One of the very best actors of his generation, Richard Gere has appeared in over 50 films in a career that spans four decades. Famed for his roles in such classics as An
The film tells the story of Norman Oppenheimer (Gere), a small time “fixer” who becomes close to a young Israeli politician. Over the course of three years, their relationship changes and when the politician becomes a hugely influential world leader, Norman’s life (and his lies) begin to unravel…
Speaking exclusively to HeyUGuys’ Scott Davis, Gere talks about his love of the quirky films he has been involved with recently, why he didn’t initially think he was right for the title role of Norman and whether, like many of his generation of actors (Michael Douglas, Tommy Lee Jones and more), he has been lured by the studios for their big franchises.
Congratulations on the film. There was a quote from you recently where you said you didn’t think you were at all right for the role of Norman. What changed your mind?
I told Joseph that if I was directing or producing the film that I wouldn’t have hired myself – it’s certainly not obvious. But he said ‘I don’t want obvious, I want something else’ so we began talking and we had a lot of time to work through this and get deeper in our thinking about the character. I began to see what I could bring to this and started to feel confident about it.
The character of Norman is a curious one and one that you revel in and while it may seem that his line of work is questionable and that he isn’t a nice guy, he is actually somewhat of the opposite and perhaps and bit misunderstood. What did you see in him that you could attach yourself to?
It’s hard to say – it was a beautifully written script. I didn’t get the character right away but there were a lot of surprises. I thought there was going to be a lot more anger in him, with all of these defeats he has in the movie but I discovered that there was none. he gets frustrated for sure but he doesn’t feel the defeats or the humiliations because he can process them so quickly that they never turn into anger and that’s really unusual for any human being and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character like that.
Norman is physically different to the characters that you have played before. How long did it take for you to find him and how did you decide on the way he would appear?
Well his physicality started to show up and there’s definitely a way this guy moves – he has an odd relationship with his body. His body rebelling all the time that’s why there’s the scratching and the hives as he’s not a man who is comfortable in his own body. We also did a strange thing with my ears – we were messing around with moustaches and different haircuts and they all looked ridiculous but whilst I was in India visiting my friend Amir Khan and saw a poster with him on it and he had his ears sticking out so I went back and said ‘What about this??’ and everyone went ‘Wow’ and we very quickly got these devices to get my stick my ears out.
You have recently been making smaller, more independent films around New York. Have you enjoyed taking on these films rather than more studio-led ones and what were the challenges of shooting on real locations given that you are instantly recognisable?
We figured out to do this on a film I produced and developed called ‘Time Out of Mind’ and the whole concept was me on the streets and the filmmaking footprint was pretty much invisible. We discovered that if you’re not making a big deal about it – if you’re not stopping traffic and you’re not controlling everything then the filmmaking footprint is quite modest and if everyone is in character, then in New York no-one pays any attention.
The last four or five movies I’ve made have been in New York. I made a commitment to my family that I was going to be in New York so we make these movies very cheaply in very few days – Time Out of Mind we made in 21 days, Norman shot for around 30 days but part of that was in Israel. I like working quickly and I don’t have a problem working this cheaply, I’m not particularly greedy but I like making these types of movies very much – they are the kinds of movies we used to make with movie studios but they just don’t make them anymore so we make them independently.
You are surrounded by a plethora of talent in the supporting cast (Steve Buscemi, Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Hank Azaria, Charlotte Gainsbourg to name a few) – how was it working with such an accomplished company of actors?
We know the New York actors very well, Steve Buscemi is in both of those movies and as far as I’m concerned, he should be in every movie, I love him. But there are some wonderful actors in New York and actors are always looking for something unusual with something that doesn’t fit a particular genre so the best want to work with us, which is so gratifying for me, for Joseph, for Oren and everyone knows what they are doing. If you shoot for 21, 25 days making movies everyone has to show up knowing what they’re doing. The level of talent in New York is extraordinary.
On the flip side of the independently-financed films you’ve made recently, have you been tempted to join a big studio franchises like so many of your generation of actors have done over recent years? Have any of the studios approached you at all?
You know I’ve never been offered one that was very tempting to me. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t ever happen but it’s just not something I’m drawn to. I really like making these really quirky and interesting little films that we can make cheaply and make where we don;t have to please anyone other than ourselves.
You made Time out of Mind with writer/director Oren Moverman and you have just finished The Dinner with him, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall – what can audiences expect from that one?
Well, it’s another quirky movie – Oren can’t make a normal movie! Again, the acting level is extremely high. Steve (Coogan) is wonderful and people are being blown away by what he does in this movie, Laura’s great. It’s not an easy movie, it has it’s own rhythms and has it’s own narrative style but if you work with Oren it’s gonna be unusual I think he wishes he could make a normal movie but he just can’t.
Norman is released in UK cinemas on June 9th.