All these years later, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are reprising “Before Sunrise”‘s star-crossed lovers for a third go-round. Katie Crocker caught up with the thesps to discuss the highly-anticipated third chapter in Richard Linklater’s popular saga.
One of the interesting things about this trilogy is the long monologues and dialogues. In “Before Midnight,” one of the opening scenes in the car, is fourteen minutes, and then you’re tossing in two children in the back. When you’re constructing this are you cognizant that this is going to be shot in one take? What challenges does this create for you as writers and as performers and, you Richard, as a director?
Delpy: Just you mentioning that scene gives me a flashback of anxiety… my heart, the beats are going slightly faster.
Linklater: Glad you mentioned the children because they’re the unsung heroes of that scene because they’re not asleep, they’re acting. Here are two little girls, and I have twins roughly that age and there’s no way. In the middle of that take, how could do they not open their eyes and look at the camera? So many things could’ve gone wrong.
Delpy: There’s the girls, it’s a car driving on a road, lights are everywhere, we’re acting like-
Hawke: It’s hot, incredibly hot.
Delpy: It’s hot. It’s a whole combination of things and then on top of it, we do have to act those thirteen or fourteen minutes. Nothing in those scenes are improvised, I just want to say, right up front, everything is scripted, and there’s not any other way with those long takes. If you want to have this kind of arc development in the scene with this exact thing happening here and this exact thing happening there and ending with that, this scene sets up the whole movie, you can’t add one line. Basically, it’s such a challenge that I can’t explain, it hurts my head just thinking about it.
Linkalater: I mean, I know what these guys can do as performers. We’ve worked together a lot over the years. I wouldn’t try that with most actors but with them I know they can do it. So, it means a lot of hard work but I know we’ll get there. And it was just important at the very beginning of the film for people who feel like they know Jesse and Celine to some degree to just be dropped in with them, the reality of that lengthy take with no editing, no telling you who to look at, no emphasis, just Jesse and Celine and to feel like you’re hanging out with them. That was just the vibe that the film needed right off the bat.
Delpy: I think what Richard does, in that scene, to me, which I very much respect, is to actually push us to get to that one take. By not using that typical tricks of filmmaking, which is you know, cut, close-up, medium shot, you break the language of typical filmmaking and in a way you feel like you’re witnessing something that is not a film. It makes you feel very real. It’s the goal that he wants to achieve. We’re given that, it’s hard work but it’s such a wonderful thing to be able to do as actors.
Julie, what do you relate to most about Celine and where she is now and what part of the emotional story resonates most for you?
Delpy: About Celine, I really wanted to make sure that she was a strong woman, [and] she’s looking towards the future. She’s not someone who dwells in the past, and she’s a very active person. She can seem at times, you know she’s very vindictive, she’s not going to let someone tell her what to do or how it should be done. She also believes that if they do move to Chicago, it will destroy their relationship; it’s not just about the work. She’s very convinced of that. She’s probably, and I mean, I think she’s right. To me it was very important that she’s not the wife of the writer, that she’s her own person. That’s very important for me to depict that character, and it’s the same for Ethan and Richard to not depict ‘the wife,’ because then it’s out of balance. Then it’s a film about a guy who has a nice French girlfriend. It’s very important to make sure it is balanced, female and male. That it’s not a macho movie or a feminist movie without meaning or anything, it’s very balanced in that sense and that’s our goal, actually, to make sure when we write this that it’s neither macho nor feminist or man hating. She doesn’t hate men.
Celine really is one of the most honest women in modern cinema in terms of truthfulness in how she’s grown, developed and aged. Have you reflected on that on at all, that there isn’t a lot of women like Celine in cinema?
Delpy: That’s always been an issue since I was very young in movies and I’ve seen complex women and I remember in some plays, very few, usually it’s just very one dimension and two dimensions is a miracle. It’s really hard to find characters that are written in a way that is truthful, dimensional. I mean, she’s not good, she’s not bad, she can be a bitch, and she can be adorable. You have that in male characters a lot, extremely complex, extremely conflicted characters. I mean there have been characters like that, for example in the seventies and sixties, it was wonderful and then it kind of died in the eighties. The woman became one dimensional again and something happened, I don’t know what it is. For me it’s essential, and it’s for us too, because we really work together, it’s not me just writing Celine, we all write for each other. But yaou know basically to make sure the characters are really multi-dimensional and really real and not some cardboard cut-out of a fantasy or something like that. I would never let that happen anyway with me in that room, and they wouldn’t let me do that anyway.
Linklater: These films are so balanced, Ethan and I put our feminine side forward and Julie puts her masculine side forward. I don’t think any of us has ever felt like it was stacked against us. I think we’re all supporting each of these characters in who they are and what they’re trying to do.
If we were to revisit her in the 50’s, where would she be?
