An accomplished actress, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director, Delpy shares her feelings about the honors her latest film, Before Midnight, has received.
Actress-screenwriter Julie Delpy
Tavis: In three remarkable films, actress and screenwriter Julie Delpy and her co-star and co-writer Ethan Hawke have treated moviegoers to a unique experience, following two complex characters as they meet, separate, fall in love, get married, and reassess their lives.
This film and its exceptional screenplay has been receiving top honors as the award season heats up, including best screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics, and a Writers Guild award nomination. Let’s take a look at a scene from “Before Midnight.”
Tavis: “Before Midnight” is now out on Blu-ray. I got my copies – thank you, Ms. Delpy.
Julie Delpy: Thank you.
Tavis: Good to have you on the program.
Delpy: Thank you for having me.
Tavis: I was saying to you while that clip was playing that to my mind, and perhaps we agree on this, the two films that were best reviewed last year, whatever that means – “Before Midnight” and “12 Years a Slave.”
Delpy: Yes. I think those are –
Tavis: You guys – this movie was so –
Delpy: I think “Gravity” was well-reviewed too, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: It was, it was, okay.
Delpy: In another genre, yeah.
Tavis: We’ll add that to the list.
Tavis: But the point is that it got such –
Tavis: – wonderful ink last year in terms of all the reviews that I guess the question is did that surprise you. Obviously you were happy with it, but.
Delpy: Oh yeah, I was happy with it. Yeah, no, no, I was really, really offended by it. (Laughter) No – no, no, I was very happy. We were very happy, and I have to say I was a little surprised, because we went in such dark places with the story sometimes, even though the film is quite funny, that I was worried we would get a little bit like – some people would get angry at us or something, some critics and stuff.
But in the end it paid off, and when we were writing it we decided to be completely genuine, to just do whatever we felt, even though it wasn’t necessarily a crowd-pleaser. It turned out to be even more successful than the two other films, so somehow, it worked out for us. But we were very lucky, because you never know what’s going to happen.
Tavis: To those critics that you referenced a moment ago, we all have critics, and you did have some. People loved the film, as I said, and award season, it’s being nominated for everything, and you for a Golden Globe.
So it’s got a lot of love, but there were those who thought that it wasn’t as romantic as the first two were.
Delpy: It depends what you see in romance. We’re trying to be – those are true romantic movie in a sense like they’re not fantasies of romance. We’re trying to make it as real and as genuinely real as possible.
So of course when you’re in a relationship for 10 years, it’s not exactly the same. Like people don’t just look in each other’s eyes and give each other flowers. (Laughter) So there is a little bit of arguing, there is a little bit.
That’s what makes the film, I think personally, unique and fun, is that it’s not a cute romantic comedy, you know what I mean? Even though it is a comedy, it’s not cute. Let’s say it’s not cute.
Tavis: I recall having this conversation with Ethan when he came on the show when the movie first came out, about how stunned I was, and stunned is the right word, in that opening scene that goes on for, like, forever.
Delpy: Yeah, that 14-minute take in the car.
Tavis: That 14-minute take, straight through, with all of that dialogue, and everything is scripted in terms of the –
Delpy: Everything. Every word, every overlapping. Because in real life, when you speak with each other you overlap each other, so you can’t fake that. Like especially when you have no cut.
In a regular film when you want people to overlap you cut it that way. It’s mixing and editing. Here it’s one shot with the two of us, so we have to rehearse it and define all those things.
Basically, the editing is done in rehearsal and in the writing process and in the acting, so it’s very, very tricky, very, very tricky. It’s like this of a bull’s-eye. It’s almost impossible.
Actually, we only – we worked for two days on that scene and we finally got one good take, and that’s it. We couldn’t – the film was shot in 15 days, so it’s very intense. But we were very lucky to even – almost those films are little miracles for me, because it’s like it works, like, but basically it could not work, you know what I mean?
It’s like just as the razor’s edge or something, I don’t know how you say that, but like it could basically be a disaster, but it’s not. We succeeded in doing it like barely.
Tavis: It helps when you have two good thespians who are doing the scene.
Delpy: Oh, thank you.
Tavis: Everybody couldn’t have pulled that off, so don’t be too modest about that.
Delpy: Thank you.
Tavis: To your point about these things are little pieces of magic for you, you have become one of the darlings of the independent film world. People love you for the projects that you choose to do, so many of them, again, indie projects. Is that by chance or by choice?
Delpy: By chance or by choice – I think it’s a little bit of both. I think what happens is that early on I started choosing more independent film. I did a few Hollywood films that didn’t really work out as films so much.
Not just for me, but just as films. They weren’t great Hollywood films, and there are great Hollywood films, but those were not. I think I started going towards more indie, and you know how it is.
People don’t have major imagination, so once you start doing more indie film, people are like, oh, she’s an indie actress, she doesn’t want to do anything else. But the truth is there are Hollywood films I really, really like. It’s just it happened to be that way, and it’s fine.
I’m not complaining. I’m actually very happy doing independent film. But the world of independent film is getting a touch harder. I’m expending, I’m doing also, like, I have projects in the future that are more mainstream movies, so I’m not completely in the independent world. I’m trying to – because there are films I like in Hollywood as well.
Tavis: Again, I suspect that there’s pressure in any project that one does that one has to do in a certain amount of time, but when you’re shooting something in 15 days, yeah. (Laughter) You do this consistently, because you do a lot of indie films.
Tavis: I don’t want to – I don’t even know what the question is here. Just talk to me about how you do that consistently with these really short shooting schedules.
