For all the reasons Julie Delpy agreed to do a sequel to 1995’s “Before Sunrise” — the chance to reteam with Richard Linklater and co-star Ethan Hawke, to reprise a role nine years later and find out what happened to Celine and Jesse after their one-night stand in Vienna — the possibility of winning an award never crossed her mind.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were not going to disappoint the people that liked the first one,” she says. “Intended or not, Delpy, who recently won actress laurels from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and a runner-up prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, has become an Oscar contender. The French thesp could score nods for actress and adapted screenplay (co-written with Linklater and Hawke, based on story and characters created by Linklater and Kim Krizan).
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Faced with the opportunity not only to reinhabit a character but to reshape her from the inside out, Delpy brought her own ideas to bear on Celine’s personality, from her environmental activism to her taste in apartment decor. But those similarities aside, and the fact that they both hail from Paris, where “Sunset” unspools, the 35-year-old thesp-musician insists she and Celine couldn’t be more different.
“I’d say there’s 20% of me in it,” she says. “All this stuff about feeling disconnected or not capable of loving someone, that’s totally created. I’ve never felt those emotions. I’ve never felt cold or disconnected. If anything, I have the opposite problem.”
Linklater, however, sees plenty of Delpy in Celine, and vice versa. Considering he and Hawke imagined the whole sequel as a way of “falling in love with Julie all over again,” he means it as a compliment.
“Julie’s kind of a brilliant person,” he says. “Everything she does, that’s who she is. There’s so many actors who, you think, ‘Oh, they’re so interesting,’ but they’re playing a part, and they never really get into the essence of themselves. It’s hard to do that. You have to be really brave, and you have to be a good actor.”
In some ways an even more minimalist romance than its predecessor, “Sunset” follows its reunited lovers as they roam about Paris, reminiscing about their last meeting and discovering how their lives have changed.
Despite pic’s improvisatory feel, even its most emotionally spontaneous moments — from Delpy’s much-buzzed-about outburst in the back of a car to the final scene when she sings and plays her own guitar solo — were plotted out to the letter.
Tight scripting made it all the more important for Delpy to strike the right tonal balance between pathos and humor. Now, as in her past roles in the 1990 Holocaust drama “Europa, Europa” and Krzyzstof Kieslowski’s “White,” Delpy embraces her character’s mood swings.
“Imagine you have a girlfriend crying on your shoulder because of her boyfriend, and you say something, and both of you start laughing,” she says. “It happens all the time, but you don’t see that in movies enough.”