Delpy: Well, we don’t know yet. We actually don’t think about the future, that’s how we kind of operate.
Hawke: We’re so happy to be done with the third film-
Delpy: Yeah, I know- (laughs)
Hawke: It’s so much work-
Delpy: Yeah, that could be it.
Linklater: If it ends up a trilogy, we never planned it in the first place; I think we’re fine with it. But it’s impossible for us to know anything until some years go by.
Over the years of these films, how has this changed you as performers and Julie, with your own films with directing, from the first film to the second one, becoming writers-
Hawke: I like to say that I learned how to speak on camera on “Before Sunrise.” As a young actor you get asked to pose or effect an emotion. Richard wanted Julie and I to gab, to talk and be present in front of the camera, to not act. This adventure in not acting started then and it’s just grown-
Delpy: I was just thinking about that, because it’s really hard actually. You’re really rarely asked to do that as actors, maybe once, do that in a film to have a big monologue telling a story. You might have it once every ten films but usually it’s one word, [here] one word [there] but here we have big chunks and how did you do that without sounding boring? It can sound really boring if we aren’t super duper natural at saying it, like we’re really telling a story to someone we care for. So, that’s the real challenge of the films. That’s been the challenge as actors every time. And as writers, I mean, we worked on the screenplay of the first film, but it was really learning how to talk on camera without being boring. I mean I’ve experienced it on other films and it’s really, really hard. So, it’s finding the right tone to do it.
Linklater: I don’t know if we’ve evolved that much, I mean, I think the way we work-
Delpy: We have. (laughs)
Linklater: The way we work on this film is very similar, there’s a dynamic t o us, we’re a band that’s still performing in a very similar manner. We’re the Ramones or something.
Hawke: The lyrics change but-
Linklater: But we’re the same, the same way we sat in Vienna, I don’t know, nineteen years ago almost, the way we push each other and pull out-
Hawke: We’re a little less impressed with one another-
Linklater: We were getting to know each other then but the result is the same, the way we work together.
One of the many things I loved about the film is how raw emotionally we get to see these characters , especially in the hotel scene-
Delpy: Richard was crying all the time. What’s funny to me is that when you do the scenes that are emotional, I mean I feel it’s pleasurable for an actor, to cry, to suffer, it’s a pleasant thing. That’s what we train for, we train to do it. When you someone on camera crying and being hurt, they’re actually enjoying it (laughs). Actually, what’s more painful is the simple things, that’s the hardest thing to find as an actor. Believe it or not, the walk in that beautiful village that we were is actually more draining as an actor. Obviously, it is draining as an actor to do scenes where you’re emotional but there’s a certain pleasure to it, I can’t explain or maybe I’m weird, I don’t know.
Hawke: No, I know exactly what you mean.
Linklater: It’s funny too, there’s a comedic edge to it, and not that Jessie and Celine think it’s funny but as writers-
Hawke: We dove into it; we were locked in that room for a long time and came out with a scene. We were also very [aware] that the whole film had been building to that. We filmed that part in sequence. So, for us, was it challenging? Yes, but we were so glad to be there, we had arrived for what we had been working on for nine years to get to.
Being in a creative relationship like this for so many years, what have you learned?
Hawke: I’ve learned that I’m not as smart as Julie.
Delpy: That’s true.
Linklater: We both learned that. We knew that right off the bat.
Is there anything that’s surprised you?
Linklater: In our creative relationship? Yeah, that’s the surprise-
Hawke: That’s the biggest shock that eighteen years after Julie and I auditioned for Rick for “Before Sunrise,” you know, this little romance, the idea that we would have this lifelong collaboration and that we would’ve poured so much of ourselves into it. I mean, that’s the thing, that’s the surprise.
Delpy: It’s very fulfilling.
Hawke: The fact that we get to do this and that somebody’s interested. I mean, that’s the surprise.
Delpy: What’s a surprise to me is that we do this film and we really work hard on the writing and everything, the directing, acting and stuff. I mean some people won’t like and then some people will really like it and it’s a strange feeling because we aren’t trying to please anybody when we do the films. We’re really just trying to be as true as possible. This is not a publicity trick or-
Hawke: Yeah, where you’re trying to be funny, you’re trying to be dramatic, this is something else-
Delpy: Like this last film especially, writing it, it’s just that you go so deep into certain things in writing and even emotionally and when I say we’re having fun doing the end scene we’re having fun but it’s also kind of like moving a lot of things within us. It’s not as simple as having fun, it’s also complicated, those emotions because we’ve all been through those emotions in a relationship and it’s not a fun thing to go through. So, we know how heavy it is and stuff. We just try to be as genuine, as honest as possible. What’s amazing is that people relate. In a way I feel like no one’s going to be interested in this and this and that, sometimes you have doubts, so sometimes it feels like such a deep emotion that people will be like ‘oh my god, I want to see happy people,’ . But, in the end some people can relate, which I guess that is what cinema is about, for people to identify and- right?
