“Before Midnight” isn’t just a chick flick, it’s a chick field-goal. About half way through the third Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy love-hate-love fest, I found myself thinking two words: ‘Shut up! Stop talking!! Shut the FUCK up!!!’ (Okay, that’s eight words, but if these words were to come out of the mouths of this film’s characters, there would be 76,992 more of them to express the same idea, with references to Aeschylus, Henry Miller and Zinedine Zidane along the way, not to mention a few blow jobs.) Can a film be over-written and well-written at the same time? “Before Midnight” can. Can a film be over-smart, over-clever and way over-charming and still be highly watchable? “Before Midnight” can (though cynics may suffer severe abdominal cramps).
Can Julie Delpy be a “fat-assed 41-year-old mom” (her words) and still be highly desirable? Why yes. Can Ethan Hawke get a normal haircut? Please? Hawke with bleach-blonded hair (gelled straight back with dark roots showing) looked like Puck in a Cirque du Soleil production.
I had these thoughts and more going into the Berlinale press conference with director Richard Linklater and the two stars, certainly the most enjoyable press conference of the festival. That’s not surprising, given the rapport these three have honed over 18 years of working together on “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” before “Before Midnight.”
Why play the same characters again?
Ethan Hawke: It’s a really unique opportunity where you can…
Richard Linklater: We created these characters 18 years ago, and we realize they’re still alive in us every six years or so, and not only do we have now these longterm relationships with each other but Jesse and Celine have a longterm relationship. So we have a longterm creative relationship which is really fun and rewarding.
Julie Delpy: Revisiting these characters, I think we always try to…they’re in the present even though the stories evolve in time. So there’s an element of time in our lives as well, so its really unusual for actors and writers, or directors… But each segment is in the moment but within this period of time, 18 years. A moment in time.
Will there be another one?
RL: We think after each film that we probably won’t do another. But we’ll joke about it, maybe, and then at some point we become a little more serious. We realize that Jesse and Celine are maybe trying to go, ‘Hey, I’m at a new place in my life and you have to deal with it.’ But who knows in the future.
EH: Every time I try to push Julie into doing a fullblown erotica film, that’s what I want to do, you know, where we really push the boundaries of cinema in a pornographic way. But Julie somehow doesn’t…
JD: I resist.
EH: We’ll try it again – at some point.
JD: Yeah, when I’m 80.
What is Ethan and Julie’s relationship?
JD: It’s awful. Really.
EH: It’s kind of a mentor-student relationship [joke]. The truth is that when I met Julie – you know, Rick brought us together on ‘Before Sunrise’ – I’d never met somebody from my generation that was so knowledgeable, passionate and talented. Even at 23, she’d already worked with Godard, Kieslowsky and Volker Schlondorff. She was a very wise person at 23 and I certainly was not. And I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up with her ever since.
JD: But now, of course…
EH: And now I’ve surpassed her.
Shooting in Greece?
RL: I meant to go to a few countries for scouting, but went to Greece first and that was it. I cancelled the rest of the trip.
How do you work on the dialogue together?
RL: We really don’t think there’s one perspective, it’s evenhanded between male and female, and that’s a constant negotiation for all of us. And it’s not like they represent only their characters. We all write all three parts. It’s a real collaboration in the best sense of the word.
JD: It’s not necessarily me writing all the feminist things. It’s really a collaborative work, it’s not like I’m the woman and they’re the guys.
RL: Yeah, it’s not like we’re fighting.
JD: But I always win.
RL: That’s a given. It’s a wonderful collaboration. We have the luxury of time, a couple of years to work through all the easy ideas, and dig a little deeper hopefully.
Why a happy ending?
RL: You think it’s a happy ending? I’m glad. Hopeful, perhaps.
EH: …One of the things that was most difficult about the third one, is that people weren’t really expecting a sequel to ‘Before Sunrise,’ so no one had any agenda or opinion about what that film should be. But once it was announced that we were making this movie I saw that people were blogging online about what the movie should be. I haven’t met a film director over the past 9 years who didn’t tell me what he thought or she thought the third film should be. So we knew we were up against a lot of people having an agenda about where Jesse and Celine should be and that agenda is stifling. You know, because you would obviously like to make people happy. But what’s good about ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’ is that it’s something very personal to the three of us. And so we just decided to continue on that path, and write things that were meaningful to us.
JD: …And true to what we wanted to write.
EH: …And hope that a like-minded person might be invited in. there were so many diff possible scenarios that were discussed. I’m working on a Brecht play right now so…Brecht had this notion that what you’re left with is the least-rejected idea.
RL: Yeah, we spend a lot of time rejecting each others’ ideas. In a nice way. You bring in something you want to get into the movie and…
EH: Well, that’s not terrible.
RL: And we might go, ‘well, that’s interesting, but I don’t know if it’s that original.’ And it goes away, you know? Something we think is funny, if the others don’t think it’s funny…we really trust one another and we’re kind of rigorous, I think, with each other. And no feelings are hurt; if it’s not working organically, it goes.
How much of your thoughts and personality are in these roles?
EH: One of the joys of working with Rick, is there’s a wonderful thing that can happen. You can really blur the line between character and player so that it’s almost indecipherable. Which …is an exercise in naturalism that goes beyond the normal… you know, Mike Leigh does some of this….it’s a really unique privilege. I mean, obviously it’s not Ethan and Julie…there are aspects of my life that are relevant to this project and aspects that aren’t relevant… a large part of Jesse and Celine is Richard Linklater. There’s a fusion happening of all of these characters. If any one of us were missing, the whole thing couldn’t exist.
JD: I think it’s interesting to take a seed of truth, something that’s genuine and see what happens to it. Even ‘Before Sunrise,’ I watched it again and I was interested to see that things that were in my journals when I was 18 wound up in this film. This little seed of truth and then it can grow this tree of truth, you know.
A big part of the audience feels that they’ve grown up with these characters?
EH: ‘Before Sunrise”…you know that was the first movie that anyone ever asked me to talk. So I get kind of amazed as the movies go on,..which also makes it more unlikely that we’ll make a fourth, because the pressure becomes enormous.
JD: Yes, I was surprised when people told me they were excited to see this film.
How is it watching yourselves grow up over 18 years?
JD: I only see the different weight (someone yells, you look better now! JD pumps her muscles..) No, I mean, you know, the reality is that we all grow and grow and grow. The last will be ‘Amour.’ (laughs)
RL: We’re going to make a remake of that. We’ll just skip the next 40 years and…
JD: …And go straight to that. Yeah it’s a weird thing, sometimes it gives me a little pinch in my heart, this fear, and then when we start writing, it goes away. Maybe when we reach the time when, you know, sickness, oh god I can’t think about it. But you know, aging, you reach an age where you feel a little grounded…
Do you talk to each other like this?
JD: Fiction is fiction. As I said, we take a little element of truth, but the film is very written, I couldn’t come up with this kind of argument if I didn’t write it. I mean, it took us weeks and weeks of writing to come up with this. I wish I could argue like this!