before-midnight

After nine years, we have the pleasure of revisiting one of cinema’s great romantic couples, Jesse and Celine, in Before Midnight, the follow up to Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). Midnight brings back acclaimed director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Bernie) and leads Ethan Hawke (Reality Bites, Training Day) and Julie Delpy (2 Days in New York, The Countess).

For certain people, this movie is met with as much anticipation as the latest Iron Man. The trilogy has gained a devoted fanbase wondering what is next for the lovers. Linklater has managed to craft a fascinating series about two people connecting, and he allows Hawke and Delpy to be heavily involved in the creative process. I sat down with the trio to hear them discuss their latest collaboration.

When Hawke and Delpy auditioned for Linklater 18 years ago, little did they know that it was the beginning of a long-term creative partnership. Linklater recalls how he picked Delpy and Hawke for the parts: “It was conventional, there was a script and I was going through the casting process.” Delpy was the second actor he met in Los Angeles, and Linklater talked to Hawke after seeing him in a play in New York. “I saw a lot of actors. The bar of what I was looking for was so high because I knew what they had to do to make this film work,” he remembers. “I was looking for the two most creative and inspiring people I could find.”

Hawke appreciated the director’s trust, and the involvement the actors had from the beginning, like choosing their own characters’ names. He is amazed at the trilogy’s legacy: “This little romance, the idea that we would have this life-long collaboration; that we would pour so much of ourselves into it – that’s [surprising].” “It’s very fulfilling,” agrees Delpy.

Linklater observes that no one was really expecting a second film, but they had ideas and enjoyed the process of making the first one. “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?’ We are getting to make this really personal film that no one even cares about.”

Except there was an audience that did end up caring; after the second’s semi-ambiguous ending, there was growing curiosity for a third. “The way that one ended, there has been this kind of build up,” says Linklater, who admits they defy some traditional cinematic storytelling, including allowing the characters to have flaws. “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.” Linklater explains that the foundation built from the first two films allows them to depict the brutal honesty seen in Before Midnight.

“The structure of Before Sunset, or Midnight particularly, would be thrown out of any decent screenplay class in America,” acknowledges Hawke, “I mean a 30-minute scene in one room? You can’t do that.” They thought, however, there would still be an audience who would get it. Hawke comments, “[There is] something about Sunrise and Sunset that spoke to people.”

Delpy agrees, recalling fans telling her how the films influenced their own love lives. “A lot of people say, ‘oh I fell in love with my boyfriend watching the film,’ or ‘we reconnected after five years because I saw Before Sunset and he decided to call me.’” She smiles as she says, “We are responsible for a few children… I feel like their godmother.” At this, everyone laughs.

Linklater recounts that writing was a delicate process. They had to catch up the audience with the characters, but not burden them with too much exposition. “I think this film is designed to stand on its own,” he says. “I think it’s a bonus to see the first two films, but absolutely not necessary. “[Midnight] answers any question, we hope, that you might have had coming out from the last film.”

Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater Collaborated on all Three Films

Each movie is set in a beautiful European location, the first one in Vienna, the second in Paris, and this one in Greece. “[The location] ends up being very impactful to the story – it’s a major character,” says Linklater. However, he reveals that choosing the location comes late in the process: “We really just think about the characters and the relationship. Once we were there, we did most of our writing in Greece. We visited locations, we met the actors we would be working with, and it infused itself into everything about the movie. So that’s one of the joys of doing it… we really get to know a place. Hawke adds, “What’s cool about Greece is [it is] this place with love stories that have been told for thousands of years — and they always feel new.”

Before Midnight takes a different approach from its predecessors, which involved the pair getting to know each other. Now in their early 40s, Jesse and Celine already know plenty about each other — but now they must face the realities of their relationship.

Delpy said that the process was fun, but complicated because of the characters’ almost 20-year relationship. This time around, the scenes were not all Ferris wheels and romantic boat rides. “We’ve all been through those emotions in a relationship and it’s not a fun thing to go through,” explains Delpy about having conflict with a significant other. During filming, she sometimes worried that people wouldn’t like to see the characters in such a dark place. “Sometimes you have doubts,” confesses Delpy. “But you know, in the end some people can relate; which is what cinema is about. We really work hard… not everyone will like these films, but some will really like it.” Delpy continues, “We are not trying to please anybody when we do the films, we really are trying to be as true as possible. It’s not a publicity trick.”

BMidnight

The panel shares insights that the movie makes on relationships. “The fun of this is that you see the warts and all,” begins Hawke. “All we try 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… the hope is by doing that somebody can use their wisdom to enjoy it and make sense of it.”

Linklater explains how Midnight has a different perspective on the nature of love than the first two films: “They are still communicating, they’re making each other laugh when they can; and you see them in the ring together. Often in relationships, one or both have kind of checked out.” Linklater notes that sometimes when couples have problems, they will just deal with it as minimally as possible instead of facing it head on. “It’s a good depiction of two people who care enough that they are still working through [it].”

Delpy says of Celine, “I wanted to make her a fighter, because I felt that so many people in a relationship give up, and then they build up more resentment than if they were fighting it in the moment. They should be fighting it. I think that destroys the relationship; when the woman or the man will say, ‘ok, fine let’s do it like that’ and then they are never happy. And I think that’s the end of a relationship — is when someone gives up the fight for what they believe makes them happy and makes the relationship work.”

Delpy was thrilled to play a complicated female character, as she feels those roles are harder to come by for women. “It’s hard to find [female] 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, [etc.]”

She reveals that for Midnight, she and Hawke not only developed their own characters, but wrote for each other as well, with Linklater writing for both Celine and Jesse too. “To make sure they are really dimensional,” says Delpy, adding that they strove to depict a real relationship with valid points of view instead of a fantasy.

Linklater agrees that they tried to present a balanced perspective of the couple. “[Ethan and I] really put our feminine side forward, Julie puts her masculine side forward… we were all supporting each of these characters, who they are and what they’re trying to do.”

Although admittedly grueling, the writing has always been a pleasure for the trio. And if it felt right they would film another installment. “We’ve always had this wonderful process… we clicked,” says Linklater. “[We’ve] always been able to bring really strong points of view and a lot of confidence in ourselves to a collaborative effort. It’s worked friction free for the most part as far as our process goes… I think that’s why the band’s still together.”