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10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy

Richard Linklater’s magnum opus Before trilogy is the culmination of his meandering dialogue-driven plots, naturalism, and explorations of time.

Before Sunrise shows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) love blossoming as they meet on a train, and get off together to talk deeply and walk around Vienna through the night. Before Sunset continues their story nine years later as they catch up in Paris. In the final installment, Jesse and Celine are together with twin girls holidaying in Greece, and arguing exactly as the middle-aged couple did on that train twenty-seven years earlier. After almost three decades of filmmaking, there are plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from the productions that even many fans might be unaware of.


No Improvisation

The naturalistic, conversational nature of the films led many viewers to assume that a lot of improvisation was involved. However, in multiple interviews, Delpy and Hawke have confirmed that they followed the script to the letter and Linklater did not allow any improvisation at all. This is in part due to the skill of the actors.

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However, the actors did rewrite parts of the script before and during the shooting of Before Sunrise, which developed the Linklater, Delpy, Hawke artistic partnership. They have written the sequels together and were actually Oscar-nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Before Midnight.

Cameos Aplenty

Through three whole movies, the trilogy has its fair share of cameos, most of which consist of the friends and family of the cast and crew. In Before Sunrise, one of the very first shots on the train captures a sleeping Adam Goldberg, who also starred in Linklater’s Dazed & Confused before this.

Also in this is the director himself, playing foosball in the bar as Jesse and Celine compete in a game of pinball. The film’s producer, John Sloss, also features as an American patron of Cafe Sperl, stereotypically complaining about the ‘terrible’ service. In Before Sunset, Celine’s happy barbecuing neighbors are her actual parents Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet.

James Joyce References

James Joyce must have had a big effect on Richard Linklater as an artist. Each film contains references to the Irish author and his novels: Jesse and Celine’s first meeting takes place on June 16th, which is also the day on which Joyce’s seminal novel ‘Ulysses’ is set. Joyce had his first romantic encounter with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, on June 16th, and the date is commemorated as Bloomsday in Ireland and beyond as a celebration of the author’s life.

The opening of Before Sunset has Jesse taking part in a promotional day for his book at a historic French bookshop, ‘Shakespeare and Company’. Joyce was a longtime patron and Ulysses was published in 1922 at the bookstore. Finally, in Before Midnight, Celine describes a black and white film that had an impact on her as a teenager in which a couple visits the ancient city of Pompeii. Although she can’t recall the name, this film is Journey to Italy (1954) which is based on Joyce’s short story, ‘The Dead’.

Hawke Was Initially Intimidated By Delpy

Despite being accomplished in his own right, Ethan Hawke revealed that he was initially very intimidated by the intense Delpy. He recalls that meeting Julie was like ‘meeting a character from a novel, like Anna Karenina or something.’ Adding that he’d ‘never felt so American and so dumb in my life.’ In a video interview he adds that: ‘I didn’t understand 90% of the film references she made’ and ‘she was a formidable human being to speak with.’

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This perhaps lent itself to their dynamic in Before Sunrise as, in the imaginary phone scene, Jesse says something similar, admitting that he felt so unsure of himself when they first chatted and he ‘thought everything I said sounded so stupid.’

Before Sunset Was Only Shot During Golden Hour

The first sequel’s gorgeous golden hue was painstakingly crafted by Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel. As the film is set in real-time, during the course of their second meeting, they had to shoot the film only in the hour before sunset; known in photography as the ‘golden hour.’

Not only does this blanket Paris in glorious orange tones; capturing the city of lights in an atmospheric late summer evening; it also serves as a metaphor. The sun is setting on the possibility for them to rekindle their romance and Jesse’s ride to the airport is waiting.

Jesse & Celine Feature In Another Film

Six years after the release of Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine featured in one scene of Richard Linklater’s dream-like anthology of sorts: Waking Life. They have one of their famous philosophical conversions in bed, exploring the nature of reincarnation, dreams and shared experience in a short appearance.

During the nine years before the release Before Sunset, fans used this to assume that Jesse and Celine did indeed meet up six months later, however, it’s clear after the two sequels that this conversation never happened. Perhaps it’s simply one of Jesse’s dreams about Celine that he mentions in Before Sunset.

No One Involved Knew How Before Sunrise Would End

Although Richard Linklater had crafted the characters and written a whole script with his friend and collaborator Kim Krizan, it became clear during shooting that they did not have a concrete ending to the movie. Just like Jesse and Celine, they went back and forth on the idea of the two planning to meet up again or following through on their promise to make that magical night their last.

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As they shot the film in chronological order, this left a lot of room for deliberation on how it would end. However it was all down to the wire; Linklater tells The NY Times that by the last night of shooting the newly formed screenwriting team were up until 3 AM writing the final scene.

Ethan Hawke’s Subsequent Struggle With Romance

In a recent profile with Elle, Ethan Hawke complained that after the release of Reality Bites and Before Sunrise, he’d struggle to meet women who noticed the real him. He says: “I can’t tell you how many times in the ’90s I’d meet somebody, we’d be having a nice time, and they’d sigh and go, ‘This is exactly like Before Sunrise. And I’d have to get up and leave.”

It must have been frustrating being on the dating scene, meeting people who have established parasocial relationships with a character. However, it was perhaps a good litmus test too.

Before Sunset Almost Had A Different Ending

Before Sunset has a gloriously sweet and satisfying ending. The whole film is leading to Jesse catching his imminent ride to the airport to fly back to America. It’s an unspoken reality between the two that he is extending their catch-up a little too much; with Celine finally saying, in an impression of Nina Simone: ‘Baby, you’re gonna miss that plane.’ ‘I know’, he happily accepts his fate.

However, this iconic ending was something to be fought for; as bigwigs at Warner Brothers wanted it scrapped and re-shot. Ethan Hawke tells IndieWire that Linklater was smart in “letting their own energy defeat them” as “he’ll talk about it until they get bored of talking about it. He just runs out the clock.” And thankfully, that worked.

Before Sunrise Was Based On A Real-Life Meeting

It was revealed during the promotions for Before Midnight that Richard Linklater had based his initial film on an actual meeting. In 1989, he met a woman in a toy store in Philadelphia and, after he passed her a note that read that he was only in town for one night, they got to talking, and continued to do so late into the night. Linklater recalls that during this engaging conversation, he said to her “I want to make a film about this. Just this feeling.”

And so he did, making Before Sunrise to capture the rush of meeting someone new. Linklater admitted to hoping that she would turn up at the world premiere, revealing that, like Jesse in writing This Time, he’d hope to capture her attention. Tragically, a friend of the real woman, Amy Lehrhaupt, got in touch to tell him that she had died in a motorcycle accident in 1994 before the release of Before Sunrise. Before Midnight is dedicated to Amy’s memory.

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