Exclusive Interview: Rick Linklater on Before Midnight

The director of Before Midnight ponders the past and future of his romantic movie franchise.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Richard Linklater introduced himself as Rick, so I’m in the inner circle. All his collaborators like Ethan Hawke refer to him as Rick Linklater, so now I’m going to also. I saw Before Midnight at Sundance and have been waiting all year to talk about it. Before I left for Cannes I got to speak with Linklater on the phone about where we find Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Hawke) nine years after they reconnected in Before Sunset. I still tried to keep my specific questions about their dialogue vague enough to avoid spoilers, but Linklater got specific, so Spoiler Warning.

CraveOnline: You’ve been making movies about people talking for a long time. Are you thinking about very different things now than when you wrote and made Before Sunrise?

Rick Linklater: Yes and no. You think about the things you couldn’t technically have been thinking about. The bigger existential questions kind of strangely remain the same, but the details of life that accumulate as you get older and have specific life experiences, parenthood and getting older, that kind of stuff, yeah. There’s a lot to talk about.

There’s obviously still a will they/won’t they component to Before Midnight but is it more about just supporting your loved ones?

Well, responsibility certainly looms in this one. You feel it. That’s what really changes in your life. Jesse and Celine are the same people in a way as they were as 23-year-olds in Vienna when we first met them, but as she says later when he asks, “Would you get off the train with me?” She’s like, “No, I’ve got people waiting for me.” She’s joking but it’s true. You don’t have those experiences when you’re in your 40s so much because unless you’re the governor of South Carolina or whatever, it’s irresponsible. You have loved ones waiting on you. There’s a consistency demanded of you. You’re more attached.

In this film, we just see them much more attached. I don’t think any of it’s bad. He’s trying to be as good a parent as he can to his kid from the previous marriage. They obviously care about their twins. It just makes it tough. It makes it complex.

In another 10 years, will we get Before Fourthmeal?

[Laughs] Before Fourthmeal. Well, they’ll be 50. I don’t know, is that the right age for that?

Have you been hearing a lot of suggestions for what the next title after Before Midnight could be?

Not a whole lot. We joke about it. I don’t know, we’ve jumped. We had these kind of solar things going for the first two but now we’ve jumped to time, Midnight being a human construct notion of time. We might run the time thing or we might jump conceits and do something. Who knows? It’s fun to think about but absolutely no ideas. If it ends here and we don’t do another, we’re all fine with it.

When their conversation gets really heated, and I won’t tell our readers what she says exactly, but I feel like if I were Jesse I would have kept reassuring her, “I love you, I love you.” And I think I might have lost her. Is Jesse smarter for the way he handles that heated argument?

I think so and it’s probably not the first argument they’ve had. It might be the worst or the toughest in a way. Things come to a head in a bigger way but I don’t think it’s their first argument so he had some kind of sense about how to play it at this kind of crisis moment, the only way he knows how.

In Before Midnight are you more exploring the 10 years of a couple in a relationship at this point versus the getting to know you and catching up of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset?

Yeah. It’s different. It’s a lot harder. The other ones were difficult in their own way but I think it made it a tougher film to conceive of. How do you tell a story about the more domestic side of it all? A couple who’s been together a while, what’s there to say? What’s there to explore? It was just at a conceptual level tougher, and on the surface less appealing. We’re not catching them at the moment they’re falling in love or reconnecting, so what would it be? It’s such a different animal, and life is different at that age. There’s nothing easy about it.

They argue about being rational versus emotional, but is Jesse more emotional than he realizes?

Yeah, I think they both are.

Well, would she be a little more rational than she realizes she is?

Yes, both. I think they meet in the middle there. I mean, she makes a pretty rational argument and he’s pretty emotional. That’s what’s driving his whole supposedly rational argument. He has a kind of strong emotional base to it obviously. He just expresses that in a little different way. Like a lot of guys, he’s holding that in to some degree, trying to make sense of it but he’s really hurting.

Jesse is certainly one of the most emotional male characters we see in movies.

I think so, yeah. He doesn’t fit the mold. That’s what makes their particular relationship work, and Ethan himself has that quality.

Celine has become quite volatile. Is that more of an extension of where she was in Before Sunset?

I don’t know. This is a moment. Never forget, you’re in the hands of two manipulators trying to get what they want. So she has to kind of overreact perhaps to nip in the bud what he’s apparently going for which she knows he’s manipulating her into potentially moving and what she perceives as harming their current life and their kids. She’s probably overreacting but for a purpose, for an effect maybe. Couples argue in different ways and know each other’s buttons and know how to get what they want. We’re kind of in the midst of two intelligent, passionate people with points of view and agendas. It’s not sinister. It’s this moment where they find themselves and how they go at it, but knowing the other pretty well.

As technology has developed over the decades, when did you realize that Before Sunrise relationships were kind of obsolete?

[Laughs] Pretty early on. It was almost obsolete then. People were online then but within a couple years it was like, “Hey, what’s your e-mail?” It’s impossible now to imagine that two people wouldn’t share the most basic of communication information. It’s unfathomable. It was a leap of faith then and an effort not to, but back then it just would’ve been a phone number and an address. But in this case, that film’s sort of out of time to begin with. They’re in a listening booth listening to a record. I mean, that was all gone by ’94 also.

They met reading books. Those are gone now!

Yeah, that’s kind of different. Everything’s different. We always conceived of that film as sort of out of time, out of place. It was never supposed to be a film of the moment. It was pretty out of step.

I think ’94 might have been the last possible moment you could have made Before Sunrise.

Yeah. Two years later it wouldn’t have made any sense.