25 years af­ter ‘Be­fore’

In­side the mak­ing of an indie clas­sic

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS - By Ash­ley Spencer

No one knew how “Be­fore Sun­rise” would end. In ad­di­tion to leav­ing the au­di­ence on a cliffhange­r — would the vis­it­ing Amer­i­can Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the French stu­dent Cé­line (Julie Delpy) meet again af­ter one night of pas­sion­ate con­ver­sa­tion on the streets of Vi­enna? — the film­mak­ers them­selves were at a loss un­til the last minute.

“We shot in chrono­log­i­cal or­der and worked on the script ev­ery week­end through­out the shoot,” di­rec­tor and co-writer Richard Lin­klater said. “We went pretty far into this think­ing they weren’t go­ing to plan to meet again, and the night be­fore, we were up un­til 3 in the morn­ing rewrit­ing the fi­nal scene.”

Made for just $2.5 mil­lion, “Be­fore Sun­rise” opened the 1995 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val and formed a col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship among Lin­klater, Hawke and Delpy that led to two se­quels, “Be­fore Sun­set” (2004) and “Be­fore Mid­night” (2013), and decades of friend­ship.

In honor of the first film’s 25th an­niver­sary, the stars and di­rec­tor talked about mak­ing the un­con­ven­tional ro­mance. Here are ex­cerpts from those con­ver­sa­tions.

The idea for the movie came to Lin­klater dur­ing a night spent with a woman he met in a Philadel­phia toy store in 1989. Years later, he would learn she had died in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent just be­fore “Be­fore Sun­rise” be­gan film­ing.

Richard Lin­klater: This girl was flirt­ing with me while I waited for my sis­ter (to fin­ish shop­ping), so I wrote a lit­tle note like, “Hey, I’m in town for one night if you want to hang out.” Some­where in the night I said to her, “I want to make a film about this. Just this feel­ing.” That’s re­ally all it was try­ing to ever cap­ture — that rush of meet­ing some­one and that un­der­cur­rent of flir­ta­tion and ro­mance.

It took a bi­coastal cast­ing call and more than six months to find the per­fect leads.

Lin­klater: It wasn’t clear if it was go­ing to be a Euro­pean male and Amer­i­can fe­male (or vice versa). In the first draft, we named the char­ac­ters Chris and Terry be­cause both are kind of gen­der­less. It was that open.

An­thony Rapp in­vited me to see a play he was in with Ethan Hawke in New York. I had never met Ethan, but at that mo­ment, he was the big­gest star in his age range. I ended up at a bar with him af­ter the play.

Ethan Hawke: We hung out un­til 4 a.m. Af­ter that, Rick sent me the script, and I thought he was of­fer­ing me the part. I was re­ally ex­cited and had all these ques­tions, and I re­al­ized af­ter talk­ing to my agents that he was not of­fer­ing — he was ask­ing me to au­di­tion with about 10,000 other peo­ple.

Lin­klater: Julie was the sec­ond ac­tor I met on the first day of our big LA cast­ing ses­sion. I re­mem­ber lik­ing her, and her re­sume was im­pres­sive. She’d worked all over Europe. She was just get­ting started in the U.S., but she im­me­di­ately went to the top of the list.

Julie Delpy: I like the idea of peo­ple meet­ing over one night and fall­ing in love. (Lin­klater) clearly stated that he wanted the ac­tors in­volved in the writ­ing, and I liked that. It wasn’t just a part.

Hawke: Meet­ing Julie was like meet­ing a char­ac­ter from a novel, like Anna Karen­ina or some­thing. She’s a very deep per­son. I’d never felt so Amer­i­can and so dumb.

Delpy: He was like a puppy, so young and sweet. He hates that, but re­ally he had a beau­ti­ful naive qual­ity about him. I mean naive in a good way, naive but very smart at the same time.

Delpy, Hawke and Lin­klater headed to Vi­enna for a three-week in­ten­sive work­shop ahead of the sum­mer 1994 shoot and con­tin­ued re­vis­ing the script through­out 25 days of film­ing.

Hawke: Re­vis­ing is way too mild of a word. Rick wanted to make a movie about liv­ing in the mo­ment. And to do that we were all go­ing to have to live in the mo­ment to­gether to cre­ate the movie. For ev­ery scene in there, we wrote, like, 17 that didn’t make the cut.

