Born Jacques Desrayaud in Lyon, France in 1929 to a family of Lyons industrialists. At the age of 19 he went to Paris to study drama under René Simon. Deray played in minor roles on the stage and in films from the age of 19. From 1952, Deray worked as assistant to a number of Directors, including Luis Buñuel, Gilles Grangier, Jules Dassin, and Jean Boyer.
Deray's first film was the drama Le Gigolo released in 1960. Deray was fascinated by American film noir and began to focus on crime stories. Deray's early work includes Du rififi à Tokyo, an homage to Jules Dassin's Rififi. Deray's reputation was established with the 1969 film La Piscine which starred Romy Schneider and Alain Delon. La Piscine was not distributed widely outside France, but the follow-up gave Deray his biggest international hit with Borsalino, a film starring Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo about two small-time Gangsters who murder their way to the top in bustling 1930s Marseilles.
Deray became dedicated to the genre that won him favor with audiences and continued to make thrillers, action films, and spy films throughout the rest of his career adapting works of both French and English authors including Georges Simenon, Jean-Patrick Manchette, and Robin Cook. Deray's last theatrical release was L'Ours en peluche in 1994. Deray worked professionally in television until his death in 2003. On his death, French President Jacques Chirac praised Deray, noting his "innate sense of storytelling and action" and adding that "France has lost one of its most talented filmmakers."