The Director's Muse
"Before Sunrise," the first film in Richard Linklater's trilogy, was inspired by a night the director spent with a young woman he met in a toy store in Philadelphia in 1989. Her name was Amy Lehrhaupt—he was 29; she was 20. Even as they walked around the city, "flirting, doing things you would never do now," Linklater told the New York Times years later, he was thinking, "This could be a movie."
She Never Saw the Movie
Although they stayed in touch for a while, the "long-distance thing" fizzled. In the run-up to the January 1995 premiere of "Sunrise," Linklater thought Amy might show up at a screening—much the way Celine (Julie Delpy) surprises Jesse (Ethan Hawke) at a reading in Paris in "Before Sunset." The director didn't learn until years later that his muse had been killed in a motorcycle accident in 1994, at the age of 24.
'Loving Takes Its Course'
One of the strongest scenes in "Sunrise" takes place in an old-school record store booth, where Celine and Jesse listen to Kath Bloom's ballad "Come Here" without saying a word. When the movie came out, Bloom was a single mom living in New Haven, Connecticut; she'd given up recording. The response to the film's soundtrack led her to write new songs and, in 1999, release her first album in more than a decade.
That First Kiss
When it came to shooting the scene on the ferris wheel, where Celine and Jesse first kiss, Delpy complained that Hawke "kisses like an adolescent." In an interview with Time magazine, the actor remembered it as "one of my worst experiences on a film set." But Delpy's remark was worked into the screenplay and became a memorable line in a later scene.
Sticking to the Script
Although some lines might seem ad-libbed, all of the dialogue was scripted. Linklater co-wrote the original "Sunrise" screenplay with Kim Krizan, an actress in his earlier films, after which he collaborated with Delpy and Hawke. Every word, every pause and every gesture was, as Delpy put it, "written and mapped out."
'The Greatest Night'
We know how the plan to meet in six months worked out. But did Jesse keep his promise to send the bartender money for the bottle of wine he contributed to "the greatest night of your life"? Delpy says no. Linklater (center) is less cynical. Hawke's theory: Back in Vienna, Jesse—"in hopes of good karma"—returned to the club to repay the bartender. "But the guy didn't work there anymore, so he just left someone else a tip."
A Literary Inspiration
The original owner of Shakespeare and Company—the Paris bookstore where Celine and Jesse remeet in "Before Sunset," the 2004 follow-up to "Sunrise"—published James Joyce's "Ulysses" in 1922. And it's no accident that "Sunrise" begins on June 16, also known as Bloomsday—the day when the events in "Ulysses" take place.
To maintain the feeling that "Sunset" is happening in real time, Linklater filmed only in the afternoon. With a 15-day shooting schedule, the actors were given a limited number of takes for each scene. Before the filming, Delpy and Hawke rehearsed the dialogue as though they were preparing for the opening night of a play.
"I'd Dissolve Into Molecules"
Try to imagine this in a Hollywood romance: Although Celine hugs Jesse in one scene—to test whether he will "dissolve into molecules"—they never kiss.
The woman coming out of Celine's apartment house and the man at the outdoor grill in "Sunset" were played by Julie Delpy's parents, Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy. Julie later directed them in "2 Days in Paris" (seen here). She described her mom, who died in 2009, as sweet and easygoing. Working with her dad, on the other hand, was "like directing King Kong—exciting, but scary."
'Just in Time'
While collaborating on the "Sunset" screenplay, Delpy at one point took a break from writing, turned on a recording of Nina Simone, and began to dance like the legendary jazz artist. Linklater knew instantly that he was watching the end of his film.
Celine and Jesse also show up in Linklater's 2001 animated drama "Waking Life." Referring to some of the dialogue in "Before Sunrise," they talk about things like brain chemistry and the way dreams compress time. It all happens in a dream (possibly one of the dreams Jesse refers to in "Before Sunset").
Nine Years Later
By the end of "Before Sunset," Celine and Jesse have spent a grand total of about 24 hours together. As "Before Midnight" opens, they have twin daughters and have lived together for nine years. You sense the difference immediately as they drive in Greece at the beginning of the film—a single-shot scene that lasts 13 minutes.
'A Fault Line'
Linklater told New York magazine that Celine and Jesse's bitter fight in the hotel was the toughest part of the "Midnight" screenplay to write, since it involves "a fault line" in the now complex history of their relationship. But Linklater's direction to Delpy and Hawke was simple: "This is a love scene."
Box Office Results
As Linklater (who directed "Midnight" on crutches) told Filmmaker Magazine, "Before Sunrise" may have been "the lowest-grossing film ever to spawn a sequel"—let alone two of them. Yet all three installments of the "Before" trilogy have been profitable. Collectively, they cost $8.2 million to make and have grossed more than $50 million.
A Labor of Love
Of course, this project was never about the money. At the end of "Midnight" there's a discreet dedication—to Amy Lehrhaupt, the young woman who inspired "Before Sunrise" more than two decades ago. It's as if the entire trilogy is a reminder that once she and Linklater really did meet. That it was real. That it happened.
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