Delpy: It was in­tense, and a lot of my per­sonal feel­ings went into it. I was an ex­tremely ro­man­tic per­son, very pure and full of dreams. The writ­ing was very or­ganic. The guys would lis­ten to me as I was re­ally the only woman in the room, es­pe­cially when we got to Vi­enna.

Lin­klater: To this day, they don’t re­ally get the credit as ac­tors be­cause ev­ery­body thinks they’re im­pro­vis­ing.

Reg­u­lar trains were used to film Jesse and Cé­line’s meet-cute, as well as Cé­line’s send­off in the clos­ing scene.

Lin­klater: It was hell. We rode the trains from Vi­enna to Salzburg and back for three days to get the be­gin­ning scene and the shots out the win­dows. You’re good when the train reaches a cer­tain speed, but if it’s jump­ing around, you’re screwed.

Hawke: My step­fa­ther had given me this bur­gundy turtle­neck, and I was in love with it. I don’t know why. And then I just im­me­di­ately re­gret­ted it be­cause it was re­ally hot. What id­iot thinks they look good in a turtle­neck in sum­mer in Vi­enna?

Lin­klater: The very last shot of the movie, when Julie walks onto the train, we had that timed to the sec­ond and we got one chance to do it. It was like, the train’s go­ing to leave here at 8:37:30. I’m go­ing to say ac­tion at 8:20. She’s go­ing to get on a non-mov­ing train. And then when she gets to her seat, the train is go­ing to be mov­ing. It was tense, but we re­hearsed the hell out of it and it worked.

Delpy: It was in­sanely hot. I had not slept in days be­cause we shot (mostly) at night. I re­mem­ber be­ing mis­er­able. It was the end of the shoot, and I felt I was never go­ing to see Rick and Ethan again.

When the pair al­most kiss while lis­ten­ing to Kath Bloom’s “Come Here” in the record store booth, Delpy and Hawke’s re­ac­tions were au­then­tic.

Lin­klater: That’s the only time I with­held any­thing from the cast. The lyrics were in the script, but they had never ac­tu­ally heard the song. So you can see them re­ally lis­ten­ing be­cause they’d never heard that yearn­ing, creaky thing in Kath Bloom’s voice that’s so mov­ing.

Hawke: It’s prob­a­bly my sin­gle fa­vorite take of any­thing I’ve been in­volved with.

Delpy: That was re­ally spe­cial. It was like magic — each time I felt Ethan look­ing away, I would look at him and vice versa. I al­most fell in love with him right there, but then Rick said cut.

Jesse and Cé­line’s first kiss takes place on Vi­enna’s Prater Fer­ris wheel at sun­set, but was dif­fi­cult in more ways than one.

Lin­klater: We tried to shoot it at sun­set, but they would only stop the Fer­ris wheel for 10 min­utes, and then we’d have to go around and do it again. We had three dif­fer­ent light lev­els by the time we fin­ished. So we went back a week later and reshot that in the morn­ing when they let us stop it for an hour. When you see their first kiss, that was shot in the a.m.

Hawke: Julie is afraid of heights. Try mak­ing out with some­body who’s ab­so­lutely pet­ri­fied. It was chal­leng­ing, and I don’t think she was ter­ri­bly im­pressed — she’d been with a lot more in­ter­est­ing men than me.

Lin­klater in­ten­tion­ally left sev­eral el­e­ments of the film up to the au­di­ence’s imag­i­na­tion, namely did Jesse and Cé­line have sex?

Lin­klater: Tech­ni­cally, you could see it any way you want. If you look closely, she’s dressed a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. So if you re­ally do the math, you go OK, that dress had to come off to get that shirt off. Some­thing hap­pened. I think all the hints are there.

Ev­ery nine years, there’s been a se­quel, but it’s un­likely a fourth film would ar­rive on sched­ule.

Hawke: There was a feel­ing I had in my gut when we fin­ished “Be­fore Mid­night” that I’d never had be­fore, which was that we were done. “Sun­rise,” “Sun­set,” “Mid­night” is one work in its own strange way. That doesn’t mean there won’t be another work, like an epi­logue. I would be cu­ri­ous about an “Af­ter” se­ries, about some­thing where you re­ally deal with the sec­ond half of your life.

Lin­klater: Maybe we’ll wait un­til they’re in their 80s. I’m not rul­ing that out.


Di­rec­tor Richard Lin­klater, cen­ter, works with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke on the set of 1995’s “Be­fore Sun­rise.”


Lin­klater, Delpy and Hawke re­united in 2013 for the re­lease of the third film in the tril­ogy, “Be­fore Mid­night.”

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