Julie Delpy’s first TV drama, “On the Verge,” is one of the rare shows that managed to shoot in Los Angeles between the first and second waves of the pandemic.
Produced by The Film TV for France’s Canal Plus and Netflix, the 12-episode series endured a three-month delay and then filmed from late August until Thanksgiving.
COVID-safe protocols cost approximately $2 million but proved effective: There wasn’t a single coronavirus case during production. In addition to creator and co-director Delpy, the series — set to debut next fall — stars Elisabeth Shue, Sarah Jones and Giovanni Ribisi.
Congrats on pulling off this shoot under very unique circumstances! How did the pandemic impact the casting process and production?
We did 90% of the casting on Zoom. It was a bit complicated to feel the chemistry between two actors on Zoom, or even get a sense of their height, but thankfully, it all worked out. The real issue was that I couldn’t cast actors who weren’t in California, because of travel restrictions. We even had an actor from New York who couldn’t travel to L.A. for the shoot.
Ultimately, we managed because a lot of actors here in L.A. were available — so many people were stuck without work during the pandemic — but we didn’t have any cameos [because] people didn’t want to risk coming on set. During filming, everyone was getting tested twice a week. It was very strict. No one was allowed on set unless they had been tested negative. All those constraints created a very warm atmosphere because we felt safe; we were in our own little bubble.
Why did you choose to make your TV debut with “On The Verge”?
I wanted to tell the story of these women who had children pretty late in life, who used to have more freedom and discovered maternity at 38 rather than at 25. All but one have 12 year-old boys! I wanted to talk about how women who have children navigate their lives, and how they juggle their personal and professional lives. One of them quit her career to take care of her sick child; one has a bit of family money; one had three kids with three different fathers; another one is working like crazy. They’re all separated, or in different stages of separation; it’s all very real.
Who is your character?
I’m playing a French chef. I’ve always wondered what I’d do if I wasn’t a filmmaker, and it’s true that one of the two things that I love the most in the world is cooking. I like to cook for hours. I’ve always been fascinated by chefs because they are very creative. I also realize when I prepare dishes with my son that cooking is a mark of love. In the series, I’m married to Mathieu Demy and we have a rocky relationship.
Why is motherhood such an important theme in your work?
I feel that feminism hasn’t succeeded in integrating the concept of motherhood. Especially in America, a lot of women have had to choose between motherhood and their careers. It’s not easy as a woman to continue working with kids here. It’s simpler for French woman to keep their careers because they have access to a vast support system. There’s always some guilt attached to motherhood; you always wonder, ‘Am I a good or bad mother?’ In the series, my character hasn’t sacrificed her career, but her husband makes her feel guilty constantly. Besides motherhood, “On The Verge” is also about education, religion, race and politics.
What’s the tone of the series?
Some episodes have a lot of comedy, even slapstick comedy, and other episodes are more emotional and focused on the characters. It’s interesting to build a rich canvas and explore many different things over 12 episodes rather than 90 minutes. Each episode is more or less about a character and the perspective is shifted.
In what ways do you think “On The Verge” will stand out from other female-centric shows out there?
I think that seeing an ensemble cast of middle-aged women who have things to say, are having fun, working hard and reinventing themselves, is rare. We’re not done with life at 50, that’s what I want to tell people in Hollywood, France and everywhere. One of the biggest taboos in Hollywood today is ageism. Many women who are 50 are the money-makers of their households, like my character in “On The Verge.” Many younger women working on the show said they were inspired to see all these great 50-something characters on screen. When you’re 25, it’s reassuring to know that in 20 years you won’t be sidelined.
Did you adapt the script to include the pandemic?
I started writing the series way before the start of the pandemic but I did weave it into some of the storyline. I didn’t want it to play a big part or serve as backdrop in the show because I had no idea what was going to happen, or how long it was going to last. We get a sense towards the end of the show that something is happening but we don’t understand that it’s an actual pandemic. That’s why the title of the show has a double meaning: the world is on the verge of something.
How has the pandemic impacted you on a personal level?
The pandemic has put things in perspective for sure. What’s quite funny is that, before this, we had very different problems. I was wondering what furniture to buy for the backyard…and all of a sudden everything falls apart and you’re like, ‘Have you thought of buying toilet paper or stocking up on groceries?’ I still have a pantry packed with cans of beans; it’s enough to survive on for a while. Other than that, Los Angeles is a city where we are naturally isolated and, during lockdown, it feels even more isolated. The hardest is for kids who can’t go to school. But I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of quality time with my son, homeschooling, cooking and watching movies together. It brought us closer than ever.