Ethan Hawke joined the Toronto International Film Festival this month for a Q&A about the creation of “Before Sunrise,” Richard Linklater’s beloved 1995 romance starring Hawke opposite Julie Delpy. One of the more surprising reveals Hawke dropped was that “Before Sunrise” was partly born out of Linklater’s disappointment with his previous feature, cult favorite “Dazed and Confused.”
“He was really disappointed in himself with how much better he did with the men than the women,” Hawke said. “The feeling he had ultimately when he was finished with the movie was that it was a boy movie. Its focus was on the male characters. It didn’t achieve the Chekhovian goal of being genderless, and his goal for ‘Before Sunrise’ was to invite a very strong woman and get two actors, male and female, and have them create their characters together.”
Linklater’s desire to have the actors be fundamental voices in the creation of the film is what sold Hawke on “Before Sunrise.” The actor’s agents did not want him to work with Linklater as “Dazed and Confused” was a box office bomb and Hawke was coming off “Reality Bites” and receiving the most offers he ever had in his career. Hawke remembered meeting Linklater, who pitched “Before Sunrise” in such a way that made it impossible to ignore.
Hawke recalled Linklater telling him the following: “I don’t want you to worry too much about the script. I’m inviting you to be a filmmaker with me. My whole life I’ve gone to the movies and there’s espionage and shootouts and helicopters, all this action. Everything that I see is all this drama, [so much so] that you would think my life, our lives, have no drama. That’s not the way I feel. My life feels very exciting to me and I’ve never been involved in a chase or a gun shootout. My life is exciting to me. And what’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me? Connecting with another human being…If we can put that on screen I think people will care.”
Weeks into writing the script, Hawke said Julie Delpy became worried that what they were writing was too boring to be turned into an actual film. Hawke said, “There was a moment in rehearsal when Julie said, ‘This movie is going to be so boring. It’s these two people talking. We need to get some jokes! We should call a professional joke writer and get them to contribute jokes. It’s not funny. It’s so boring.’ And Rick replied, ‘Julie, I’ve been in this hotel room writing this movie with you for four weeks and I have never been bored…If we could put all that is you on screen, then nobody will be bored. And if they are, they can go to hell.'”
Hawke continued, “Really what he is saying is that we are enough. It’s a hard thing for us, as people, to comprehend that. We are interesting. We are valuable. You are special from the moment you are born. At its essence, the movie is saying people witnessing each other has a huge power. Some times I leave ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Avatar’ and I feel blue because I don’t have superpowers or magic. But I think Rick’s movies make you realize your life is magic.”
Watch Hawke’s most recent discussion with TIFF in the video below.