New Again: Before Sunrise

In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present. 

On Friday, Before Midnight will finally come out in cinemas. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and director Richard Linklater will reunite on screen for 24 hours in the lives of the transatlantic, loquacious lovers Jesse and Céline. Nine years have passed since we left Jesse in Paris, watching Céline dance to Nina Simone in her living room instead of heading back to his wife in the U.S. When we meet them this time, it is on holiday in Greece. They are 41 and the parents of twin daughters.

Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater have made it clear that they intend to keep making film together at nine-year intervals. While we hypothesize what the next installment—the characters at age 50—might involve, we’ve reprinted our original interview with the trio after the Before Sunrise‘s release in 1995. It is a very ’90s conversation.

Truer than Romance
By Richard Linklater

Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy—just friends—chat with their Before Sunrise director, Richard Linklater, about the brain-scrambling complexity of friendship with lovers, ex-lovers and other people one is, was or might be attracted to.

In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, the film that recently opened the Sundance Film Festival, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke play French student Céline and American tourist Jesse, who hook up on Eurorail and spend a day and night wandering around Vienna. They talk about everything and nothing, fall tentatively in love, and make out in a park. Cheerfully eventless, the movie is another of Linklater’s unhurried maunderfests, and as such more pertinent than most films about contemporary youth culture. Delpy was in Los Angeles, Hawke in New York, and Linklater in Austin, Texas, when we conferenced them in a state-of-the-art summit on the wire-crossed issues of friendship and romance.

JULIE DELPY: What’s up, dudes? Oh God, this is depressing.

RICHARD LINKLATER: What’s depressing, Julie?

DELPY: Doing this on the phone.

ETHAN HAWKE: This is like a beacon of ’90s behavior.

LINKLATER: We’re virtual friends now.

HAWKE: We used to be hardcopy friends, and now we’re virtual friends.

DELPY: I’m going to have a panic attack.

HAWKE: Interview wants us to talk about friendship, right? I’ll start off. Do you remember when we were working [on Before Sunrise] and I told you that my great-grandmother wrote an autobiography on her deathbed? Well, she said something about friendship. I’ll read it: “I have many . . . good friends and neighbors who have been so kind, whom I shall always remember and appreciate. There is nothing more valuable than good friends, and the older you are, the more you need them.”

LINKLATER: I remember you reading that before—it’s pretty cool.

HAWKE: Then she goes on: “I find the mail is one of my greatest pleasures. I wait anxiously every day for the postman’s arrival, just hoping I will get a letter. I don’t like holidays, because the mail doesn’t come.” Oh, that’s kind of sad.

LINKLATER: So her connection with the world was through the mail. Now it’s the phone. We’re not so far off. So do you think Céline and Jesse are friends in this movie?

DELPY: Well, they’re a bit more than friends.

LINKLATER: I don’t think they qualify as friends. When a man and a woman or any two people that may have an attraction to one another get together, it seems to me that needs to get sorted out first, or where does it go?

HAWKE: So of you’re lovers, you’re not friends, because you have sex with each other?

DELPY: No, wait. I think you can be friends and lovers.

LINKLATER: It depends on how you define friendship. If you want something from someone, can you be their friend? When you first meet someone, you might just want to sleep with them.

DELPY: But I think friendship is also about wanting something from people. Wanting affection and wanting to give it.

HAWKE: Here’s an interesting example. Were we all, the three of us, friends while we working on the movie? Or were we not really friends until all the work was done? Because we could’ve become friends, for example, in the first few weeks of the movie, yet we all wanted so much from each other at that point. Did it really qualify as friendship?

LINKLATER: We were intimate artistic collaborators at that stage.

HAWKE: Okay, are you ready? [reading from a dictionary] “Friendship: the state of being friends.” Great, that’s very helpful.

DELPY: [laughs]

HAWKE: “Friendly-feeling attitude.” Well, I think we qualify for that, right?


LINKLATER: Definitely. Someone once defined friends as “the family you select.”

HAWKE: Now, I like that.

LINKLATER: You can’t select your own family.

DELPY: But you can select your friends.

LINKLATER: And your friends are really an extension of your vision of the world. It’s kind of a physical manifestation of how you feel. Like your soul.

DELPY: I think the first sign of friendship is a manifestation of how you separate from your parents and try to find a new family on your own. It’s the first sign of growing.

LINKLATER: Do you have many friends of the opposite sex who you’d consider just good friends and there’s no hint of romance or sex?

DELPY: Yes. Most of my friends are guys.

LINKLATER: But are they gay?

DELPY: No, not necessarily. Some are, some not.

LINKLATER: They don’t want to sleep with you?

DELPY: They’re very cute and everything, but I am not attracted to them.

LINKLATER: See, all the women are going around saying, “Oh, we’re just friends, we’re just friends,” but the guy’s going, “Yeah, we’re friends, but as soon as she breaks up with her boyfriend, I’m hoping to move in.”

DELPY: Not at all, not at all! They are not at all like that, you bunch of pricks! [Linklater and Hawke laugh]

LINKLATER: I used to think that way. But now I have a lot of women friends—I feel like I finally matured a little. But initially I was attracted to some of them. I liked everything they were about. I think men are just taught: “Okay, well then, I should try to have sex with them.” I’m just lucky that it went in the friendship direction, and it became a much stronger bond that’s lasted a long time. You wonder how many potentially great friends you lose along the way because you become lovers and it is so painful when it’s over and you can’t turn it into a positive friendship.

