Sony Pictures Classics

Interview: Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater on Before Midnight

Can we talk, specifically, about the fight scene that occurs at the climax of the film? Because there’s so much fearless realism bouncing back and forth in that scene that I feel like anyone in a long-term relationship will find a great deal of resonance watching it. I certainly did.

Linklater: Well, that’s the tough scene. The whole movie builds to that moment. That fight’s been coming the whole movie, and, probably, for nine years. If you really go back, the fault line in their relationship leads to that. But I always call it the “hotel-room scene,” because it doesn’t start off a fight. It’s quite the opposite; it starts off as a love scene, a sex scene. And the pace of the fight was very important. You know, people don’t just start to fight. They try not to fight. They try to resolve it. But they both want to be heard. Jesse and Celine are two master manipulators, and I often make the analogy that they’re two prizefighters; they’re very evenly matched. Slightly different styles, but ultimately, they’re gonna go all 15 rounds. So many times that fight could have ended, if one person would just eat a little crow and end it. But they have to keep going. They have to say one more thing. That’s the difference between courting someone and spending the rest of your life with someone. You can dig in on a subject that’s bugging you, and it can escalate into a fight, or you have to negotiate that space that you’re occupying together. That’s the challenge, and that’s what the movie’s really about.

Delpy: The writing process of the fight was very intense. We basically wrote a film within a film. The fight could kind of stand on its own in a way. It evolves from one thing into another. We had to really build a different kind of arc in those 30 minutes. And as actors as well, it was a challenge; you want it to be funny, but not too funny, and you want it to be dramatic, but not melodramatic. We needed to find the right tone all the way to the end of the film, and in that last scene, probably the biggest challenge for me was to not be over the top, or make it too Hollywood. We all had to strive to make it as true as possible.

How do each of you feel the changing exotic locales affected the changing tones of these films? Did they? Was there a lot of thought put into the setting choices?

Linklater: I don’t think we’ve all thought it through that much. Believe it or not, the locale is always one of the last elements to mix into what we’re thinking about. The only one that was a very conscious choice was Paris in Before Sunset, because Celine lived there and we felt that’s where they would re-encounter one another. But Vienna and Greece, they could have been other places, technically. When we decide on a place though, it becomes a major character, and eventually, we decided to kind of make [this new movie take place] on holiday, but still with that poignant, end-of-holiday feel.

Delpy: We wanted to catch them on holiday so there was the possibility of getting them out of their everyday routine. The first two films were very urban, and we wanted to not do that this time, so we could have a sense of how much their life has changed, but also a sense of what they’re like when they’re together. Because if it was just about their everyday life, with their work, and their family, it would not at all be like the first two films. Just like in real life, when you’re in a relationship, you need to make plans to be by yourself. Such is the case in the film.

Do either of you feel more connected to these characters than characters from your other films, simply because you revisited them multiple times? Julie, you have another character, Marion, whom you’ve reprised in your 2 Days series, but only once. Do you feel a stronger connection to Celine?

Delpy: No, I don’t feel more connected to Celine than Marion. You know, I try to connect myself to the character no matter who they are. That’s how I approach acting in general. I’m me and they’re who they are, and they’re different from me in so many ways. We have things that we have in common, but only in the same ways that many people will have things in common with Celine.

Linklater: For me, I’ve connected to these people three times, and it’s been different each time—a new phase of life, a new place. But, strangely, while it might look that way, it’s really not. When I’m doing a movie, I’m all in on that. I kinda connect to everything. In a way, you have to.

Given the way the first two films have been received, and how they’ve gained such an impassioned and intimate following, did it feel like there was a lot of pressure, or a lot to live up to, when making the third installment?

Linklater: Not really. I think our fanbase is small, but they seem to care, which is a good spot to be in. So we’ll all take that. But, you know, it’s not like we’re making a sequel to Iron Man, with worldwide ramifications. The bottom line is, we really do these for ourselves. There’s no economic incentive. We don’t get paid anything. The films don’t cost anything. We’re clearly just doing it because we want to try to articulate something about this new stage of life that Jesse and Celine are in.

Delpy: I felt a bit pressured, but at the same time I tried to make a distraction of that. Because we wanted to stay as truthful as possible to what we wanted to do, and that’s how we made the second film. With the second film, no one was excited about us making it apart from me, Ethan, and Richard. People were like, “What the fuck?” My agent at the time actually gently fired me because he thought I was actually crazy to be writing the sequel. He thought I was wasting my time and kind of being an idiot. He told me I was writing a sequel that would never be made, and even if it were made, no one would see it. We really had to believe in ourselves. The third film was a little bit different. I mean, you don’t want to disappoint people, but at the same time, you want to stay true to what you’re doing.

The inevitable final question pertains to a fourth installment. People keep calling this the third chapter of a trilogy, but there are plenty out there who hope that’s not true. Is the door still open for another movie? Are things just casually reassessed every nine years?

Delpy: We don’t really think about those things when we wrap. I think, for me, Ethan, and Richard, it’s basically impossible to think about a fourth. I often joke that it takes us nine years to recover from each film because it’s such intense, digging work—getting down and dirty, into the coalmines. [Laughs] But I think we just don’t want to think about it. If you told me, like, tomorrow, that I’m going to be flying to Greece or wherever with these guys to write another film, I’d say, “No, thank you very much.” It’s too much. We need the time. So I don’t know if we’ll do a fourth. We don’t want to say one way or another.

Linklater: Yeah, the fact is, none of us have an idea right now, and we won’t for six or seven years, probably. We’ve spent it all at the moment. Life just has to be lived that much longer. We need to see how it unfolds, and where these two could possibly find themselves next. And I kind of like that feeling.


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