of that a little bit, then you can genuinely be happy.
Question: I take it that working in Paris, the non-starving artist aspirations, living and working in Paris, is excised from your world?
Goldberg: Yeah, they are. It was interesting. It really did the trick to me. I was sort of sad about it on one level, because, again, I think we look for things that we idealize. Especially as younger people, we have these ideas, these notions of things. And so I think I thought, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can do this.” And I did this before. I mean, I moved to New York. Well, that didn’t work out. “Well, I’ll end up in Paris.” The answers are inside of ourselves, and this is the ugly truth that I think is difficult for any of us to face, which is this idea that we possess the answers, but we’re also our own worst enemies, and wherever we go, we’re still going to be there. So just because it’s Paris doesn’t mean that I wasn’t still there, with all my shortcomings. So I think that again, it becomes sort of a relief once you realize that it’s not some thing that you haven’t done, or some place you haven’t seen, or some cliff you haven’t climbed, necessarily. It’s something that you possess.