Now, after two luminous cult hits, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite for ''Before Midnight,'' and talk to EW about the pleasures and perils of filmmaking and romance.
If you are a 14-year-old boy, Hollywood has your summer all mapped out for you. For everyone else, the multiplex can be a loud and lonely place. Thankfully, on May 24 director Richard Linklater reunites Ethan Hawke, 42, and Julie Delpy, 43, in Before Midnight — the third installment in the cultishly adored series chronicling the talky romance of transcontinental art-house couple Jesse and Celine. It’s been 18 years since they first met on a train bound for Vienna in 1995’s Before Sunrise, and nine since they reconnected in Paris in 2004’s Before Sunset.
Now, nine more years down the road, the two have finally ended up where we always hoped they’d be: together. But in the beautiful and emotionally brutal Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine discover that happily-ever-after only exists in movies…and not the one they’re in. We sat down with co-writing costars Hawke and Delpy to talk about navigating relationships, going braless, and just how much of their offscreen lives goes into what has become one of cinema’s best — and most unlikely — summer franchises.
Before Midnight comes out alongside these big, expensive summer movies. But since this is the third film in the series, you’re technically a summer franchise now too.
JULIE DELPY I think we come out the same day as The Hangover III!
ETHAN HAWKE We may be the least-grossing trilogy of all time. When Before Sunrise came out, people didn’t know what the hell it was. And it didn’t make much money. But over time it found its audience. We loved working on it and we always felt really proud of it, but when we made the second one, Before Sunset, not very many people were interested in it. It was difficult for us to get that movie made.
DELPY The people that were representing me, they were horrified. They thought I was crazy. ”You’re making a sequel to what?”
HAWKE That’s not why they thought she was crazy. [Laughs]
Why do you think these films resonate with people?
DELPY With some people. We try to do them with as much truth in the writing and the performances as possible. We try to make it feel like it’s not a movie, it’s life. Most romantic films are so formula — they have complications, then they end up getting married, that’s it.
HAWKE As much as some people like these movies — and we’re happy about that — a lot of people don’t want to go see a movie where all the characters do is talk. I think these movies are a little different because I can’t think of any others where the coleads are the coauthors. And by virtue of doing that, you’re creating a movie that’s a little genderless. It’s not like a Nora Ephron comedy or a Judd Apatow comedy. It doesn’t have a male or female agenda.
DELPY It’s funny — look at the movies that make money. If you look at a movie like Bridesmaids, which is a good film, she has sex with a bra on with Jon Hamm. I mean, have you ever had sex with a bra on? Never!
Speaking of which, Julie, you spend several long minutes in the film topless, which I know is part of real life. But how did you feel about that?
HAWKE Can I take this question? First of all, Julie will not get asked that question in any other country in the world, and she’s been asked about it everywhere here. What’s awesome about it is Julie wrote that scene!
DELPY Some women have come up to me and said, ”Don’t you feel exploited?”
HAWKE It’s exploitation when you see Megan Fox crawling across a Trans Am in a thong.
DELPY Also, I’m 43. There’s nothing fake about me. I’m not trying to be a sex object. To me, when people come up to me and say, ”Don’t you feel exploited?” I’m like, Listen, my mom was a hardcore feminist. She demonstrated topless in the ’60s. For me, showing my breasts is more of a F—you and I don’t give a s—. I am who I am.
HAWKE At a Q&A the other night at the Tribeca Film Festival, someone shouted out after the movie, ”Julie, you’ve got great tits!”
So how long after the last film, Before Sunset, did it take to start thinking about this one?
HAWKE After Before Sunset, we’d all periodically meet at a premiere of Julie’s or Rick Linklater’s, and we’d talk. But we never had a serious conversation until Rick and Julie were both in New York in 2010. We sat down at dinner and had a long conversation about it. And we made plans to meet again in six months and we’d all think about it and talk about what’s on our minds. And then around Christmas in 2011, Rick and I came to visit Julie in L.A., and that’s where we batted out the outline: ”What if we had twins?”
DELPY And ”What if we were on a holiday in Greece?”
HAWKE We had nine years of experience to share with each other and draw from about what we’ve learned in our lives.
DELPY Then we went to Greece and the three of us locked ourselves in a hotel room and wrote the script in six weeks.
How autobiographical are these films? Ethan, do you find yourself getting into a fight with your partner and then calling Julie saying, ”I have a great idea for the movie”?
