Each film is filled with loose dialogue and uninterrupted shots, making the conversations between Jesse and Celine feel very real, so much so that since the first movie was released in 1995, fans of the series approach both Delpy and Hawke believing that they are their characters (the fact that the two stars have writing credits on each film only adds to that belief). "Midnight," which hits theaters this weekend, will do little to dispel that notion, as we once again get a glimpse into Jesse and Celine's continuing relationship and how that one night 18 years ago changed their lives forever.
Hawke and Delpy sat down with Moviefone to discuss "Before Midnight" and the effect creating these characters has had on them. The conversation was appropriately loose and rambling at times, as they discussed their friendship off-screen and the disappointment fans feel when they find out the two actors aren't dating in real life.
I was at the Tribeca Film Festival panel yesterday, where you two and Richard [Linklater] discussed the movie. It was fun to watch fans in the audience react to the dynamic between you three.
Ethan Hawke: That was kind of amusing. We had a good time.
Julie Delpy: We have a dynamic? [Laughs]
Hawke: Julie is a dynamic everywhere she goes.
Delpy: Yeah, we have a dynamic. We do hate each other sometimes.
Hawke: Yeah, we f*cking fight ...
Delpy: ... all the time!
Hawke: But the fun thing about working on the project for years together is that you know that, ultimately, you're safe.
It's interesting to watch how people react when they find out this film isn't improvised; they really do feel improvised.
Hawke: Fans want it to be improvised.
Delpy: All the time! And they want those characters to be us.
Hawke: That's what's so funny about it.
Delpy: I will date his wife before I date him. [Laughs]
Hawke: [Laughs] When I had my wife at the [premiere] party, she felt like she was crashing, ruining people's imaginations. She was like "I will leave you guys alone, because people want so badly [for you two to be together]." It's like a magic trick, you just want to believe it.
Well, that's a testament to the films themselves and your performances.
Delpy: It shows you how much it brings people [together].
Hawke: The fact that people can watch this in a movie and actually in their brain can picture 18 years ago when we met; it feels like a friend or something.
And the response to "Before Midnight" has been overwhelmingly positive.
Hawke: It's awesome. I have done enough movies now where I just don't take it for granted when people are relating to something. Because every movie you do you put a tremendous amount [of work in]; you always want it to be good. And I think the scariest thing of making this third movie is that somehow we would let the fans of the first two down. So there's a nice feeling I think we're all having of ...
Delpy: ... people who like the first two are not disappointed. I mean, I am sure there are some... Hawke: ...yeah, you can't please people all the time. But those two movies have a limited following, and the following is a passionate one. And they are generally people I like [laughs]. If they like these movies, it says something [good] about them.
Delpy: So many women come up to me saying, "It was great, you spoke for us." I am like, Okay! [Laughs]
Do you get that a lot with these movies? People really romanticize them.
Delpy: Yeah, well I was saying earlier, I know so many people who come up to me -- I know how that sounds, it's a small group of people who are big fans of the film. It's not like "Star Wars" -- but in that small group of people, it really means something to them. So many people come up to me and say, "We got married because of these films."
Delpy: We're responsible for a few loves.
Hawke: Yeah, I like that.
Have you two found yourselves romanticizing the story? You've done three films now, and you both have spent so much time with the material.
Hawke: I find myself romanticizing my whole life all the time.
Delpy: Yeah, anything.
Hawke: I don't know if it's because we grew up on movies or anything, but I am somehow making a narrative about our interview.
Oh, man. I hope I come off good in this narrative.
Hawke: Oh, yeah, it's going great [laughs]. What about you Julie?
Delpy: Hm. I don't know [about romanticizing the films]. I mean, I live so much in the moment, it's hard for me to say ... but I think it must affect me somehow. I always say reality and fiction is a big blur for me sometimes.
Hawke: Yeah, I know, me too.
Delpy: Yeah, and I write so much stuff, different stuff. I don't know...
Hawke: For me, these movies, all three of them, are so much about my friendship with Rick [Linklater] and Julie that it's very easy for me to romanticize them. Three summers we spent making these movies...
Delpy: ...were just the best time.
Hawke: This one was so much work...and I can feel it happening already, romanticizing it. It was nine months ago and I am already going Ohhhh. Because even your fights become fun when you work through them and they amount to something you feel proud of.
Delpy: I mean they are very, you know they are [pauses]... cathartic?
Hawke: Nice English [laughs].
Delpy: [Laughs] I can't say that word.
Hawke: Cathartic, you got it.
Delpy: It's the "th." But yeah, I remember every shooting and writing process as a really fun time, even though during that time it could be...
Delpy and Hawke: ...very stressful.
Is it easier the third time around?
Hawke: Yeah, it's easier.
Delpy: Yeah, once you've done it a bunch of times. Although, walking down that little village was a nightmare.
Hawke: Acting gets harder the older you get. We started when we were real young.
Delpy: But this one I thought was really hard. All those scenes in the village and the car.
Hawke: Well, the truth is Julie, you haven't been acting for anybody else in years.
Delpy: Yeah, I act for myself [laughs].
Hawke: Julie was finding herself in a very unique position, because when we did "Before Sunrise," you were a professional actor, you acted all the time.
Delpy: Oh, and now I am not anymore? [Laughs]
Hawke: You are! But now you are a filmmaker and you write your own movies and you direct them. It's the last couple movies you've acted in, you didn't have a boss. It's a very different feeling when you're performing for somebody else.
Delpy: Well, I don't think that's the reason why. There were challenges on this film. It was basically seven scenes. But they were...
Hawke: ...It was very hard.
Delpy: And Rick wasn't behind the camera because he broke his foot. So that was stressful because we were doing the scene and then he had to watch it. That, for me, was the stressful part. That's why it was so much more comfortable doing that [nude] scene in the hotel... There's something about being topless and starting a fight.
Hawke: ...it's so vulnerable
Delpy: It's vulnerable but it's also realistic. There's something about being like, That's who I am. And I kind of like that feeling. There's a certain f*ck you in those breasts [laughs].
You both have said that writing these movies together allows you to keep each other in check. Was there any completely crazy ideas on this film that you guys shut down?
Delpy: Oh, all the time.
Hawke: That's most of the day [Laughs]
Hawke: It's 11 hours of going, "That's the dumbest idea I have ever heard."
Delpy: Yeah, it's "What's that mean? That's bullsh*t."
Hawke: And then fifteen minutes [later], I am going "Okay! You got something going there."
Delpy: Yeah, that's pretty much it.
Hawke: Luckily, we all come from different backgrounds and yet understand each other, so we have different things to offer each other. I don't know; I have learned a lot from Julie and Rick, both of them.
Delpy: Me too.
Hawke: I bring it with me on other film sets. I always think about, whenever I am doing something else, I think "Julie would think this is pretentious." [Laughs]