Richard Linklater has been on the independent film scene for decades, notable for such 90′s highlights as Slacker and Dazed and Confused. But as great as those films are, his trilogy of Before movies is his career triumph. It’s started with Before Sunrise, which followed what happened one night between an American traveler (Ethan Hawke) and a beautiful French woman Celine (Julie Delpy). The story picked up nine years later in Before Sunset, as the two came together after nearly a decade to talk about what that night meant for them. Nine years later, Richard Linklater and company bring us Before Midnight, which could be the concluding tale to this romantic trilogy.
When Before Sunrise was made it was set to simply be one film and that would be it. But over time the filmmaker and actors found themselves caught up in the world of Jesse and Celine a lot longer than they anticipated. The marriage of the filmmaker and actors (all three wrote the sequels together) and Linklater’s direction has worked perfectly throughout the years, and continues to do so again as we follow the couple in their 40s dealing with another set of problems tests the strength of their relationship. Hawke and Delpy have lived within these characters for so many years it only makes sense that we hear more about the inner workings of Jesse and Celine through them and the filmmaker Richard Linklater in our interview below.
What did you relate to the most about Celine and where she is now in her 40s? What aspect of her emotional story resonate to you the most?
Julie Delpy: About Celine, I really wanted to make sure that she was a strong woman, she’s looking towards the future, she’s not someone who dwells in the past, and she’s a very active person. She could seem at times very vindictive and 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, and she’s completely convinced of that. She’s probably, personally I think she’s right. I think she makes sense. To me it was very important that she’s not the wife of the writer. She’s her own person and that’s very important for me to depict that character as so. It’s the same for Richard and Ethan to make sure that it’s not just the wife, otherwise it’s out of balance. Then it’s a film about a guy who has a nice French girlfriend, French wife. It was very important to make sure it is balanced. That’s our goal actually, that when we write this it’s neither macho or feminist or man-hating. She doesn’t hate men. It’s like we find the right balance between the two.
Over the span of 18 years, how has the characters and the stories changed you guys as performers or actors?
Ethan Hawke: I’d like to say I learned how to speak on camera on Before Sunrise. As a young actor, you kind of get asked to pose or affect an emotion, but Richard wanted Julie and I to talk and to be present in front of the camera, to not act. This adventure in not-acting started then, and it’s–
Julie Delpy: I was thinking about that, because it’s really hard actually. You really are rarely asked to do that as actors, maybe once in a film, doing a big monologue to tell a story. You might have it once every 10 films, but usually it’s like dialogue, dialogue, one word, one word, but here it’s big chunks. You should see the script. It can sound really boring if we’re not super duper natural at saying it. It sounds like we’re telling the story to someone we care for, so that’s the real challenge of these films. That’s been the challenge of actors every time. As writers we worked on the screenplay of the first film, but it was really how to learn to really talk on camera without being boring, and that’s the hardest thing. To tell a story on camera without sounding boring is the hardest thing. I’ve experienced it on other films and it’s really, really hard. So it’s finding the right tone to do it.
Richard Linklater: I don’t know if we evolved that much. I think the way we work over these films is very similar to the dynamic between us. We’re a band whose still performing in a very similar manner. We’re the Ramones or something. The way we sat in Vienna, 19 years ago is the way we’re inter-dynamic. The way we push each other and pull out.
Did you ever feel like you were going too far or you had to stop and cry it out in between takes during the more pivotal scenes of the movie?
Richard Linklater: Your question about do we ever go too far, usually in the script phase we think we’ve gone too far, that’s usually in a spot we should explore. What people think is too far is usually not that far.
Julie Delpy: What’s funny is, to me, is when you drew those scenes that lean on emotions, I feel that actors– I mean it’s pleasurable for an actor to cry, to suffer. It’s a pleasant thing for an actor. That’s what we trained for. We trained to do it. When you see someone on camera crying and being hurt, they actually enjoy it. This is our training. [laughs] Actually what’s most 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 at, is actually more draining as an actor than… It is draining as an actor to do scenes where you’re emotional and stuff, but there’s a certain pleasure to it. I can’t explain, or maybe I’m weird.
