Interview: ‘Before Midnight’ star Julie Delpy
The latest entry in the ‘Before’ trilogy arrives today on Blu-ray and DVD.
In recent years, Julie Delpy has emerged as a triple threat, writing, directing, and starring in French films (The Countess, Skylab), English films (Looking For Jimmy, 2 Days in New York), and even a hybrid of the two (2 Days in Paris). However, she continues to be best known for the Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and this year’s Before Midnight), a series of films that chart the unconventional romance between Céline (Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) over the course of nearly 20 years. On Before Midnight, Delpy once again wrote the script with Hawke and director Richard Linklater, a process that allowed her to explore universal emotional truths, if not her own personal experiences. In honour of the film’s arrival on Blu-ray and DVD, we spoke to Delpy about this enduring collaboration, the evolution of these characters, and the joys of working in Greece.
-- Jonathan Doyle
The Loop: How does the ball get rolling on a new Before movie? Is there an ongoing conversation for years?
Julie Delpy: I think we let it sit for about five, six years. I mean, the first time we started really talking about it was when I was shooting 2 Days in New York in New York and Ethan was there because he lives there and Rick came by in December 2010. So see, it was at least six, almost seven years before we even talked about it. We started talking at the end of 2010 then we met again at the very end of 2011 and then in 2012 we shot it, so it was very quick. Same thing a bit with Sunset. It went from nothing to, you know, the big bang kind of thing. Not that I’m comparing our work to the creation of the universe.
There are similarities.
Going from nothing to something, but that’s what we do. We kind of have to let it sit. We do some thinking about it a little bit. Not that much, I have to say. We have our lives. It’s pretty busy, you know.
Do you have a vision for the film going into those writing meetings?
The second film, I was kind of excited to go back in. This time, it was like, “Oh sh*t, we’re not going to do this again.” It’s so much work and it’s so difficult. I know it doesn’t seem like much work or that difficult when you see it because they seem very naturalistic and all that stuff, but it’s actually more work than any other film. The writing can be fun, but the acting part can be very difficult because of all that walking and talking and seeming like nothing’s happening. Making it feel totally natural is the hardest acting I’ve ever done. Because they’re long takes, you can’t improvise. There’s not a word improvised. There’s not a comma improvised.
On the commentary, we get a sense of your dynamic with Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater. It seems as if they sort of playfully team up on you. How would you describe this collaboration?
They tease me all the time. It’s fun. That’s what we do usually in the room. We team up. It’s the triangle kind of energy. Two people against one. But in the end, we always end up agreeing on what is on the page. It’s true that they probably listened to me more because I’m the only female voice in the room. I’m probably the loudest of the three. They always listen to what I have to say carefully because they really don’t want the films to be unbalanced from the male-female point-of-view. That’s always been the goal. It’s kind of why Richard hired me for the first film. He saw I had a very strong female point-of-view and I’m a super duper feminist. Not in a bad sense. I don’t hate men. I actually love men and I get along with men probably more than most women I know, even at a work level. I was raised by parents that didn’t tell me there was a difference, so I always felt equal to men in a strange way.
Do you think your co-writers take anything they learn from you into their personal relationships with women?
I wouldn’t say that, but when we are in that room, we open up. I know everything about them and they know everything about me on a personal level because we need to dig into personal stuff for emotions. The films are not autobiographical at all. I’m not married to a guy that has kids and I’ve never dealt with the issues the character of Céline is dealing with at all. It’s all fantasy. Obviously, I have a kid, I’ve been in a relationship before. I know a little bit what I’m talking about, but their issues are very different. But it’s true that we have to dig into real emotions somewhere to find the right thing to say. To get down and dirty, do the job, and dig in the coal as much as possible to find diamonds. [Laughs]
Are there moments when you’re watching these films or listening to reactions where you feel as if you’ve revealed more about yourself than you wanted to?
No, because it’s really fictional. I mean, I don’t expose myself in any film. People ask me, “Oh, 2 Days in Paris is exactly like you. 2 Days in New York.” So not. You know, yes, I like to dig into true emotions, but emotions that are true to everyone. It’s not like we’re that different. We all have our issues and they’re not that different. People don’t want different things that much. Some people are driven by success. Some people are driven by love. Some people are driven by money. But the emotions deep inside are quite similar. That’s why I think anyone can understand anyone. Maybe not like a raging maniac serial killer, but I think you can actually because we all have that little part of ourselves there sometimes. I think it’s possible to understand people’s feelings, especially when you start writing. That becomes the goal: to put yourself in the shoes of. That’s what you do as an actor as well.
In Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, there’s a strong sense of potential, whereas this film is more defined by the past. Can you talk about that shift?
In your 20s, it’s the beginning of your life. In your early 40s, it’s the mid-point. You can look back. That’s why people go through mid-life crises. [Laughs] They look back and think, “I didn’t do this and that.” The truth is that’s the characters. Me personally, I don’t really look at the past. I always look forward. I’m just like that by nature, but I know that some people will look at the past. It’s more natural to look at the past also, but I think the character of Céline actually looks a lot in the future. She doesn’t want a certain future and she will fight to the death not to be, you know, in a supermarket in Chicago buying peanut butter.
The conflict in the film comes from her projecting into the future and anticipating problems.
In a way, she’s at the beginning of her career as a woman. Like she says in the story, a lot of women have to deal with their own family blah blah blah until they get to the point where they can really focus on their career again in their 40s, whereas he’s in the past because he’s a writer. He projects himself with all those great writers that wrote most of their work before they were 40. You know what I mean? It’s a different dynamic for men and women.
There’s also this process he has as a writer, redefining the past and sculpting it to mean what he wants it to mean.
He’s writing constantly about their relationship. [Laughs] That’s funny. Some people will do the opposite like re-write in a negative sense.
It seems like Céline is preoccupied with the negative, whereas Jesse is always trying to see the positive.
She’s preoccupied with the negative because she’s a woman and - not maybe from her own experience, but from the world experience - the woman often gives up for the man. You see it now in all those articles in The New York Times. Women that put aside their work for ten, 15 years to take care of their kids, and now they’re at 50 and they have no career and they want to go back, but they can’t. It’s happening so much. I’m not even talking about countries where women can’t work or have their head cut off when they look at another man. I’m talking about countries where women are educated and working and all this. They often give up a lot. The perfect example is the two artists going out. The woman is an artist, the man is an artist, and the woman will give up her work to the benefit of the great male artist. It happens all the time. But it’s also their fault because they’re not driven enough and because they give up. They give up because it’s so much harder also.
On the commentary, you’re very enthusiastic about Greece. How would you describe the country to someone who’s never been there?
It really grows on you. At first, when I showed up there, I was like, “Oh my God, it’s hot. It’s not convenient.” I was not very happy to be there, and then after a while you realize this place is so full of history and energy. Everyone says that when they go there. After a while, you know why so many philosophical ideas and stuff come from there because there’s something just so amazing about the place. It’s so beautiful and relaxing. You’re not interested in consuming anymore. It’s really weird. It’s probably why the economy is not doing so well because you need very little to be happy there and that’s why Germany’s doing so well. It’s because you need a lot to be happy there. [Laughs] You need a brand new Mercedes and you need all this to be happy in Germany. Really sitting by a beach with a little glass of - I don’t drink alcohol, but if you drink alcohol - wine and feta cheese and you’re happy for hours and hours and hours. It’s not good for the economy, that kind of happiness.
Original publication: The Loop