Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Julie Delpy

After 'Before Sunset'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In October of 2004, after Before Sunset had been playing for several months in a first-run theater, Julie Delpy (probably best known for her role in Krzysztof Kieslowski's White) came to San Francisco to do a little post-film and pre-DVD publicity. I wound up talking to her twice, once in her hotel during the day and again that night at a special screening for SAG members. I found her wonderfully genuine, unconcerned with any Hollywood pretense and unafraid to say what was really on her mind. She is not interested in marriage or religion at all, but loves her cats and her friends. She continues to expand her career past acting, delving into writing and directing and most recently completing J'ai peur, j'ai mal, je meurs. She looks like a woman in her thirties, but she still has shockingly beautiful blue eyes and an intoxicating voice that she has put to good use with her recent music career. On Before Sunset, she shares a co-screenwriting credit with her director Richard Linklater and her co-star Ethan Hawke. This collaboration led into the filmmaking process itself, allowing her to contribute to many crucial decisions.

How did you come up with the ending?

We didn't know what to do, and so I said, "let me do something for you," and I put on this song, "Just in Time," which is my favorite song of Nina Simone. We didn't get the version that I like best, but we got another version. And I started doing the thing. Nina Simone has a history for Ethan and I because we had tickets to see her in Vienna when we were shooting Before Sunrise, on our day off. And she never showed up because something happened. Too sick or too drunk, I don't know. And so we were sad that we never got to see her together. So it's like an homage to that. It's true that I have seen her, twice. And I wanted to put that in the film because each time it was such exquisite moments. I was sad that I never got to see her with Ethan. I kind of introduced him to her. He says no, but I did.

What about the beautiful waltz that Celine sings to Jesse? Did you write that?

Yes. I wrote it in December of 2000, and I wrote it a bit with the film in mind, the first film, obviously. I didn't know we were going to be doing a sequel. I thought it was nice to write a little song about a one-night stand that could be taken as a trashy thing. Does that seem trashy? That's what I wanted to do. You take something that could be not very nice, but it's a real love song. It doesn't matter if you spend one night with someone. I mean, I have had one-night stands that were more meaningful to me than spending a year with someone who was driving me up the wall. So I wrote the song. Then Rick and Ethan heard my album that had just come out while we were finishing writing. Rick wanted another song called "Mr. Unhappy" that's kind of a funny song about a past relationship. It was one tone to give to the scene and it would have been very funny. But then as I was playing the waltz to them, I played not singing it, but more acting it. At first he wanted to film that one and then try "Mr. Unhappy," but I don't play "Mr. Unhappy" as well. I'm not a good guitar player. I started in 2000. I can play it but it's kind of slow. On the album I had a good guitar player play it for me. The waltz I can play blindfolded.

The song mentions Jesse by name. Did you write that in for the film?

It's written for Jesse. I had another Jesse in my life, for a very short time. When it happened I called Rick, and said, 'hey, I had sex with a guy named Jesse! Isn't that funny?' It was a weird coincidence. I like coincidences. Things happen for a reason.

You and Ethan have both written and directed films as well as other kinds of writing. Was there any conflict on the set among three writers and three directors?

He hired us because we were writers. Even if Ethan was not published and I had written a few scripts that no one had optioned, we told him, not knowing that he was interested in that. It was not a problem. It's good if you have three. You have one person who has this idea and he thinks it should be in the film, but you're always going to have two against one. So basically, it's quickly decided. And even if I have two guys against me, I always figure out a way to get my way. (She laughs.) And it's little details, like when I didn't agree with a word Ethan wanted to say -- just one word that I didn't like. In the film he says, 'those Buddhist guys,' but he wanted to say 'those Buddhist cats.' And I didn't like the term 'cats.' I was like, 'that's so cheeseball wannabe Beat Generation. You're not gonna say that line.' And then he realized that it was really bothering me. We got to the set and I was like, 'Rick, I can't do this -- he says cats.' This was my only obsession!

The DVD is out now, and the film has been playing for a while. Do you read reviews, and if so, what's your reaction to them?

I've read a few. I think there are very few bad ones. And even the bad ones are, "why do they talk so much?" I can't get upset because you like a certain kind of movie and our film is not for you. One guy said, "It's all foreplay and no payoff." And I was like, "Wow. This guy must be great in bed."

We were really surprised because we had such a good time doing the film that we thought, "We're going to have to pay the price." But that people like it as much as we loved doing it, it's almost surprising. Maybe it's my Judeo-Christian background, even though I'm not very religious, that makes me feel like I should be punished for something fun. But it's the opposite, which is great.

It's my favorite film this year. I like this one better than the original.

Thank you! I like this one much better too. It's a bigger challenge; it's going all the way. We don't interact with anyone. We don't do anything. It's more pure. It's more hopeful at the end, which I really like. It's a happier movie. The last film, it made me sad at the end. It made me sad that those two would part and never see each other again.

October 25, 2004

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