- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

The creative team behind “Before Sunrise,” Richard Linklater’s minor romance about two travelers (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) who meet on a train in Vienna, spent nearly a decade toying with a sequel.

Two weeks before the sequel finally began shooting, all three re-watched “Before Sunrise” one last time.

That’s when a touch of panic set in, Miss Delpy reports.

“Oh, my God, it’s so sweet. We better not screw up this one. It could hurt [the memory of] the first one,” she says during a recent phone interview to promote “Before Sunset,” opening today.

Miss Delpy, whose appearance is virtually unchanged from the original film, says the idea seemed a lark at first.

“We always kept in touch. Slowly, we started talking, first as a joke. Then, the joke became brainstorming,” says Miss Delpy, a fast, animated talker. When the three reconvened to shoot 2001’s “Waking Life,” they decided to make “Sunset.”

Mr. Linklater (2003’s “School of Rock”) wanted his actors personally involved in the sequel, she says.

The actress, who has written several screenplays, including 2002’s “Looking for Jimmy,” an independent feature she also directed, cobbled together a 16-page essay on society and the media that she thought would be of interest to her character, Celine.

“Rick used big chunks of it in the film,” she reports.

She further sharpened Celine by making her an environmental activist.

“That was something I could talk about and explore really well,” says Miss Delpy, who adds that it’s every citizen’s duty to be politically active.

Indeed. Celine mocks the American term “freedom fries,” used to disparage the French name after France vehemently opposed the United States in the war in Iraq.

It’s about as vocal as the actress will get on politics.

“I am not involved in making the world better,” she says, explaining the limitations of her trade.

She says she wouldn’t mind, though, if her films introduced themes that moviegoers could explore on their own.

Born and bred in Paris, Miss Delpy made her stage debut at 5, perhaps inspired by her parents, who both were performers. By 14, she landed a role in “Detective” (1985), a film by famed French director Jean-Luc Godard.

Her movie roles originated overseas in the beginning, but she slowly drifted toward the States with mixed results. “The Three Musketeers” (1993) failed to dent the box office, and it took “Before Sunrise” to properly introduce her to American audiences. Her international profile bloomed with her work as the estranged bride in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “White” (1994), but her domestic work hasn’t met that level of fame.

Miss Delpy went unabashedly Hollywood to film “An American Werewolf in Paris” (1997), a tepid sequel to 1981’s cheeky horror film. She then tried a short story arc on NBC’s “ER” as Dr. Kovac’s (played by actor Goran Visnjic) needy girlfriend.

With “Sunset,” Miss Delpy proves she can write an emotionally complex heroine who’s very much of this era. Female admirers of “Before Sunrise” often approach the actress to tell her they saw themselves in Celine.

Now, a decade later, the actress hopes that happens with a new generation of moviegoers.

“I really tried to make [Celine] not stereotypical, which I hate, but true to the persons of the generation I know, the women around me,” she says.

Miss Delpy, who will next be seen in a cameo role in USA Network’s “Frankenstein,” says she poured many of her own resources into shaping Celine, including rifling through her personal journals as well as scripts she had written for inspiration.

The film hinges on the veracity of the dialogue. It might sound natural when Jesse and Celine talk, flirt and become entranced with each other again, but it took plenty of rehearsals to make it happen.

“It’s like a dancer doing a little jump that seems effortless,” Miss Delpy says. “It’s hours and hours of training.”

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