Almost two years ago, I walked into our conference room here at the Voice, and was startled to see Manu standing there.
If you’re as much a Julie Delpy fan as I am and couldn’t get enough of her directorial debut, 2007’s 2 Days in Paris, you might understand my thrill. “Manu” — goofball, womanizer, says anything that pops into his head — was one of the many little delights of the film, and here he was in our building, in the flesh. Or at least, it was Alex Nahon, the actor who played him.
Delpy and company were in New York to film scenes for her sequel, 2 Days in New York, and they’d asked to film a couple of them in our offices.
In the first film, Delpy played a photographer who is somewhat based on herself — her parents play her parents, and scenes were filmed in their own Paris flat. Her boyfriend in that movie was played by Delpy’s actual boyfriend at the time, Adam Goldberg.
For the sequel, she asked Chris Rock to play her New York boyfriend. The setup was that they’d met while both working at the Voice — so they needed to film a flashback scene in our office. (It involves Delpy giving a monologue about blowjobs and incontinence. I got to see her partially ad lib it about thirty times while Chris Rock tried to keep a straight face. It was something.)
While they were here, they also wanted to transform a small room into a JFK customs office. (Hey, indie productions need to save money any way they can.)
In that scene, Delpy’s father and her old friend Manu have been arrested for trying to smuggle fine French sausages and cheeses into this backward country. Playing off Midnight Express, Delpy’s dad, Albert, had sausages strapped to his belly.
“It was a lot of fun, that scene. I co-wrote it with Julie. I had the idea that I would have some goose grease in my pants, and it would be the last thing I was trying to keep from the customs agent,” Nahon said Monday, as he made his first trip back to the Voice offices since that day of filming in 2010.
He was in town for last night’s premiere of the movie, which he has a writing credit on along with reprising his role as Manu — this time set loose on the streets of New York. (We earlier profiled Delpy and reviewed the movie itself.)
Nahon and Delpy are longtime friends, and he’d directed a couple of short films she appeared in when they ran into each other in New York in 2006, he says. “We were talking about movies while we were in Central Park. She said she was trying to write her first movie, and she had an idea for a character for me. I thought she was full of shit and making fun of me. I told her I’d do it, but I didn’t think it was real. Four weeks later, I got the script and read the Manu character.”
So he flew back to France to play a caricature of himself. “I was already living in America and I had decided to stay. So I had a certain vision of what a Parisian was — I was already not Manu anymore,” he says.
“Then the movie did well. I got noticed. Well, at least by my family,” he says with a laugh.
Three years ago, Nahon and Delpy ran into each other again, this time in LA. She told him she was having trouble writing the sequel. He showed her what he’d been writing — an adaptation of the 1956 David Goodis novel Down There.
It’s the same book that François Truffaut turned into his 1960 film, Shoot the Piano Player, and it’s part of the reason Nahon is now an American resident. “That’s part of why I moved to New York — to hunt down and buy the rights to that book.” (Nahon says he’s signed a deal with Bleiberg Entertainment to produce his adaptation, with shooting starting “soon.”)
After he showed his script to Delpy, she asked him to help out with the writing on 2 Days in New York.
“I told her I wanted Manu to come back,” he says.
And he does. Only, this time, instead of making you cringe with boasts of his sexual prowess, he’s telling Chris Rock how lucky he is to be a black man.
“Manu tells him that he would be a great black man,” Nahon says with a laugh. “Well, it’s true that French people — at least Parisians — really love African-American culture. Particularly us Jews. We were liberated by Americans, blacks among them. They came with blue jeans, chewing gum, and jazz. The music stuck to Paris.”
I told Nahon that if it was good to see Manu again, I was disappointed that his exit happens off-screen. But he didn’t really have any control over that — it’s Delpy’s film. He’ll get to do things his own way when he directs his own movie, which is something he’s wanted his whole life, he says.
“When I was a little kid, my parents brought me to see Superman, with Christopher Reeve. I told my parents that I cannot fly so I can’t be Superman, but I can be Clark Kent. I can be a guy walking down the street normally, but under my clothes I’ll have my Superman costume,” he says. “So they bought me a Superman costume. I wore it under my school clothes for three days. Nobody knew it. They were the best three days of my life.
“But then, at the end of the third day, one of my friends spotted the cape under my clothes. He pulled it out and humiliated me. OK, so I can’t be Superman or Clark Kent, then I’ll be the guy who directed the film. I figured this out, and I was only six or seven,” he says.
2 Days in New York, directed by Julie Delpy (Magnolia Pictures): Opens August 10 at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza
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