Richard Linklater: It’s funny too. Not that Jesse and Celine think it’s funny, but as writers we know it’s–
Ethan Hawke: What’s fun is what’s challenging. We dove into it. We were locked in that room for a long time and we came out with that scene. The whole film had been filming to that. We filmed that part in sequence, for us it was challenging? Yeah, but we were so glad to be there.
Celine is one of the most honest women we’ve seen in film and she’s so real in terms of how she’s developed and aged and grown. Have you reflected on that, that there aren’t many women like Celine in cinema?
Julie Delpy: It’s always been my issue since I’ve been very young. I’ve seen movies and stuff and I see complex women. But I remember as a kid growing up, I’d be like, “Okay, I see complex women in like Bergman films. I see it in some plays.” There’s very few. Usually, it’s like one dimension if any. Two dimensions is a miracle. It’s really hard to find characters that are written in a way that is truthful, multi-dimensional. She’s not good, she’s not bad. She can be a bitch, she can be adorable. You have that in male characters a lot. You have extremely complex, extremely conflicted characters and stuff. There’s been characters like that too a lot for example in the cinema in the ‘70s. The US was wonderful. In the ‘60s, it was wonderful. Then it kind of died in the ‘80s when the woman became one-dimensional again. Something happened. I don’t know what it is. Anyway, for me it’s essential. For us too because we really work together. It’s not me writing just Celine. I write tons of lines for Jesse. We all write for each other. But basically, to make sure the character is really multi-dimensional and really real, and not some kind of cut-out cardboard 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.
When you were casting the original roles, what made you cast Ethan and Julie? And for Ethan and Julie, what did you see in these roles that you wanted to audition for them?
Ethan Hawke: We had other actors there, seeing how they looked together. I remember seeing we had other actors. We were kind of mixing and matching and doing scenes, working together a little bit.
Julie Delpy: I auditioned with another guy and you auditioned with another girl. How was it? I never asked you. [laughs]
Ethan Hawke: Sometimes on my darkest days, I think about it. [laughs]
Julie Delpy: I never asked you that. Would you have liked her better?
Ethan Hawke: That’s a trick question. There’s a funny thing though that I just remembered is that there was a day early, mid-development of Before Sunrise, where Rick told us we would get to choose our characters’ names, you said our creation myth. I’d never done that. It was this long thing of like, “Well, what should the character be named?” It’s a funny ownership you get to have of your own character. Having more experience in film now, I can’t believe that Rick asked us to be a part of that, these two young people. I mean, it’s such a dangerous thing to do. It’s such a difficult thing to do.
What relationship advice can we give to or get from Jesse and Celine?
Ethan Hawke: The fun of this is you’re just seeing them warts and all. That’s all we can do or all we’ve tried to do is try to put three-dimensional, real human beings on screen and put them in a relationship with each other and watch them age 20 years. You can take from that whatever you can. He was a prick when he said that. That’s the dream. We don’t have any advice. All we’re doing is try to play out some reality. And the hope is that by doing that, somebody else can use their wisdom and enjoy it. I don’t know — make sense out of it or not.
Julie Delpy: I don’t know. Relationships are so complex, so in relation to who you are. It’s so specific. We explore one kind of relationship with two kinds of people and that’s it. There’s a million things that are common to — it’s impossible. It’s endless. In a way, it is amazing because I think human beings have endless things to tell because there’s endless complexity to each of us as individuals.
Ethan Hawke: And that’s what was cool about the location of Greece. Greece is this place where love stories, they’ve been told for thousands of years. And they always feel new.
Julie Delpy: I think for my character I really wanted to make her a fighter because I felt that so many people in a relationship give up and then they build more resentment that if they were fighting it at the moment, they should be fighting it. I think that’s what destroys relationships is when the woman or the man will say, “Okay, fine. Let’s do it like that.” Then, they are never happy. I think that’s the end of a relationship is when someone gives up the fight that they really believe is what makes them happy, makes the relationship work, etc. The 20-year-old that was gasping every time I opened my mouth, she doesn’t know yet that’s the secret of making a relationship work because she doesn’t know yet, which is fine. Or maybe she knows and she thinks it’s another. I don’t know. You know what? The truth is there’s no rules on how to make a relationship work.
Before Midnight is out in theaters this Friday. Check it out.