“Before Midnight” is the third film in a Richard Linklater-directed series that takes place nine years apart from each other. In 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” two travelers named Jesse and Celine (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) meet in Vienna and fall for each other after their first night together, but then they go their separate ways. In 2004’s “Before Sunset,” Jesse and Celine meet up again in Paris after years of leading separate lives, but they are both romantically involved with other people at the time of the reunion in Paris.
In 2013’s “Before Midnight,” Celine and Jesse are a long-term couple living in Paris and vacationing in Greece with their twin daughters, while Jesse has parental guilt over his divorce and teenage son, who lives in America with Jesse’s ex-wife. During “Before Midnight,” Jesse and Celine talk about the highs and lows of their relationship in a wide range of emotions. Here is what Hawke, Delpy, and Linklater said at a Q&A after the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Before Midnight” in New York City.
How much improvisation was allowed in “Before Midnight”?
Linklater: Believe it or not, it’s supposed to seem improvised, but there’s never been any improvisation in any of the three movies we’ve done. It’s all scripted and workshopped and rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed.
Hawke: Because it’s a long take, people think we can improv’ed, but the truth is nothing can be fixed in editing. You can’t cut out a bad line. You can’t cut out a bad gesture or something phony.
Linklater: These guys work really hard.
Hawke: He makes us work really hard.
Linklater: I think you and Julie get the credit. I wouldn’t be able to do this unless they were great actors.
Will “Before Midnight” be the last movie in this series?
Delpy: Who said it was going to be the last one?
Linklater: Does a trilogy mean the end of something?
Hawke: It’s a trilogy and counting!
Linklater: It’s an accidental trilogy so far. We don’t know what the future is, but we feel the same way after we did the second one [“Before Sunset”].
Hawke: We never thought we would’ve made three of them, so who knows where this thing is taking anybody. It could be the end.
Linklater: It could be.
Delpy: One of us could die too. Stuff happens in nine years.
Linklater: Totally surprised nine years from now.
All three movies in this series have a recurring topic of death. Can you talk about that?
Hawke: [He points to Delpy] Well, you just heard it!
Delpy: Well, time and death. I’m being rational.
Linklater: There’s a lot of things that permeate through all three movies, not just death.
Hawke: But the movies do center around time, whether the first movie was one night together, and the second film is real time …
Delpy: That’s what I just said. In short: time, death. Go ahead, sweetie.
Hawke: No, you totally finish.
Delpy: That was almost a castration, right?
Linklater: See how they work together?
Delpy: I castrate everybody. No, go ahead, sweetie, please.
Hawke: I didn’t feel castrated. Let’s move on. First, castration. Then they call you “sweetie.”
Did it ever cross your mind that you would mess up this sequel?
Hawke: It’s terrifying.
Linklater: The second time in Paris, we all thought the first movie was special to us, but if we screw up the next one … And this one was even scarier.
Delpy: In the first one, they [Jesse and Celine], they flirt. In the second one, it was difficult, but they were still flirting. And in this one, they’re together. Scary.
Linklater: It was harder to make that. It was harder to shape that into you know.
Hawke: I’m not scared of nothing. I’ve been castrated!
Linklater: But to answer your question, that does motivate someone to be afraid of something. It makes you work harder, that’s for sure.
Hawke: Yeah, when we were doing to second one, Rick [Lonklater] said, “How long has it been since you’ve seen the first movie?” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because that is in the first movie.”
Linklater: “Maybe we should watch that movie.”
Hawke: As much as people may or may not like the movies [in this series], they’re really important to us as people in our lives. The idea that we could undermine the first two was terrifying.
Delpy: It’s very stressful.
Hawke: You just have to let it go. But that was the big challenge to the third one.
Since you know these characters better than anybody else, do you believe that Jesse and Celine stay together?
Hawke: I know myself better than anybody else, and I don’t know if I’m going to stay together.
Linklater: I kind of like the possible ambiguity. Most people seem to fall on one side or the other. They seem to have definite ideas about that.
Delpy: I think that they might. We’ll see. We don’t know, really. [She says to Linklater] Do you know?
Linklater: No. In five or six years we’ll know. We’ll figure it out.
Julie, your tits look great in “Before Midnight”…
Hawke: Yeah, your tits look great! Note to distributors: “’Before Midnight’: Your tits look great!” If anybody talks about tits, I light up!
Delpy: You have to do this to wake him up. We had to have that [nude] scene.
Linklater: This was going to be our porn film. Julie was like, “You better hurry and film me. This is the last year.”
Delpy: Last chance of a porn. Thank you. I love that people say that. That’s nice. See you at the party.
Linklater: Julie has showed her tits in 20 other movies, and finally we had a place for her.
Hawke: [He says to the audience member who made the comment] I’ll give you her number later.
Delpy: Can I talk about my tits for a second? I want to make a point. Someone asked me if I feel exploited because I get my tits out in the film. No, actually, it’s the opposite.
Isn’t it the whole feminist movement? My mom did demonstrations topless in the late ‘60s, so I think it’s actually a feminist statement: “F*ck you! Here are my tits!”
Linklater: One of your tits was in the crew photo.
Do you have the idea first of where the location will be for each movie, or do you let the location drive the film?
Linklater: All three of these we could’ve shot anywhere. The gist of it is just the characters, and the location comes pretty late. In this one, it came really late, like 12 weeks before shooting.
Hawke: [The locations] then become part of the character, and takes on the meaning, but it’s always the last piece of the puzzle.
Linklater: It always becomes the perfect place, but it’s not what we talk about in that few-years gestation period, from the time that we decide that Jesse and Celine are going to be alive again to actually making the movie. There are a few years in there, and location usually isn’t the main thing we’re talking about.
For more info: “Before Midnight” website