Last Thursday, Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” had its New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Already one of the most lauded and anticipated films of the year after premiering at Sundance, “Midnight” is the third part in the filmmaker’s continuing story of Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), the two lovers who first met as twenty-somethings on a train in Vienna in 1994’s “Before Sunrise.” Before the premiere, the director and his two collaborators participated in the Tribeca Talks: Directors Series panel, where they essentially gave a rundown of the entire history of the film series. The majority of the time was spent trying to convince a skeptical audience that absolutely nothing in the films was improvised, but the relaxed, chatty, and often hilarious and self-deprecating trio also found time to talk their collaborative process, open-ended endings, and come up with a strange running joke that Delpy is a drunk, which she eventually gave in to playing along with. The three panelists admitted that it was an odd situation, as the vast majority of the audience had yet to see the movie, and therefore the most time was spent talking about the first two installments.
Among the interesting pieces of information revealed are the facts that “Before Sunrise” was shot chronologically (the only film in the series to be done so), and that the nine-year increment between the three films was nothing but a cosmic coincidence (“You know it has to do with these Mayan temples,” Hawke joked). Some highlights from the conversation below.
Ethan Hawke on the casting process for the first film:
“I was in a play with one of the cast members of ‘Dazed and Confused’ and we got invited to an early screening. I had seen ‘Slacker’ and loved it. We went to go see it and… I like it. Rick came to see the play and we hung out all night talking. And he told me all about this movie. Back then it was in San Antonio, on a train across America. And he said he was going to send me the script. Which he did do. I assumed that this was an offer. So I read it. I have a lot of problems with the script…”
Richard Linklater: “Mr. ‘Reality Bites’ has problems with the script.”
EH: “I thought I was being offered it, and you see the sort of attitude I was met with! So I talk to my agent and say, this is great but I have a lot of questions, and he says, well, uh, yeah… Rick wants you to audition, you know. Oh! I will table my questions until I have this part. So that was a surprise to me, that I had to audition.”
Julie Delpy: “You have a great memory. For me it’s just a big blank… but I was drinking a lot at the time.”
The trio began rewriting the script even during auditions, so that the characters were tailor made for the actors.
On writing collaboratively:
RL: “I considered it kind of an elaborate outline. I wanted the two most creative people I could find who could be real and give one hundred percent of themselves to this film, and sit down with me and…”
EH: “Just say it. Write the fucking script for you… It was a new way of working. It did feel strange. Julie and I were sharing a lot of ourselves in that movie. As Sunset and Midnight carried on that process defined itself, but in the beginning that was really new.”
On expectations for “Before Sunset”:
JD: “I got fired by my agent. He said why are you writing a sequel to a movie that will never be made, and if it is made no one will see it? He said you should focus on getting sexy Latina parts in movies. I was auditioning for ‘Rush Hour 2.’ Didn’t get it.”
RL: “The punchline is that it’s the lowest grossing film to ever spawn a sequel. Someone corrected me years later that that’s not true. Apparently there’s a Troma film, like ‘Toxic Avenger’ or one of those.”
EH: “I remember I saw something online before ‘Before Sunset’ came out that said, well those guys sure believe in themselves!“
RL “We’ve never improvised.”
EH: “One time. On the first film. And you did it to prove a point that we can’t do it.”
RL: “We didn’t even print that one.”
The closest the cast had come to improv was the last scene of “Before Sunset,” where neither actor had heard the Nina Simone song that was to be played until the camera started rolling.
Ethan Hawke on his what he thought a sequel should be:
EH: “I always thought it should be erotica. I don’t know why, Julie. I’ve just been pushing the films that way. And all we keep doing is just talking, talking, talking! Eighteen years of frustration.”
JD: “One way in which you haven’t aged at all.”
And, finally, they shared their thoughts on a sequel to “Midnight”:
RL “I don’t want to give away anything, but they’re both still alive at the end.”