HAWKE We don’t call each other up, but I kind of make notes to myself. I shouldn’t say that, but I do.
DELPY You also hear conversations on the street and in restaurants.
HAWKE You steal good lines wherever you can.
Ethan, your character was previously married and has a kid. I have to imagine that if you’re divorced and you have children in real life, those things make their way into the film one way or another.
HAWKE You take some things that are extremely personal and you insert them into this imaginary life. Anybody who’s divorced will tell you that the transition at the end of the summer, which as a father is the one time of year where you get to spend a lot of time with your kid, is very painful. You get confronted with the facts of your divorce. It’s always a very painful moment for me. So that made it into the beginning of Before Midnight.
DELPY For me, it’s not that autobiographical. Yes, I’m French. Yes, I have a kid. But I’m very different from Celine.
Your audience may be smaller than the one for something like Iron Man, but I think your fans are just as passionate in a way. And they have certain expectations about where the characters’ lives are headed. Do you feel that burden when you’re writing?
DELPY The studio thinking would be: They meet again and it’s romantic again. The same formula. But we can’t do that. That’s not where they would be. It was a struggle because I have a mind that can go to that place — oh, we have to please people! But it’s impossible because it doesn’t make sense. It’s much more challenging to write about a couple who have been together for nine years and are going through difficult times and still keep it romantic in a way.
Has making these movies helped you in your personal lives in any way?
HAWKE Anytime it starts to feel like we’re putting relationship advice out there, we don’t want to do that. What do I look like — Dr. Phil?
I bet you must have a lot of people come up to you to tell you their how-we-met stories.
DELPY Yes. Like, a lot. People tell me that after they saw Before Sunrise they went back to find the girl they were in love with. We’re responsible for a lot of little children running around out there.
How has the relationship between the two of you changed since this all began 18 years ago?
HAWKE It’s become a lot more sexually dynamic. When it started, we were very into normal positions. Now our sexual identities have gone to a whole new level.
DELPY Nipple grips. All of that stuff. [Laughs] No, when I first met Ethan there was something about him that drove me crazy. He was a little cocky. But there was also something that I loved about him.
HAWKE I was 23 years old. She was like a character out of a novel — so dark and passionate and wild. Julie as a young woman was a very serious person…. And it’s been thrilling to watch a friend become the person they wanted to become. She’s written and directed her own films, which is why I love taking Julie out to dinner with my 14-year-old daughter. Because Julie is nobody’s bitch.
DELPY That’s the best compliment you could give me — I’m nobody’s bitch.
Okay, so it’s time for the million-dollar question: Is this a trilogy? Does it stop here? Or will we reunite with Jesse and Celine nine years from now?
HAWKE That is the million-dollar question. After the second one, I would have been surprised if we didn’t do a third. But now I don’t know. My bet is it’s going to be some sort of life project. Like a fictional version of the Seven Up! films. I’m open to it.
DELPY That sounds exciting. We’d be together in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, then we’ll be like the couple in Amour.
The Saga of Soul Mates
Your guide to the nuanced, will-they-or-won’t-they world of Jesse and Celine, as told over the course of three movies
Before Sunrise (1995)
Domestic box office: $5.5 mil
If Woody Allen and Diane Keaton defined onscreen romance in the ’70s with Annie Hall, and Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan did the same with When Harry Met Sally… in the ’80s, here were their unlikely ’90s successors. Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine are two free spirits who meet on a European train. Their chemistry is instant and undeniable. He persuades her, almost as a dare, to get off with him in Vienna. They explore the city, talk, and realize they’re meant to be together. They agree to reunite six months later.
Before Sunset (2004)
Domestic box office: $5.8 mil
Nine years after he and Celine parted ways, Jesse is an author in Paris on a book tour. The book, fittingly, is about the day he spent with her in Vienna. When Celine shows up at his event, the two pick up right where they left off, walking and talking their way back to her apartment. Jesse has a plane to catch. Will he stay? The final scene — set to Nina Simone’s ”Just in Time” — is for the ages.
Before Midnight (2013)
Opens May 24
Another nine years have passed, and Celine and Jesse are finally together. But the magic of their first two meetings has faded into domestic routine. While vacationing with their twin daughters in sun-dappled Greece, they try to rekindle their old spark, but end up igniting a tinderbox of bickering resentments instead. Relationships are rarely shown this honestly. Then again, we’d expect nothing less from these two.