Delpy: Well, it’s like you have very little chance for mistake. You have to be very focused on the intensity of the work, you have to rehearse, you have to do your homework.
You can’t be – but it’s the same for every film. Longer shoots are a bit easier, I would say. I dream of having an eight-week shoot, and that’s not even that much.
I’m dreaming about making movies for eight weeks, because it’s a luxury. But time is money. That’s the reality, and it’s harder and harder to make films. You know what’s funny, I was thinking the other day.
A friend of mine emailed me and he was like, “Oh, I saw one of your films that I downloaded for free somewhere.” I was like, “Oh, thank you.” (Laughter) I was like, I told him, go F yourself, because I was like, you have no idea. Because what you hurt, you really hurt independent films when you do that.
Tavis: For free, yeah.
Delpy: Because we make little money, the films are made for little money. It’s very hard to make them. The less those films make money – we’re lucky on this film, it made good money and everything.
But it really kills independent cinema, because we are the first people. We’re like the developing world of (laughter) –
Tavis: Of cinema.
Delpy: – of cinema. We’re the first ones to suffer.
Tavis: That’s a great line – “Independent film, the developing world of cinema.”
Delpy: We’re the first one to suffer from all that stuff. So it’s really tough.
Tavis: I’ve been asked this question a few times in my career, and I love being able to do this show on PBS every night, because it allows us to have these dynamic, uninterrupted conversations.
So there are a lot of things I love about being on PBS, I want to say that. (Laughter) President Kerger back in Washington. But I get asked often why it is that I do this, given that you’re not going to get rich doing it.
I don’t care how long you’re on PBS, you’re not going to get rich. You don’t do this for the money.
Delpy: You can make a living.
Tavis: You can make a living, but you don’t get rich doing it.
Tavis: Whereas if I were on a commercial outlet, things might be very, very different. So I raise that to ask why labor as diligently as you do in the vineyard of these films, to your earlier point, when you may not ever get rich doing it?
Delpy: Be rich. We do make a living with it. It’s not like I’m poor. I have a house that I bought a long time ago very cheap, so I’m not on the streets, so that’s okay.
But it’s true – the truth is I think a lot of people, and even people that work on bigger films, I think you have to be, because it is a lot of work even when you make a lot of money.
So I think when you make no money it’s a lot of work with less money. So basically, I love making movies. I love writing. I love acting. I love it, and I feel really blessed to be able to actually make a living with something I love doing, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, basically.
Tavis: So I would assume that there is a greater amount of joy for you in being able to write and help produce your own stuff and make a decent living, but not get rich versus always doing the other stuff that you don’t write, and make more money.
Delpy: Yeah, I like the challenge of doing all that stuff.
Tavis: That’s what I was getting at, yeah.
Delpy: I like the – and also I think early on in my career, when I was a young actress, I would read screenplays and I was like thinking how can I make this acting work with such bad dialogue?
In the end, that’s really when I started writing, even though I always wanted to write, but I wanted to writ someone complex and real.
Tavis: So how long before you and Ethan talk to figure out whether or not there’ll be a fourth one of these?
Delpy: Those films are so hard to make, emotionally, as actors, as writers, as a director for Richard Linklater, that we basically spend like six years where we don’t even mention it. Like it takes us – we make a film every nine years that’s (unintelligible) every nine years.
Tavis: Yeah, precisely, yeah.
Delpy: I would say that it takes us nine years to recover between each film. (Laughter) Because it’s so intense that we’re like, okay, let’s not even mention it. I see Richard all the time, and Ethan with all those things we’re going to and everything. We’re very blessed and lucky. So we don’t even mention what we would do next, you know what I mean?
Tavis: But at some point all the stars will align, and there will at least be a conversation.
Delpy: It always works out that way.
Tavis: Six or seven years from now, yeah.
Delpy: Yeah, it always worked out that way. This last one, 2012 we shot it and suddenly, Rick called me and said, “I know you’re really seeing your film two days in New York, but do you think you’ll have the time, you can just go in New York two weeks to promote, and the rest of the time we can shoot this summer.”
Because Ethan, one film fell through and one film of mine is pushed. Can we do it? We just decided to go and do it. We had a storyline and everything, but the screenplay was not even written when we decided to do it, and then we –
Tavis: But you put it all –
Delpy: – we met and put it together.
Tavis: – in 15 days, though.
Delpy: Well the film, but the writing, we took much longer.
Tavis: The writing, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Delpy: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Right. All right, so I’m going to put you on the – what is this, 2014? I’m not a math major. What’s 2014 plus nine? Somebody help me right quick.
Delpy: Well it’s going to be 2012 plus nine.
Tavis: What is it?
Female One: 2023.
Tavis: All right.
Delpy: Well, it’s actually going to be 2021, because it’s two years ago. We shot two years ago, so it’s every nine years, so yeah. We’ll see.
Tavis: Well nine years from now, 2020 – my point was I’m putting you on the board as a confirmed guest in 2023.
Delpy: Okay. But I wanted to be very precise, sorry.
Tavis: Okay. (Laughter)
Delpy: I had to be exact.
Tavis: Somewhere around 2023, if I’m still here on PBS, Julie Delpy will come back and talk about the next iteration of this wonderful work that she and Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater get together every nine years to do.
The latest one, now out on Blu-ray, a huge success last year, called “Before Midnight,” starring Julie Delpy and one Ethan Hawke. Get it now; add it to your collection. Julie, congratulations. Good to have you on the program.
Delpy: Thank you. Very nice to be here.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
[Walmart sponsor ad]
“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.