Tuesday, May 21, 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)—Ryan Lattanzio Interviews Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy

In 1995, gen Xers Jesse and Celine met on a train in Vienna and spent 24 hours falling in love and getting to know each other. But then, the sun rose and they went their separate ways until 2005, when they met again by chance after failing to realize their mutual promise that they would meet back in Vienna six months after their initial encounter. These films, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) respectively, glowingly capture what happens to a chance romance when it goes from ideal to dissolute, as people grow old and their expectations—and their selves—continue to change. Before Midnight (2013), in theaters this Friday, makes it a trilogy for the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy).

With Before Midnight, these three films join the ranks of Kieslowski's Three Colors and Ozu's Noriko series as one of cinema's finest trilogies. And yet the Before set is also a kind of time lapse experiment in which we actively engage with Jesse and Celine, aging alongside and checking in on them every nine years to see how their shared lives, like ours, have evolved along time's arrow.

It was, as to be expected in the company of Julie Delpy, a scene of chaos in a hotel room high up in the Fairmont when I met with her and the always casually unflappable director Richard Linklater to discuss Before Midnight. Their appearance came on the heels of the final stretch of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where Midnight was the closing night selection. When I entered the room, phones were buzzing madly. Delpy was on her cell trying to "order gravel" while demanding more tea. But when we finally settled down to talk, what happened was less an interview and more an intimate, familiar conversation between Delpy and Linklater that I had happened upon. Though Ethan Hawke was unfortunately not in attendance, Delpy and Linklater have a rapport as comfortable and jokey as that of Jesse and Celine.

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
 I first saw Before Sunrise as a young teenager and was over the moon for these two lovers for whom time was, for better and for worse, all they had. Then came Before Sunset, in which we meet Jesse and Celine yet again, this time in Paris when they have another encounter while Jesse is on a book tour and both of them are in committed relationships (Jesse, unhappily married with a young son).

Anticipating, by coincidence—as they insist, and isn't coincidence the foundation of these films anyway?—another nine-year gap, Delpy, Hawke and Linklater gathered in Greece last summer to write and shoot Before Midnight over a period of ten weeks. Like Jesse and Celine in Sunset, they had a deadline. Linklater directed, and co-wrote the script with Delpy and Hawke.

Midnight finds Jesse and Celine in their 40s, not married but together, with two little girls. They live in Paris but are on summer holiday in Greece where Jesse is hoping to finish his next book. Celine, always a crusader, has put her own professional life as an activist on hold to be with him. But the romantic bond we once thought was so infallible in the span between Sunrise and Sunset is now a troubled paradise in Midnight, as the two must decide where they will go from here and if they will go there together.

* * *

Ryan Lattanzio: First of all, congratulations on a wonderful new film. Describe the moment when you decided you wanted to make a third film.

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Richard Linklater: The third film is very different from the second. The scary leap was to jump into the second. Once we did, it begged the question, well you can do it again because you already did, it's just whether you're going to or not. That said, it was the same six-year blank spot (between Before Sunset and Before Midnight). And then we realized Celine and Jesse were maybe still alive in us and they had something to say about a new place they were in in life.

Julie Delpy: And then the work three years prior to actually writing is the backstory.

Linklater: It's great to take that time and follow ideas and think about the story you're trying to tell. The third one is more difficult. We knew what we couldn't do again.

Delpy: Which is meet again by accident.

Linklater: In your 40s that would be ridiculous. We had to go into a domestic world and we had to decide what that would be.

Delpy: They didn't see each other for nine years and then they meet again by accident. It would be totally silly, not real.

Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: You can very much feel those nine years between films. How did you go about recreating those details, and that lived-in feeling?

Linklater: We go nine years and we don't see each other that much even though we're friends. But they have to act like they've lived with each other all that time, so that's an acting thing and I think it's a comfort thing. We do extensive workshop.

Delpy: People tell me, oh you and Ethan are so comfortable together.

Linklater: But not at first! I was there the first time he put his hands on her and Julie was like, ah!

Delpy: People assume it's a natural thing, our dynamic. Ethan and I, we're very different obviously. Naturally people that have been together for a long time, they don't even notice that they're touching. It's like you're so used to it that you don't notice it so we have to go into that natural state. I mean Ethan doesn't grab my ass every ten minutes even though he'd like to.

Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Early in the film, there is an extremely long single take in a car when Jesse and Celine are driving back from the airport, where Jesse has just dropped off his son who lives in the US, to their vacation spot in Greece. How did you go about mounting that scene? It certainly looked like a challenge and I was relieved for you all when you finally cut to a shot of Grecian ruins halfway between.

Linklater: But we cut back to the same take!

Delpy: We did suffer for 13 minutes. Many times.

Linklater: We shot that in two days but I didn't use anything from the first day. I knew that day would be kind of a warm up as much as we had rehearsed that scene for weeks and weeks. Still, once the technical apparatus is around, it's a hard thing to pull off. But it was worth the effort because I felt that would be a good way to reacquaint ourselves with Jesse and Celine in real time. These are real people we are hanging out with. Not all actors can pull that off.

Delpy: I think we ended up with only one good take. It was all a fine balance. I couldn't believe we were able to do it because it's not like a play. It's so scripted. We didn't change one word. Even the overlaps are written. We don't overlap each other when we want to. We know when we are going to overlap each other. Everything is timed down to, like, half a second.

