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