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Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke star in Before Midnight, the third film in a series that follows near 20 years of a relationship. (Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

One Couple, Nearly 20 Years, All 'Before Midnight'

by NPR Staff
May 19, 2013 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Richard Linklater (center) directs Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke on the set of Before Midnight.

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In 1995, an unintended cult-classic trilogy was born with a film that centered on a simple, romantic premise. Two strangers in their early 20s spend a spontaneous night together in Vienna. The characters, Jesse and Celine, split ways in Before Sunrise, but they reunited nine years later for a sequel, Before Sunset.

In that sequel, Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, find each other in Paris for another brief rendezvous. Even though both are now in other relationships, they can't shake their connection.

Now, another nine years have passed, and they're back together with a third film.

In Before Midnight, life has moved on. The couple has twin daughters. They're living in Europe, talking about the things long-term couples talk about: job troubles, annoying habits, the banal details of life.

Director Richard Linklater says there's a kind of romance to that, too. He says there's optimism in the connection they still have and hope in how they continue to make each other laugh. But Linklater says it wasn't an easy task.

"It was tougher to go into the domestic beast, you know, nine years in, to them being together constantly, and find something within that that was still very interesting, hopefully, to watch," he tells Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition.

The challenges — and rewards — for the actors are found in the moments of silence and "non-acting."

"It's easy to scream and cry and roll on the floor. As an actor, that's what we're trained for," Delpy says. Walking alongside a longtime partner in the village is a different task, she says. Hawke adds:

"Trying to let the characters' subconscious actually be seen without letting it be known that you're showing it — that kind of fragile element of the movie, it's incredibly delicate."

The third film doesn't hold the same kind of tension found in the first, which is bound by the deadline of a morning flight. But, Linklater says, the third film had to reflect the changes that naturally occur in life.

"We knew we couldn't do the same thing again," he says. "We couldn't have another brief encounter, a fleeting connection ... you have less of those, especially by the time you're 40. You miss that part of yourself that could have done that, but it's just a different stage of life."

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