Julie Delpy’s sixth feature as a director, the dark comedy Lolo, tackles the problem of dealing with sociopathic offspring. Delpy plays Violette, a woman who works in fashion and becomes unexpectedly smitten with a man in the computer-programming business, Jean-René (Dany Boon), whom she meets on vacation. When their relationship becomes more than a holiday fling, Jean-René meets Violette’s 19-year-old son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste). The moment we first see Lolo there, it’s impossible to ignore the sadistic nature in his eyes. We soon witness both his sad dependence on his mother’s affection and the sociopathic forms that dependence takes as he embarks on pranks against Jean-René in an effort to tear him away from his mother — pranks that turn exceedingly perverse and destructive.
We spoke with Delpy about what inspired the sadistic Lolo, how her own son is a charming bunny, and how to detect a sociopath.
Lolo, he’s an interesting guy. What inspired you to create such a character?
I wanted to talk about different things — a single mom dealing with her teenage son. Also a woman who is a victim of a sociopath without knowing it because often people don’t know they are til it’s too late [Laughs], until they’re closed in. It’s a combination of things, I wanted to create all those characters and then the very genuine new boyfriend who could bring so much happiness to this woman’s life. I just like the dark-comedy vibe to it. In a way, he’s inspired by some of those movies like Bad Seed or Children of the Damned, where your own enemy is your own flesh and blood. There’s nothing worse. Because what do you do when your only child is bringing you so much sorrow? Either you’re in denial or you acknowledge it and it’s a very painful thing. I’ve seen friends dealing with teenage kids, it’s the most painful thing for parents.
For parents, too, they always take the blame. I’m wondering what you think of this idea of fostering craziness. Your character, how do you think she ended up raising such a sociopath? Or do you think her parenting had little to do with it?
That’s the question that you always ask as a parent. How do you raise children in a way that they’re happy and functioning? And obviously you don’t want children being depressed. You don’t want children being unhappy. You don’t want children being sociopaths. What did she do wrong? I don’t think she did something specifically wrong. I think for Lolo, he started off with a little bit of a lack of empathy as a child, which might have been from birth. I sadly believe that some people are born less kind than others [Laughs]. And then I think that whatever she did, nothing wrong, but she let him step all over her all the time, which is probably the worst thing she could do. You need authority of some kind and it wasn’t there to stop him. So, you eventually turn into a monster. I definitely know a few sociopaths, a few narcissists, and I really know their functioning. Sometimes it makes me laugh because I’m a person who doesn’t see through that stuff often. But now I’m starting to see through their shit game and it’s really funny. If you think about it, it’s hilarious. Once you actually see who they are, it’s almost ridiculous.
And that’s a great power to have, to be able to detect that. Your character ends up a victim to her son’s behavior.
It’s a vicious circle. She’s becoming more insecure and then it doesn’t work out with this man and this man and this man. Even ’til the end, he’s so sociopathic that when she says, “It’s because of you that they all left,” he says, “No, no, no. It’s because you’re a pain in the ass.” [Laughs.] He doesn’t stop. He can’t stop destroying her. It’s a vicious energy and some people have that in them. And it’s really scary. I thank all the world that my son is the opposite of Lolo. He has more empathy than anyone I know. When he sees someone crying, he cries. But I can imagine if you end up with a child who is completely devoid of emotions for others, they don’t see the pain that they’re causing, that must be terrible. You see a tiny bit of a window of that in a lot of teenagers. It’s like a weird stage where you have to be very careful. I have friends who are like, “My son is 15 and is locked in his bedroom and I have no idea who this person is.”
So, it’s this fragile molding period where if you’re a psychopath, that’s when it gets cemented in who you are.
I think it’s by stages. When you’re very little, you kill a few animals, when you’re three or four, and then you start liking it. I’ve studied serial killers a little bit and it doesn’t go that far, sociopaths and narcissists are not that bad. They want to stain society and they’ll push people to kill themselves and I know many people that have done that, but they will never kill them. It’s much more complex than that. It’s pretty interesting, the people who push you to destroy your life. It’s quite fascinating and I like making it funny.
This is reminding me of how, when the cult leader Jim Jones was a kid, he would round up the kids in the neighborhood and controlled people at such a young age. As a mother, or when you talk to other mothers, is there a fear that you can’t help how your kid is going to turn out?
I remember talking to friends that said, “It’s weird, our kid is so mean and we’ve done nothing wrong.” But actually, I have a friend who is the sweetest person in the world, but as a kid she was a monster. And she evolved to be a really nice girl. So, you never know what you’re going to get. Eventually people change. That’s the thing. Right now, my son, he’s like a bunny. He’s the sweetest little loving creature on the planet. I hope he stays like that and I’m sure he will stay like that. For Lolo, somehow something didn’t work for him and he needed all the attention from his mom, so he started pushing other people away. He wanted love for himself only.
For your character’s love interest, Jean-René, what was it about that character that made him the perfect person to break that destructive cycle with Lolo?
I wanted him to be the purest guy, the nicest guy. The guy that seems like he is going to be the easiest to break because he’s pure and kind and nice and loving and true and genuine. So, Lolo is thinking, oh, he’s just a dumb guy, that’s going to be easy to destroy. But I’m a bit of a romantic, so in my idea, in the end, the fact that he is pure and genuine and passionate for this woman makes him stronger than this little creature that’s facing him. I truly believe, in the end, the sociopaths lose because love and being genuine and true and caring is stronger in the end than a complete scumbag. It’s funny that I made the kid the bad guy because, in my real life, the kid is the good guy. But I wanted someone close to her. It could have been an ex-husband, a friend, or a co-worker, but I made it the son to make it even more difficult for her to see how bad it was.
When you’re coming up with all the maniacal things Lolo is doing, and the way it accelerates, how did you want to balance the humor with the horror?
The film is a farce, so it has to be pretty far and it has to speed up and it has to get worse and worse. At first he’s doing silly little stuff, like trying to make her doubt herself, or make him think he has venereal disease because she’s scared of that. He uses her insecurity and slowly he knows he’s going to have to attack him. Then you do the worst thing you can do to a computer nerd, destroy the thing he created, his program. I actually gave the screenplay to a few computer people. When they read it, they went nuts, they wanted to kill Lolo. [Laughs.] It’s the worst thing you can do to a computer programmer. They’re like, “It’s worse than death!” It goes very far and I had fun going there because, at the same time, it’s like a bad kid. He puts itchy powder on his clothes. Who would think, at 20 years old, to put itchy powder in someone’s clothes? Unless you’re a mischievous involved person. He never grew past the stage of feeding off his mother. He’s still eating the eggs, which are obviously a Freudian, funny, reference. Still hanging on to his mommy’s tits.