Left to Right: Charlotte Prior as Nina, Jennifer Prior as Ella and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Even though it feels like improv because of the naturalistic dialogue and the timing, I understand that each of the films has been heavily scripted. Was there ever a moment where you changed a line or added something in while shooting?

Delpy: Sometimes we realize one line is one too many.

Linklater: We are always working on it. Even in that car scene there was a line I dropped. That keeps it fresh, that it's never so finished.

Delpy: Let's say that 99% of the script when we lock it stays. Basically there are two lines in this film that Richard decided, okay, don't say that line. Let's see how the rhythm changes. In Before Sunset he cut out one line, that's it.

Linklater: It was a joke, which ultimately would not have aged well.

Delpy: You don't want to say the joke. Don't say it.

Left to Right: Walter Lassally as Patrick, Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Panos Koronis as Stefanos
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Why did you choose Greece as the setting?

Linklater: It presented itself to us.

Delpy: Food. (laughs)

Linklater: Let's be honest. The food.

Delpy: We had decided to do it last year, and we were going to Spain, Italy, but he called us from Greece and said, that's it.

Linklater: There was a producer in Greece who was going to work on the film and help us get it made, he had a lot of access. The shoot was a blur, it was like a ten-week thing but we only shot those last three weeks.

Delpy: We were writing entirely for those seven weeks before, like 18 hours a day. We would start at nine, finish at six, take a jump in the sea for half an hour, go back to work until midnight every day. We had no screenplay when we got to Greece, but we had an outline.

Linklater: It was important for us to all just go there and start. We weren't in the room together as much on the second one.

Delpy: We had to take ourselves and lock ourselves in a room to really focus.

Linklater: With Before Sunset I was getting stuff from you guys [via email and phone] and that wasn't happening so much this time. It was scarier.

Delpy: It's scarier because you're there and you have to finish. The producers had no screenplay when we got to Greece. They were so trusting.

Linklater: The producers took a huge leap of faith with us. We had locations and we knew how many days we would need for certain scenes. It was a practical approach to a production but there wasn't actually a screenplay.

Delpy: I was amazed. We knew it wasn't there yet but they weren't even giving notes to censor us. It was a great creative environment.

Left to Right: Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Were you at all worried that you might shatter some audiences' illusions about the romance between Jesse and Celine? With this film, the relationship has grown a little sour, perhaps, and is more real and raw.

Linklater: It's the difference between 22, 33 and 41. You're one more step into the real world. Sunset was that, too. We were catching them at a different place. Jesse and Celine were both busy.

Delpy: He has a kid. Things are not going to be easy no matter what decision they make.

Linklater: This had to cover a different aspect of their lives. You're in Paradise and you've gotten what you want in the world, and that's tough. It's not free. Everything is still a tough negotiation in the world. Celine is more restless in a way, conflicted.

Delpy: Aren't women a little more like that?

Linklater: To make a gendered generalization perhaps, yes, it's ancient.

Delpy: It's Eve eating the apple. "I want this apple NOW! Give me that fucking apple. I want that apple."

Linklater: We're here, we've got everything we want, we've got food but, yeah, it's just not good enough. As much as we strive for balance between the sexes, the film maybe is seen through him a little more.

Delpy: To me it's essential that the character is real and multidimensional and so many female characters in history, even theater until you go through Miss Julie and Hedda Gabler where it gets more complex, a lot of female characters are one dimensional and it's essential to me to go towards writing something, altogether, that's not a one-dimensional female. Some men might find Celine unbearable because they want her to be a girl that will say yes. Often the male is a conflicted character with the questioning and the fucking up but Celine might be the one who is here. To me it's quite modern and realistic to every woman around me. They're not one-dimensional individuals.

Linklater: We all contribute to that. Ethan and I kind of have female sides to ourselves and I think Julie has a strong masculine voice in there.

Delpy: I can actually see what the burden for men would be to be with that multidimensional woman. It's not easy. I think that's why a lot of men go for younger women because they want less of the crazy. A fantasy.

Left to Right: Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse
Photo by Despina Spyrou, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Lattanzio: Was it a coincidence that, I understand you had six years of blankness and then three years of talking about it before going into production, but did you intend the nine-year span between films again?

Linklater: Not really but it motivated us. We had in that outline and I said, let's step up and do it last summer. And by the way it would be the same nine-year gap, whatever that's worth.

Lattanzio: Julie, I understand that production on Before Midnight coincided with the release of 2 Days in New York in France and in the US. I loved that film and the one before it, 2 Days in Paris, in which you write, direct and star as perhaps a version of Celine as unleashed id. Will you make another 2 Days?

Delpy: I think I'm done. The second one was so hard to make. There were so many conflicting issues with financing. Right now I'm working on three projects, two developing and one I have to finish writing. But it's much easier now than it was before [Before Sunrise].

Lattanzio: Do European financiers always want you to do the character of Celine?

Delpy: 2 Days in Paris was a little bit tricking people into thinking I was going to do Before Sunset 2. [European financers] always want to finance the same thing. They want to finance things that already happened. If I come up with something original, they're like, "Oh, can you do this instead?" Marion in those films is much crazier than Celine, much more neurotic, she has serious anger issues. Marion is closer to me [than Celine] yet even further from me. Sometimes I wish I was Marion, insulting people in public. Imagine if you didn’t censor yourself. In France, financiers want me to do that Marion again. In France, [2 Days in Paris] was extremely successful. Before Sunrise didn't do so well at the time. They hated me. But Sunset was successful. Maybe Elizabeth Bathory in [my film] The Countess is very much like me.

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