Thursday, July 08, 2004

Interview with Richard Linklater about "Before Sunset"

Director Richard Linklater (“Waking Life” “School of Rock”) and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have produced a sequel to their “Before Sunrise,” a 1995 film about two students, one American, one French, who impulsively get off the train in Vienna and spend the night walking and talking. This new film catches up with the characters nine years later as they meet in Paris for the first time since a night that as Hawke’s character says in the new film, he remembers better than he does whole years. Nell Minow spoke to Linklater about how and why they made the sequel.

Nell Minow: One of the things I really love about your movies is the way the talk is so distinctive, not homogenized or dumbed-down to explain every reference. Tell me about how you and the actors developed the script together.

Richard Linklater: After talking and thinking about it for maybe seven years, we actually sat down and in a three-day period worked on a very specific outline, very specific trajectories of the characters, then we faxed each other scenes and dialogue, and I fashioned it into some kind of script and we all sat down in Paris and got to re-writing it. We demand a certain honesty from each other and only use things all three of us can get behind. We all have to agree on everything. We all kind of got into the whole thing and we all wrote for both characters, drawing from everything that we talked about as we worked. In that first outlining session, Julie was talking about having been to a Nina Simone concert and I remember sitting across the room and watching her imitate Simone's walk and I said, "That's the end of the movie."

Nell Minow: We follow the characters in real time as they sit in a café and then walk and take a boat and a limo through Paris. How does the setting help to tell the story?

Richard Linklater: It's more the situation, the fact that it's in Paris, and the pressure of time. It could happen anywhere, Philadelphia or anywhere, but it seemed realistic because her character lives there and it seemed plausible. We had it all mapped out for an emotional build, for the first layer in the café being honest and engaging but not revealing, feeling out how much they will reveal to each other. You can't just say in mid-sentence, "I think I'm falling in love with you." It's a slow incline, and then in the car ride it sort of peaks there. The ticking clock of the whole movie is working for us. We know their time is almost up and they both admit a lot more.

Nell Minow: What was it like getting yourselves back into the mindsets and situations of characters you created nine years ago?

Richard Linklater: Although Julie and Ethan and I had remained great friends and had worked together subsequently, it was surreal to be back with these two characters, but it was kind of how life is. I love the cycle of life; you're back in some place with someone from your past and it gets more poignant and more meaningful.

Nell Minow: Actually, we have checked in with these characters once in the past nine years. They appear in a brief scene in your animated film, 'Waking Life.' Yet that encounter clearly has not occurred (or has not occurred yet) in this film. In what universe did the conversation in 'Waking Life' take place?

Richard Linklater: In a strange way they sort of exchanged characters, in the way that they talk about things, and so that scene takes place in some cinematic dream in my imagination. In terms of getting this movie going, we had talked about working together again but creating that conversation with them really kicked it into reality. And there is still another sort of imaginary encounter. What Ethan says in the movie, about including in his novel what he wanted to have happened six months later, we did write that. It does exist within his fictional world.

Nell Minow: Tell me a little bit about Celine, the character played by Julie Delpy.

Richard Linklater: The whole movie is our view of her. We all fall in love, or re-fall in love again with her. Her feelings with him are all there, but she's going to be a little slower to announce that. She'll make jokes about sex in the abstract and he brings her into the reality with his comments. She doesn't give it up that quick, because she knows stuff about his life that in her mind is insurmountable, but we see it in him a lot; he is ready.

Nell Minow: An important moment in the movie is when he asks her to sing and she gives him a choice of three songs. He chooses the waltz. What if he had chosen the one about her cat?

Richard Linklater: The ending would have been different! We had various songs, and there was one that was funny and upbeat we were going to use, but we then changed it and decided we had to have the waltz.

Nell Minow: Is this movie going to inspire people to look up their lost loves?

Richard Linklater: Probably not. My daughter is reading that old story, "The Lady or the Tiger," about the princess who has to decide whether to let the man she loves marry someone else or be mauled by a tiger. She asked what I would do, and I said sometimes your beloved is going to marry someone else -- that's how it goes in real life. We all go through that. It steps outside the boundaries of the fairy tale story book, but it happens! But those formative years are pretty strong. There are still a few women I would actively avoid seeing again. We're talking twenty plus years ago, but if I got into the room with them I could propose marriage.

Nell Minow: Someone like Celine?

Richard Linklater: I did meet this woman in 1989 in Philadelphia and we walked around and spoke openly all night and I did say I was going to make a movie about it, but she didn't show up at my equivalent of a book reading.

Nell Minow: What should people know about what is going on with Jesse and Celine in this movie? And about what might happen in a third movie nine years from now?

Richard Linklater: We see in this film that they can't take it lightly. It's just a big enough deal. If you don't care much you can hurry the process. This is some deeper, meaningful soul mate type person, so you have to tread lightly. They're not finding themselves in perfect circumstances, but with a perfect connection. It's often interfered with by the world around that perfect thing. It battles itself out there. How do the trappings of your life as you get older play into that connection? If there was going to be a third one we'd have to get into the belly of the domestic beast a little bit, something original, not just about the toothpaste and toilet paper roll.

Nell Minow: I hope I get to see it! Thanks very much.

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