One Couple, Nearly 20 Years, All 'Before Midnight'

May 19, 2013
Originally published on May 19, 2013 2:11 pm

In 1995, an unintended cult-classic trilogy was born with a film that centered on a simple, romantic premise. Two strangers in their early 20s spend a spontaneous night together in Vienna. The characters, Jesse and Celine, split ways in Before Sunrise, but they reunited nine years later for a sequel, Before Sunset.

In that sequel, Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, find each other in Paris for another brief rendezvous. Even though both are now in other relationships, they can't shake their connection.

Now, another nine years have passed, and they're back together with a third film.

In Before Midnight, life has moved on. The couple has twin daughters. They're living in Europe, talking about the things long-term couples talk about: job troubles, annoying habits, the banal details of life.

Director Richard Linklater says there's a kind of romance to that, too. He says there's optimism in the connection they still have and hope in how they continue to make each other laugh. But Linklater says it wasn't an easy task.

"It was tougher to go into the domestic beast, you know, nine years in, to them being together constantly, and find something within that that was still very interesting, hopefully, to watch," he tells Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition.

The challenges — and rewards — for the actors are found in the moments of silence and "non-acting."

"It's easy to scream and cry and roll on the floor. As an actor, that's what we're trained for," Delpy says. Walking alongside a longtime partner in the village is a different task, she says. Hawke adds:

"Trying to let the characters' subconscious actually be seen without letting it be known that you're showing it — that kind of fragile element of the movie, it's incredibly delicate."

The third film doesn't hold the same kind of tension found in the first, which is bound by the deadline of a morning flight. But, Linklater says, the third film had to reflect the changes that naturally occur in life.

"We knew we couldn't do the same thing again," he says. "We couldn't have another brief encounter, a fleeting connection ... you have less of those, especially by the time you're 40. You miss that part of yourself that could have done that, but it's just a different stage of life."

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In 1995, an unintended cult classic trilogy was born with a film that centered on a simple romantic premise: a man, a woman, both in their early twenties. They're on a train in Europe. They get to talking. They start laughing, flirting. They're connecting. The man gets to his stop, but before he leaves...


MARTIN: The woman is apprehensive. The man is persistent. He tells her to imagine herself 10 or 20 years down the line.


MARTIN: The film was called "Before Sunrise" directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. After their characters Jesse and Celine spent that one romantic night together in Vienna, they went their separate ways. Then nine years later, Linklater brought Hawke and Delpy back together for a sequel, "Before Sunset." The two characters reunite in Paris for another brief, romantic encounter.

And even though both are in other relationships, they cannot shake their connection. Well, nine years have passed again, and now they're back with another film. It's called "Before Midnight." Life has now moved on. The couple has twin daughters, they're living in Europe. At the beginning of the film they're in the car talking about the things that long-term couples talk about - job troubles, annoying habits, the banal details of life.

The director, Richard Linklater, says there's actually a kind of romance to that.

RICHARD LINKLATER: We think it's optimistic, in a way, because they're still talking. That's hopeful, and making each other laugh and pretty upbeat.

MARTIN: In the other couple of films, there is an inherent sense of urgency because of the circumstances. I mean...


MARTIN: ...there's a discreet period of time in which they have to be together. This is different. We're just there, and...


MARTIN: ...we're in their life, and they're together, and there's no tension around that. Did it make it harder to write because of that?

: I think actually, there is a tension that is very subtle. I mean, I would have to say I think the minute the film starts the ticking bomb is not lit but set. I know it's not a time thing but it's a tension that will go, you know, all the way to, you know, the end of the thing.

LINKLATER: You're not wrong to ask that question, I mean...

: Yeah, yeah, uh-huh.

: ...'cause there's something different happening and, and it did make it harder to write because, you know, there was a built-in drama to "Before Sunset" 'cause he had a plane to catch...


: ...and he had to leave, and so every second felt like the last.

: He has attention to be more constructed, thought, planned. I mean, it was much more like, you know, sewing lace kind of thing...

HOST: Hmm.

: know.

LINKLATER: It was tougher to go into the domestic beast, you know, nine years into them being together constantly...

HOST: Yeah.

LINKLATER: ...and find something within that that was still very interesting, hopefully, to watch, you know.


HOST: In a long-term relationship, there's often not a lot of talking. There's often a lot of silence. These two characters talk a lot. I wonder if you thought about that, the ratio of the silent spaces.

