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Julie Delpy Has 'Midnight' Rendezvous

In her latest film, Before Midnight—the third in Richard Linklater's triology that began with Before Sunrise in 1995—Julie Delpy plays Celine, a French mom of twin girls who's in a long-term yet strained relationship with Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American and the father of her children.

Both Delpy and her character have evolved since Before Sunrise, when Celine and Jesse met on a train in Europe, and then reconnected in Paris in 2004's Before Sunset. (How could they not?) And although the films have been praised for mimicking real life so well, Delpy insists they're anything but.

"The films are not autobiographical at all," she told mom.me in an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.

Delpy does concede, however, that as mom to 4-year-old Leo with long-term boyfriend Marc Streitenfeld, she's brought some of her parenting experience to the role. And while her young son was born in Paris like his mom, Delpy says he prefers speaking English to French. After all, he's an L.A. kid now.

Before Midnight delves into parenting and motherhood. Did your experience as a mom inform those scenes?

I think my relationship to motherhood is very different from the character in the film. But I don’t think I would have been able to write about it the way I write about it in the film if I didn’t have a sense of it. And being a mother definitely helps, too, to talk about those things: the anxiety, the doubts, all the questioning.

Especially when you have twins—the character has twins. I spoke to the lady who was the mother of the twins. When I said, “How was it, at the beginning?” she almost started crying. And they’re 8 years old, and they’re beautiful and wonderful and sweet. It must have been really something intense, much more intense than with my situation with only one kid.

I think the more you grow, the more your life is carved by your decisions.

You said your take on motherhood is different from Celine’s. How so?

It’s different because, first of all, the father of my son is extremely present, hands-on. Celine complains a lot about Jesse being away and not knowing the pediatrician’s name. I know people like that. I know couples like that. I’m not in that situation, even though there are things that I can relate to.

I feel like women do things that are never acknowledged, like dishwasher-filling, like picking up crap all day long—like 40 percent of the job that’s never even noticed. And I feel like I’ve done a lot of that—now a little less because I complain so much.

Marc helps out?

Yeah, now he’s helping out. Now he’s doing that stuff. I’m the lazy one now.

Is your relationship with Marc anything like Celine and Jesse?

It has nothing to do with it. The films are not autobiographical at all. The emotions that we feel are true, but they’re not autobiographical. People assume so, because it seems so natural, the way we act and everything, but it’s actually really just a lot of rehearsing and a lot of writing—trying to really map out and create the character as realistically and accurately as possible. And then to act it as realistically as possible as well.

MORE: Julie Bowen Talks Parenthood and Life With Twins

Celine is much different in the third film than in the first. How have you changed since the first film?

I’ve changed like anyone’s changed between 20 and 40. It’s a lifetime. I think the more you grow, the more your life is carved by your decisions because you have to make decisions throughout your life. And I’ve made some decisions that have made me who I am.

I don’t know how I would say I’ve changed. I probably have less romantic projections than you have in your 20s. At the same time, I feel better in my shoes—not these ones [she points to heels she’s kicked off onto the floor]. I feel better about what I do in my life. I’ve directed movies, and I’ve always wanted to be a director, even though I love acting. I don’t think I could have been acting all my life with no other creative outlet.

You wrote parts of the first film without credit. Which of those scenes really stands out for you?

On the first film, it was the phone scene and then little bits and pieces of dialogue like talking about if there’s a God, it’s between two people, like the space between them.

I was very romantic, so I would write really, really romantic concepts, also the idea of being this old woman about to die and watching her life … [she trails off].

I had that feeling when I was young, always, that I was much older than I was. And funny enough, I feel younger now than I did in my early 20s. I felt I had all of the weight of the world on my shoulders. Maybe it’s living in L.A. for 20 years, but I feel much happier now.

Sometimes when he speaks to me a few words in French, it almost makes me cry...

You seemed like an old soul in the first film.

My soul has gotten younger! No, actually, I’m happier now. There’s no doubt about it. Life is more complex, and there’s a lot of trouble you have to deal with, but you definitely figure out more of what you want to do with your life in your 40s than in your 20s, when it’s open and scary out there.

Although your son is very young, what do you think you’ll tell him about love and relationships, after your experience with these three films?

I’m not talking about it yet. So far, it’s always about the fairy tales. At the beginning, you need some kind of fairy-tale-like story. I notice that—not just about love, but in general. Like when I was trying to explain to him that superheroes are not real, that Santa Claus doesn’t exist—because I don’t want him to have those crazy ideas because I think it’s a little weird, all that stuff, especially the superheroes—he was like, “Mommy, you’re stupid. Of course superheroes exist. Of course Iron Man exists." I was trying to explain that Iron Man is an actor, and I was showing him Robert Downey in other films, and he was like, “That Robert Downey is stupid. He thinks he’s Iron Man. He’s silly, mommy.”

They need dreams, and that’s the bottom line. Children need dreams, and eventually he’ll need to learn by himself that dreams are dreams, and it’ll be a big letdown, and then he’ll grow out of it.

But you’ve lived your dream, right?

Actually, I didn’t have many dreams as a kid. I was kind of thinking, “My life isn’t going to be that great.” I was not expecting a great life—I mean I was not expecting a terrible life—but I was living in my world most of the time. I was writing stories already when I was like 6, 7 years old. The minute I knew how to write, I was starting to invent worlds. Luckily, I’m not schizophrenic—yet! But basically I was in my world so much, so introverted and so in my own stuff that I didn’t really foresee the future. And I got in a place in a way that’s much, much better than what I could ever expect.

If you had told me, “You’re going to be directing movies, telling stories, writing, acting, doing everything you want to do and more,” I would have not believed it.

How is it raising an American child?

He speaks English. I speak to him in French; he doesn’t answer in French. I say, “Please speak French," and he has an accent when he speaks French—like a really strong American accent.

You know what’s weird? I’m so close to French culture. Sometimes when he speaks to me a few words in French, it almost makes me cry, because I feel like it’s my son, suddenly. It’s weird to have a son that’s more American than me.

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