Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy discuss Before Midnight

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The trio behind Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater chat to David Fear about the third chapter of this romantic series, Before Midnight

A lot can happen to a couple in nine years: you can get married to your soulmate, have kids, change apartments and grow together – or grow apart. The last time we saw Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) – the lovelorn duo from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) – they were sitting in a Paris apartment, contemplating whether he would catch a plane back to the States or stay behind. Another nine years have passed, and the third and latest film of the series, Before Midnight, shows that time has been kind to Celine and Jesse in various ways. 

Much like the characters, the trio behind this trilogy have aged some, but the minute that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke walk into a conference room to chat with Time Out, a sense of familiarity is apparent. 

It’s been another nine years since Before Sunset. Have people been asking you all about a third film since the last movie was released?

Ethan Hawke: Every dinner party I’ve gone to since Before Sunset came out, I’ve heard, ‘We know exactly how the next one should go’. I’m not kidding, everybody had their own ideas about what happened to these characters. That really was the elephant in the room everytime.

What was it that made you all want to return to these characters now, and at this point in their lives?

Richard Linklater: There was actually a lot of resistance toward doing a third one. We initially didn’t want to come back to this story, mainly for the reason Ethan just said. So many people had so many expectations about what happened to these characters after the second movie that you sort of felt a burden; none of us wanted to mess it up. But once we figured out we were going to do it in this remote spot in Greece and not tell anybody what we were doing, that burden went away. Nobody knew we were making this, so we could just figure out where we wanted to take things on our own.

When it came time for the three of you to write Before Midnight, did you guys find it was easier to get back to the place you were all at when you wrote the first two films?

RL: On one level, yes; we worked together on Before Midnight in pretty much the exact same way that we did on the other ones. But obviously, we’re all in very different phases of our life and the circumstances behind each of these movies have been different, so that’s affected the working process between the three of us.

EH: I’d compare it to being in a band: I know the instrument I’m supposed to play and how the others synch up with the song, so when the three of us get together, a certain muscle memory kicks in. You know, it’s funny, I recently moved, and as I was going through some things, I came across my Before Sunrise script. And nestled in between the pages was a letter Rick wrote me when we were filming that movie, which basically said, ‘Hey, I know this project has been uncomfortable for you, because I’m asking you guys to share a lot of your personal lives here. But don’t worry. You’re safe’. I needed to hear that at the time, because it really felt that we were asked to be very intimate, very open with stuff, in a way I wasn’t used to.

Julie Delpy: We were being asked to bring a lot of things to the table and be very collaborative in creating these characters. Still, it was easy to fall back into that old rhythm, especially after we rewatched the first two movies halfway through the writing. 

What sort of discussions did you guys have about doling out information regarding what’s happened to Celine and Jessie in the nine years since Sunset?

JD: We were all very determined to avoid large chunks of exposition coming at the viewer all at once.

RL: We sort of took our cues from the second movie, in which major details about their lives – namely, that Jessie is married and has a kid – aren’t given to the audience until well into the movie. If you were observing a couple whose history you didn’t know, you’d have to slowly piece together what happened through certain clues. I mean, we want to answer any and all possible questions you’ll have about what’s happened in the interim, and what their lives are like now. We just aren’t going to give you that in one long, indigestible chunk.  

EH: So many people want to know, did he miss the plane or not? What happened next? You have to make a nod to that somewhere. It’s just matter of doing that delicately and realistically.

JD: That’s a big reason why I love that big dinner scene, because it was a great way to reveal things without sounding like you were being expository. You have that young couple there who doesn’t know them that well, so you have the perfect excuse to talk about Celine and Jesse’s history together.

Do you take it as a compliment when folks think these movies are improvised, as opposed to being scripted and rehearsed?

EH: Yes and no. Imagine some guy sits down at a piano and just effortlessly plays this amazing Schubert piece. Most folks would go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you just whipped that out’. And he’s thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t just whip it out, I learned the piece and practiced every day for 20 years so I could pull this off!’ 

RL: It’s great to hear people say it feels so off-the-cuff, but I have started a bit of a campaign this time out to let people know that, no, every single word in here was scripted. And having had a front-row seat to what Ethan and Julie have done in these three movies, I have to say: It’s a lot harder to act in a 13-minute take and say all the lines perfectly and hit all your beats than to just ‘wing it’. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.

Given you put a lot of personal stuff into these films, is there a sense of catharsis out of doing a Before movie that you don’t get from other projects?

EH: I find that I do. I’ve always ended up learning things about myself in participating in these three movies. I’ve also co-written with a very powerful, very intelligent woman in three very different stages of her life, and that’s given me an insight into the female experience that I wouldn’t normally have – and that has made me rethink a lot of things I’ve learned over the years about masculinity and being a man, frankly. That said, it’s also really hard for me to go back and watch Before Sunset because I remember how much pain I was in at the time, and how I was channelling a lot of that pain into Jesse. And when I recently watched Before Midnight, where he’s in a better place, it made me realise, ‘Yeah, I’m in a better place than I was nine years ago as well’. It helped give me perspective, in a weird way. 

JD: I don’t think that’s weird at all, Ethan. These movies are cathartic. So much stuff that we express in that room when the three of us are writing doesn’t make it in to the script, but those moments are what allow us to get to where we need to be in order to make these movies. You get the chance to open up without an agenda. 

Before Midnight opens Thu Sep 5. 

Read our full review here. 

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