Linklater: We have some ideal audience in mind, believe it or not. I mean the second film we felt no one wanted. We made the first film and no one ever asked ‘is there going to be another film’. That wasn’t a logical question. When we were making the second film in Paris, every day we looked at one another and said, ‘How are we getting to do this, this is amazing,’ that we get to make this very personal film that no one even really cares about, except three people. You’re in a good spot, if you can ever make a film like that. The way that one ended, there has been this kind of build-up. We’ve all gotten questions over the last nine years like ‘oh, Jessie and Celine, together?’ We stubbornly rebelled against that in our minds but once we let that go and that there were even three people out there that cared about them and just kind of dug into ourselves and concentrated on that. We do have this small audience in mind when we get to cross-roads and think, well, if story telling language says if this plus this equals an unlikeable character, we just don’t do it. We think, well, that’s a construct, that’s not really real, it’s just the narrative, storytelling bubble that so much exists in. We go, maybe our audience might appreciate that we go there on this subject because we haven’t built an artificial thing that can’t support that. We can support a lot of brutal honesty, we hope.
Hawke: The structure of “Before Sunset” would be thrown out of any decent screenplay class in America. A thirty minute scene in one room, you can’t do that.
Delpy: It’s built like a film within a film.
The dinner scene felt just as intimate as some of the other conversations-
Linklater: That was necessary for the movie, to see their social selves, to see them interact with other people. The previous two films were these kinds of bubbles and to themselves. So, that was purposefully designed for the movie and the subject of that is romance at different ages or does it endure. So, that’s kind of what that scenes about. It was really fun for us to pull in other people, dinner scenes are tough, they’re often boring, they’re hard to shoot, everything about a dinner scene is challenging. It was fun to bring that really wonderful group of people into our process. Everyone one of them is very unique. Actually one of them I’ve known longer than Julie and Ethan, the woman who’s roughly their age, she’s a filmmaker and actually ended up as one of our co-producers. She’s a Greek filmmaker.
I know location is an important aspect for each film, could you tell me how that came into play for this film?
Linklater: It ends up being very impactful to the story. It’s a major character, it’s the third lead character in the movie and it has been for all of them. It comes pretty late in our process, we really just think about the character and their relationship and then the location. The location for this one in particular came pretty late, but once we’re there, we did most of our writing in Greece. We visited locations, we met the actors that we were going to be working with and it infused itself into everything.
Delpy: I would make a reference to Medea, it’s because we were there.
Linklater: That’s kind of one of the joys of doing this is that we really get to know a place and incorporate all of that, even the Greek situation at the moment, you know. We didn’t want to be the film that tells Greece anything about itself but we did capture a moment, with Celine’s paranoia about the situation there, thinking a revolution is imminent.
What made you cast these two in the roles of Jessie and Celine in the beginning? And Ethan and Julie, what did you see in yourselves for these roles?
Linklater: That’s a good question; it’s our origin story, I guess, for all of us. I mean it was conventional, there was a script and I was going through a casting process. I remember I met Julie very early, she was the second actor I met on the film and Ethan, I saw in a play in New York and we talked after. The bar for what I was looking for was so high, because I knew what they would have to do, to make this film work. So, I was looking for the two most creative, inspiring people I could find. It was getting two actors who were up for that challenge to try and make this film work.
Hawke: We had other actors I remember, and seeing how they looked together.
Linklater: We had other actors and were mixing, matching and doing scenes a little bit. I remember-
Delpy: I auditioned with another guy and you [Hawke] auditioned with another girl. How was it?
Hawke: On my darkest days, I think about that (laughs).
Delpy: Would you have liked her better?
Hawke: That’s a trick question. There was a funny thing that I just remembered though. There was a day early in the development of “Before Sunrise” where Rick told us that we would get to choose our character’s names. I’ve never done that and now it’s been this long thing of what should the character be named-
Delpy: I remember that, yeah.
Hawke: It’s a funny ownership you get to have of your own character. Now, having more experience in film, I can’t believe that Rick asked us to be a part of that. These two young people, to ask us to- It’s such a dangerous thing to do. It’s such a difficult thing to do.
Delpy: What if we had terrible, bad ideas, what would you have done?
Linklater: There were a lot of those (laughs).
Many of those arguments are so familiar to anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship; do you learn anything from these characters as you’re acting it?
Hawke: It’s so nice to have time to come up with the right response-
Delpy: This is the ideal argument. We get to write it for eight weeks, we get to revisit it, rehearse it-
Linklater: Yeah, all those things you wish you would say-
Delpy: In real life, I don’t think I’m that good. I can never come up with the right- Actually I don’t argue very much so it was a real stretch for me too.
Hawke: Julie’s so non-combative that- (laughs) it’s a real stretch for her.