DELPY: It depends. My best friend is a straight guy and for the first week or so I was attracted to him, and then it became something else. I think the transformation is pretty quick.

HAWKE: I think it’s a lot easier, though, to become friends with somebody when you’re already involved with someone else.

DELPY: No, that’s no true at all!

HAWKE: It’s true for me.

DELPY: Yeah, because you’re not grown-up yet.

HAWKE: [laughs] Okay, Julie, no, we’re getting into that whole scene again, huh?

DELPY: No, but it’s a sign of being grown-up when you’re able to be friends with people even though you’re alone and they’re alone.

LINKLATER: I’m like that more and more now because I don’t want to get involved. It’s too messy.

HAWKE: How many times have you gone through that whole conversation where you say, “Okay, the love affair isn’t working; let’s try to be friends.” And you actually mean it, but it doesn’t work because you go to the movies together or something and before you know it you’re holding hands or—

DELPY: That usually makes me really angry at the person. It makes me neurotic and paranoiac and psychopathic. If you begin something romantic, it’s very hard to go back to something else, I think. It’s almost impossible—for me, at least. For other people, maybe it’s okay. I usually hate people I’ve been with after they tell me, “Let’s be friends.” I’m like, “Fuck off!”

HAWKE: You’re like, “I’ve got friends, and you’re not one of them.”

LINKLATER: “I’ve got friends all over the world and I don’t need any more!” [laughs]

HAWKE: In a certain way, though, aren’t your lovers your greatest friends?

LINKLATER: They should be, over time.

DELPY: Really getting to know someone takes time. In the movies, I don’t think Céline and Jesse are friends. I think they’re falling in love.

LINKLATER: The movie’s about crossing paths with someone who needs the same thing you do. The question is, could this really be something more, something bigger, eternal? I think it’s something they’ll both know at some point in the future.

DELPY: Actually, romance and friendship in the film are not so different. They understand each other. They like each other. It’s not just a sex thing.

LINKLATER: They could be great supportive friends or lovers.

HAWKE: It seems to me that timing is a big deciding factor in friendship.

DELPY: Oh yeah, of course, whether it’s friendship or love. The essence of is two people trying to share something. When I think of how I met my best friends, it was always like love at first sight.

HAWKE: I remember you said that about your friend Emily and that you totally love her.

DELPY: I love her maybe more than, you know, people I’ve been . . . well, that’s for sure! [laughs] I know that whatever happens to me, she’ll still be there a year from now.

HAWKE: Friends can hurt you, but the possibility of pain with lovers is so much greater because your expectations are so high. You don’t ask as much of your friends.

LINKLATER: When you’re in love, you’re asking someone else to fulfill all your unfulfilled needs, to make you whole, and to make you feel good about everything, and no one can do that.

HAWKE: And to share their life with you. You can’t ask a bigger thing of a person.

DELPY: I was reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s On Love and Other Difficulties the other day. He was saying the only way of really living with someone is to grow parallel lives; otherwise it becomes destructive. You grow together, but separately. I guess friendship is very much like that, too, where you’re able to grow next to one another but don’t try to strangle the other person.


HAWKE: That’s what young people do, because they don’t know—

LINKLATER: Themselves enough. When I think of the friends I’ve had since high school, the couple I still keep up with, I feel they’re my deepest friends just because we go back that far. But I wonder, is that my own projection, a need for those deeper roots?

HAWKE: Well, those are the people who have a short-hand of your existence. For example, if you tell me, “Oh, this thing happened today and it bothers me so much,” I’ll ask you why it does, whereas an older friend would know why immediately, because that kind of shit bothered you when you were 16 years old.

LINKLATER: But we’ll be like that in 10 years, Ethan.

HAWKE: Exactly. Here’s a question: Are my cat and I friends?

DELPY: I think so.

HAWKE: You know?

DELPY: I don’t know.

LINKLATER: Hey, how did your photo shoot go?

HAWKE: We shot in Julie’s hotel room. I’m all clean-shaven with a short haircut, Rick.

LINKLATER: Oh really?

DELPY: Yeah, he looks like a pig-a-let.

LINKLATER: [laughs]

HAWKE: That’s friendship for you.

DELPY: Oh Ethan, you’re so sweet!

HAWKE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DELPY: Oh, I miss you guys! I can’t wait to be in New York again.

LINKLATER: I can’t wait to kick your ass in pool, Julie!

DELPY: Oh, I’m good. I kicked Ethan’s ass when I was in New York. Three times.

HAWKE: Well, you know that game, don’t you, Rick? I wanted to have a nice time.

DELPY: Oh, shut up! You couldn’t put a ball in a hole. Okay, guys I’m so happy I talked to you. I love you.

LINKLATER: Okay, I love you, too. Talk to you later.

HAWKE: Bye-bye.

DELPY: What’s happening? Are you going to keep talking?

LINKLATER: No, we’re all hanging up.

DELPY: Okay, you’re sure?

HAWKE: You be the last one to hang up just to make sure nobody talks when you’re gone.

LINKLATER: Let’s all hang up at the same time.

DELPY: Okay.

LINKLATER: One . . .

HAWKE: Two. . .

DELPY: Three! [click]


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