LOS ANGELES -- The hardest segment to watch in "Before Midnight" -- an extended, emotional hotel-room argument that comprises the film's final third -- was actually the easiest to shoot, say co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater.
The third film in the series, following 1995's "Before Sunrise" and 2004's "Before Sunset," finds loquacious lovers Jesse and Celine married and enjoying an idyllic Greek holiday with their beautiful twin daughters. Jesse, the easygoing American, is a successful novelist. Celine, the fiery Frenchwoman, is occupied with environmental concerns. They have a lovely life but, like so many couples, are struggling to juggle marriage, parenthood and careers. On what is meant to be a much-needed date night, long-held resentments bubble to the surface in a lengthy quarrel that's a tour de force of writing and acting.
The trio, who once again co-wrote the script (their "Before Sunset" screenplay earned them an Oscar nomination), sat down with The Associated Press this week to discuss their writing process and the challenge of keeping romance alive in your 40s. As you can imagine after 18 years of friendship and collaboration, they bounced off each other easily and often finished the others' sentences:
Q. The ending of 'Before Sunset' is so perfect and that's such a hard thing to achieve, but it left audiences wanting to know more. When did you guys realize you wanted to come back and do another of these?
Linklater: We've all paid the price for that ending over the past nine years because people have always asked us, it begged the question, "Will we be seeing Jesse and Celine again?" ... People wanted to know in a way that they didn't want to know after the first movie.
Hawke: A couple years after we finished, I really started getting that sensation that you get when there's a project left undone. I think it's the perfect ending, and I love it, but it's like a call that wants an answer. ... I wanted to know what happened to them, too.
Linklater: (In) "Before Midnight," that's really THE subject -- how relationships change, is it romantic. That was one thing hanging in our heads: Is this film romantic? What is romance at 41? How do you define romance?
Delpy: Ohhh, love.
Hawke: Arthur Miller has a quote about how it's pretty easy to write about falling in love and pretty easy to write about breaking up, but there's something un-dramatic about the minutiae of day-to-day romance that doesn't lend itself to drama.
Delpy: We catch them in the moment of drama ...
Hawke: But it's subtle drama. They're not in the throes of a divorce. It's not "Kramer vs. Kramer."
Delpy: That was the challenge, unlike the two other ones which are super romantic in essence. ... It's scary territory because of the complexity of how to make this, not wanting people to run off after five minutes.
Linklater: It was definitely a tougher assignment, for sure. But we were operating from this thing about, well, we're going to be very honest and go into some territory that might be uneasy but I think, overarchingly, we still felt that it was romantic because they're still communicating. They're still making each other laugh. They still kinda want to sleep together, so that's good.
Q. So why go in this very serious direction?
Linklater: It's age-appropriate.
Delpy: Well, what are you supposed to do? Like, oh, he took that plane and in the end they meet again!
Q. What are the odds?!
Linklater: Like, they're both married but they see each other at a restaurant.
Delpy: We had to go there, even though it was much more scary territory than, oh, they meet again. To me, to all of us, that seemed ridiculous. Now they are together. They are dealing with the real deal of meeting your soul mate and living with that soul mate.
Q. What were the various avenues you guys might have gone down as far as where you set it?
Delpy: We explored millions of them: San Francisco, upstate New York ...
Linklater: Argentina. But you know, they weren't always on holiday. Initially, we were gonna jump really in: Let's pick 'em up on a Tuesday ...
Hawke: You were gonna see all that stuff ...
Linklater: You're working, you're writing, you've gotta go to a thing, who's gonna pick up the kids? Really domestic. And after all that, you really only get time at the end of the evening, right before midnight, so, oh, we'll build up to that. We hung with that for, like, six months. And you know what? That's kind of a grind. Once we got onto holiday we felt, we can still infuse it with all that domesticity: parenting and responsibility ...
Hawke: Sunscreening the kids. But better to hear about it in a fight than to see somebody shopping.
Q. The scene in the hotel -- the big, huge fight -- it feels so personal, it feels so cutting. I wonder if there were moments when you were going beyond acting to actually cutting each other to the core.
Hawke: You could say that about any serious, viable art. If you're not cutting to your core, even in a comedy, it's not funny. If you're not cutting to your core, you're not saying anything that might be worth paying 10 bucks to see. We love each other so we're in a safe environment to do that. Did I feel all year like I went through something by making the movie? Definitely ...
Delpy: But it feels good, too. There's something emotional -- you still feel something, like you grow from it.
Linklater: This felt more cathartic than the other two in that way just `cause the subject we're dealing with is much deeper and more real in a way, more connected to the world we live in.
Delpy: Also, Rick is -- not to rub it in, but -- he's 10 years older than we are. (Turns to Linklater) I mean really, you are. So he has a different perspective. I mean, we are in the fire of the moment of being that age when we talk about it. And he has this 10-year thing, which is a perfect balance in a way.
Linklater: I already know the next film but I'm not telling. (They all laugh.)
Q. How exhausting was it just shooting the fight scene?
Linklater: I don't know from your guys' perspective, I felt really in control. The scenes, they weren't 13-minute takes. So it was kind of a series of little things ...
Delpy: I think we had more fun doing that scene than the rest of it ...
Linklater: It was near the end, it was the last thing we shot ...
Hawke: There was no pressure about the light. If you think about all those long takes, it's all about: The light has to be right. Because the light's going to be wrong in a half an hour, it means Julie and I really have two to three takes to get it right, and it's a lot of pressure.
Delpy: Here, we were in a room, blocked-out windows, you forget the pressure of other things. The acting was intense, but sometimes doing less is harder for an actor. We are trained as actors to be emotional, to be ...
Hawke: Dramatic. The fight scene allowed us to access that ...
Delpy: It's all of that and the rest of it is the opposite.
Hawke: No acting.
Delpy: And that's harder.