‘Before Sunrise’: Tragic Real-Life Inspiration Behind The Romance Classic

A still from ‘Before Sunrise’
A still from ‘Before Sunrise’

When we talk about ‘Before Sunrise’ and the two more films in the ‘Before’ trilogy starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, seldom do we peg the franchise as quintessential romance. This is not to say that it lacks the ‘love’ factor in any way, but it’s more about connecting with a stranger on a deep level and having free-flowing conversations. Fans of the trilogy swear by it, lifting it up among the best to come out of the cinematic world.

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Going by the premise, where an American tourist develops an effortless understanding with a French woman while on a trip to Vienna, it’s hard to think that it’s based on a real story. Seriously, how do you effortlessly develop that kind of connection? But indeed it is true. Director Richard Linklater made the film on his real experience of spending a night with a woman walking around in Philadelphia. However, it had a tragic ending.

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‘Before Sunrise’: The True Story

Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke in ‘Before Sunrise’

The backstory of the 1995 film ‘Before Sunrise’ is not as warm and fuzzy as the film. In fact, it’s quite sad. Richard Linklater based it on his brief romance with Amy Lehrhaupt, whom he had met at a toy store in Philadelphia in 1989. Linklater was there to visit his family. The two ended up spending the whole night together – midnight until six in the morning – just walking around the city and talking their hearts out. Needless to say, they felt something strong for each other.

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Unlike the film inspired by this encounter, they exchanged numbers and decided to keep in touch. Unfortunately, over time they fell apart due to long-distance woes. But, Linklater always knew a film had to be made based on that meeting.

Recalling his thoughts from that beautiful and special night, the director revealed, “Even as that experience was going on … I was like, ‘I’m gonna make a film about this.’ And she was like, ‘What ‘this’? What’re you talking about?’ And I was like, “Just this. This feeling. This thing that’s going on between us.” We are just glad that the Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke classic was born due to it.

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Why There Was No Happy Ending In Real Life?

It was Richard Linklater’s hope to see Amy Lehrhaupt at the screening of ‘Before Sunrise’. But, she never showed up, leaving Linklater dismayed. Years later, in 2010, he found out the reason. Lehrhaupt had actually died in a motorcycle accident at age 24 on May 9, 1994. That was a month before the film’s shooting began. But Linklater did give her a dedication in the end credits. He admitted to the Times, “If she never existed, these films wouldn’t have been made.”

While Linklater didn’t get his happy ending, he made sure that the film would be cherished by all. The casting was perfect and everything fell into place even on a tight budget. About meeting Deply, Ethan Hawke told the New York Times, “Meeting Julie was like meeting a character from a novel, like Anna Karenina or something. She’s a very deep person. I’d never felt so American and so dumb in my life.”

The actress also had wonderful things to say about her co-star. She added, “He was like a puppy, so young and sweet. He hates that, but really he had a beautiful naïve quality about him. I mean naïve in a good way, naïve but very smart at the same time.”

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The ‘Before’ trilogy made us believe in love, as despite all the odds, Celine (Deply) and Jesse (Hawke) made it work. Most profoundly, we know now that “If there’s any kind of magic in this world…it must be in the attempt of understanding someone.”

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