"We spent one night walking around Philadelphia [together] in 1989, and I just found out a couple years ago that she had died young in a motorcycle accident," he says, which is one of the reasons why "Midnight" is dedicated to her memory.
Of course, Linklater admits that if he never met her, these movies, which follow the continued romance between Jesse and Celine, may not have been made. Talking about them, along with the work he and his two co-writers (and stars of the film), Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, have put in over the last 18 years, makes him happy.
Below, Linklater discusses the difficulty of shooting the third chapter in the series, "Before Midnight" (which hits theaters May 24) as well as the prospects of a fourth "Before" film. He also gives some thoughts on the musical based on his 2003 movie "School of Rock," his reaction to "Dazed and Confused" being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame, and why "Newton Boys" was never appreciated.
The response to this movie has been overwhelmingly positive, which must be nice.
Yeah, yeah. It's cool. There's something about it. I guess the aging thing [between Jesse and Celine]. It reaffirms something in people. It's like, "Oh yeah, you can get a little older and have a deeper experience where there's still maybe romance."
You mentioned during the "Before Midnight" panel at the Tribeca Film Festival that no one wanted the sequel to "Before Sunrise."
Yeah, we weren't kidding. People did ask [after the first movie] "Did they get together or not?" But no one asked "Is there going to be another movie?" I mean, there was interest. But I think no one expects a sequel to anything that isn't a Hollywood blockbuster. That was the big leap, taking that second one. We did a little jumpstart to that, because I got Ethan and Julie together in a scene for "Waking Life," where they're playing, arguably, Jesse and Celine. That was like my own little fever dream. We shot that in '99 and we realized that we were working the same way. And then we all looked at each other at the end of that and went, "We have to do this now. We've been joking about it for a few years. Let's hunker down -- I think we should do a sequel." So that was the jumpstart.
Was it easier filming this the third time around, since you're working with the same actors and the same characters?
Yeah, you don't have to spend a lot of time [developing the background]. In the first film, yeah, and the second time to some degree, [but] by the third one, we know Jesse and Celine. The only thing is that you just have to remind yourself where they are and what they've been through in nine years.
So you went to Greece to write the film. Ethan had mentioned that that was all you guys were going to do, and if the story you three came up with worked you'd shoot a movie.
And that wasn't a lie. We were there hoping to make a movie. We had a bunch of material, we had an outline. I mean, money was being spent, but we still left ourselves an out.
The perception from a lot of people was that you guys were hiding something.
Well, we weren't really financed... [Laughs]
OK, well that's a problem.
Yeah, so when people were like "Oh, did you shoot in secret?" No, we couldn't make an announcement because we weren't even an official movie until a week before we wrapped. So, we [said] "Let's just announce it on completion of photography, because it's only a 15-day shoot." But yeah, it wasn't some big plan to keep it secret. It was pretty remote and quick and under the radar by its natural self.
People have been asking about a fourth film, but considering how you've shot the previous two, I feel like it wouldn't be in the spirit of this series to announce another one right this second.
Yeah, and we don't [know]. We know enough to know for sure that it's going to be five years at the absolute minimum before any one of us has remotely a good idea. This isn't like a nine-year period of working. It's five years of blank space. We have to wake up and realize where they are. And a lot of that has to do with where Ethan and Julie are in their lives. Once you're at a new station in life, then Jesse and Celine can kick in. But nothing is going to happen until then.
I wanted to switch gears and talk about "Bernie" for a second.
I feel like the reaction to that movie was a bit delayed. It really didn't gain awards traction until months after its release.
As it should have! [Laughs]. Jack [Black] gave a great performance, as did Shirley [MacClaine]. I think it's one of those [films] that just sort of keeps coming and people keep discovering it. But hey, that's not a bad trajectory for a certain kind of film. I was just glad to get that film made. I had been trying to get that made for over 10 years. It was special to me.
It was fun to see you working with Jack again, particularly on something so different from "School of Rock" -- which now apparently has a musical in the works.
Yeah, Jack said he got a call about that. I was kind of like, "Hm, do I get anything out of this?" [Laughs]
Did you ever envision that movie being turned into a stage production?
It's pretty damn musical. I remember at the studio, the weekend after -- you know, you have your opening weekend, and this is how most sequels happen -- our producer got a call from the head of the [studio and asked him] "Series or sequel? Which is it?!" I was like [rolls his eyes].
You'd like to think that that doesn't happen, but I guess it does.
It does. That's why it's all so sh*tty. You know, we flirted with a sequel all those years later, but Jack and I never wrapped our heads around it. We just didn't like it enough, I guess. I learned on this, if you do one the next year, people kind of understand. It is sort of economic and you just do the best you can -- give people what you think they wanted the first time. But if you are going to wait seven years, you better have something to say about the time going on. And that's what I wanted with [the "Before" movies]; you have to dig a little deeper. It's got to be something deep and resonant and can't just be a victory lap sequel. But anyway, when that wasn't coming together, I was like "Jack, I am going to send you a script. It's something I've been working on for a long time." So it did segue into "Bernie."
It was also nice to see Matthew McConaughey coming back into the Linklater fold in "Bernie."
Everyone's been talking about this critical renaissance he's having, though directors who have worked with him say he's always been super dedicated no matter what role he's playing.
He's always been. He's always all in. He's actually very good in all those movies that people ... well people are just lazy. Perceptions are lazy. His first movie, "Dazed and Confused," he was doing hardcore character actor work. That's not Matthew, with his hair [like that] and a tattoo and acting all sleazy. We always said, Matthew is a character actor trapped in a leading man's physique. But nothing Matthew does surprises me. But it's fun to see.
I worked with him, initially unknown, then [once again] at the height of Matthew-with-the-shirt-off backlash on "Newton Boys," which isn't really fair there, either. [Audiences] were not going to give him a chance. We were dead on arrival because it was just like "Oh, it's Matthew [McConaughey]. F*ck that guy." I was like, "Oh, okay." And now, being part of this renaissance, hopefully there will be more phases along the way.
It was great that "Dazed" got inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame.
Yeah, you know, it never goes away, that film.
I didn't realize the relationship Quentin Tarantino had with the movie.
[Laughs] Yeah, Quentin has his own history with that film. We got to know each other before that film came out. It was the first film he saw once we were friends. But he told me later -- he never went to high school -- that that's kind of his high school [and] what he thinks it would have been like. I had a letter once from someone who had an injury -- you know, you get these strange letters -- and he says, "I had an accident and my memory got erased. So I see this film and it makes me think that that was my high school, so I just want to thank you for that." So it's like people who have forgotten [they're] filling in the blanks of experiences." So for Quentin, I think it's his high school.
People see "Dazed" as an extension of their life.
Yeah, kind of like Jesse and Celine. Movies have that power -- they're parallel universe potential. If somebody's being honest about something, people pick up on that if it's personal.