: You know, I'm glad that you asked that because my three favorite moments in all the films are there's kind of a silent moment in each film, and it's something about the patter of the dialog that then, you know, creates this negative space when there is a silence.

In the first film, Before Sunrise, there's a scene that now seems incredibly antiquated which is Julie and I are in listening booth in a record store.

LINKLATER: It was antiquated then.

HOST: Wow.


: Yeah. And we're just sitting there listening to music together and not talking, and it's an awkward moment. In the second film, they're talking, talking, talking, and all of a sudden, she invites him up to her apartment, and they walk up the stairs, and for the first time, they don't have anything to say to each other. And they have to walk up three flights of stairs. You know, it's a...

HOST: Yeah.

: ...a big step when they walk in, and they're alone, and the door closes. And in the third film, there's a silence at the end of the film that I think is my favorite moment of the third film.

HOST: What about for you, Julie? Was there a scene that, in all three of these movies, I'm sure there have been many, but in this last film, was there a scene that, for you, really personally resonated?

: Hmm. The argument scene because I think we've all been through one argument, you know, not as well scripted, but...

LINKLATER: Yeah, we wish.

: We wish.

LINKLATER: This is our dream argument where we have...

: Uh-huh.

: Our dream--yeah, I know.

LINKLATER: ...a quick rejoiner.

: We're like boom, boom, boom, you know. So, you know, I kind of, you know, like the argument. I like that...

: It was fun to act, it was fun to act.

: It was fun to act it. Yeah, it was a lot of fun to act. You know, in a way, sometimes, you know, the scenes walking in a village and stuff are harder...

HOST: Why?

: know.

: Because it's...

: The non-acting is harder than...

: Yeah.

: ...playing emotions that are messy.

: We would finish a take, and Julie would say I say you acting, and we know you're just trying not to act the whole time, and at least in the fight scene, you could sink your teeth into it.

LINKLATER: Yeah, definitely...

: Yeah.

LINKLATER:'s an emotional pitch--

: Yeah.

LINKLATER: ...that is (inaudible) deliver.

: You know, it's easy to scream and cry and roll on the floor for an actor.


: Uh-huh.

: That's what we're train for, you know.


: That's what you do in acting class.

: That's what you do in acting...

: not act.

: ...class, to be, like, insane, but like doing nothing and pretending it's all fine, and you're just walking around when you have, like, an entire crew falling over children and pets and, you know, like stumbling in front of you...

: And just trying to let the character's subconscious...

: Yeah.

: ...actually be seen without letting it be known that you're showing it. That kind of fragile element of the movie, it's incredibly delicate, as Julie says.

HOST: Was it more gratifying, Ethan and Julie, to kind of dabble in the fun, abstract flirting, intoxicating romance of the first two films, or to do this different thing, to have to dig deeper in the complexities of a nine-year relationship?

: Well, it's a lot like life in that way. I mean, is it fun to be young and have nothing to do and no responsibilities (inaudible). It is, but you're also, like, wildly insecure, and you're longing for meaning, and you're wondering if you're going to have intimacy, and then when you get into your 40's, and you have a lot of what you wanted, do you still want it? I mean, it's a - I found this - with the writing of this third movie much more difficult and much more rewarding.


: I mean, that was, you know--

HOST: Same for you, Julie and Richard?

: Yeah, I don't know.

LINKLATER: We couldn't do it again.


: Did I not make any sense?

: No, I was not listening for a moment. I was thinking...

LINKLATER: That's typical, that's typical between us, but we knew we couldn't do the same thing again.

: No, sure.

LINKLATER: We couldn't have another...

: Yeah.

LINKLATER: ...brief encounter, a fleeting connection like...

: That's for sure, yeah.

LINKLATER: You'd have less of those, especially by the time you're 40.

: It's like...

LINKLATER: They're kind of...

: have things to do, you know.

LINKLATER: You miss that part of yourself, you know, that could've done that, but that's just a different stage of life.

: But if you were still doing it...

LINKLATER: How immature and how weird, yeah.

: Yeah, there would be something else wrong.


HOST: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, their new film is "Before Midnight." They joined us from our studios in New York. And they're still giggling behind the microphone.


HOST: I feel like the three of you are always conspiring.


HOST: I feel like you're always conspiring.

: We are, we are.


: We are.

HOST: Yeah.


HOST: Hey, you three. Thank you so much for taking the time...

: Thank you.

LINKLATER: Yeah, nice talking to you.

: Thank you. Your show is great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.