BEVERLY HILLS — For many on the circuit this season, the fall months have brought the bulk of the PR work, the glad-handing, the face-time. For a guy like Richard Gere, who stars in Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage” and picked up a Golden Globe nomination this morning for his work in the film, it’s been a much longer road.
The film first bowed at Sundance and was the first one the actor’s accompanied to the festival. It was acquired there by indie distributor Roadside Attractions, a company that has had awards luck in recent years with films like “Winter’s Bone,” “Biutiful,” “Albert Nobbs” and “Margin Call.” And in “Arbitrage,” it has a great narrative to play with: Richard Gere has never received an Oscar nomination. Why not, then, for one of his best performances to date? So getting him out and in touch as much as possible and reminding voters of that fact is imperative.
True to form, then, Gere shuffles into the Polo Lounge dining room at the Beverly Hills Hotel with his eyes buried in an itinerary. While he’s in town (he lives in New York), he’s got a lot of Q&As to do, a lot of interviews, more awareness to build for the film, which released in September and did great business in limited release and broke records on VOD.
Adult dramas are hard to get off the ground, though, so “Arbitrage” is in many ways an unlikely product. Indeed, says Gere, “You can’t say the word ‘drama’ anymore. You have to find some other way to explain a drama without saying ‘drama’ because no one will fund a drama. You have to say ‘comedy’ or ‘a romantic comedy’ or ‘a triple comedy’ or ‘a slapstick comedy.’ Or it’s some kind of a futuristic adventure. I like a lot of those movies, too, but this is the kind of movie that actors like to make, that directors like to make.”
Gere read the script on a plane trip from Los Angeles to New York some time back, and he was excited by its potential. He would be playing a New York hedge fund magnate desperate to sell off his trading empire when an unexpected, and deadly, turn of events leaves him covering up his tracks.
“In any era, this would be a good script,” Gere says. “It was that clear. It’s a quality thing. On top of that it was speaking to our times on many different levels. This character is a creature of our times. It was about an industry, and the language of that industry has become part of our vernacular now, the financial world, of stocks, of trading, of conceptual wealth. There would have been a lot of these movies around in the 70s and 80s, to tell you the truth. They were Sidney Lumet movies. And now they’re independent films looking for homes.”
Such films have “a certain energy to them,” he says. “You get a sense that they’re from people who know how to write characters and dialogue.”
So he was sold, right? Well, there was just one problem: the director involved was a first-time filmmaker.
“I was like, ‘Oh, fuck,'” Gere says openly. “It’s too hard. People think it’s easy to direct a movie but it’s hard. I’ve been through it. But I said let’s meet anyhow. He wrote the script so he’s obviously a smart guy…I threw a lot of stuff at Nic to see how he would react. To test him. Again, it’s not easy making a movie. You’re not just directing a movie, you’re directing people, so you have to be able to handle things emotionally and psychologically as well as, ‘This is where I want the camera.’ The director has to be able to work with other people. I’ve seen those who can’t and it’s a disaster.”
But Gere was impressed by Jarecki upon meeting him. He could tell that he was a “movie guy,” by which Gere means someone who really loves movies, cares about how they tick, understands why scenes work or don’t, why this or that moment is edited poorly or elegantly. “He just had a sense of it,” Gere says. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be right there every time, but I believed in him being a movie guy, and also being a bulldog, in that if, for some reason, something didn’t work, he would find a way to get the money and do it again until it worked. So I think those are two qualities you have to have. Those are kind of mechanical in a way, givens that you have to have. And beyond that, of course, you have to have talent, sensitivity, be able to work with people. And he had all of that. It’s kind of miraculous.”
Gere’s character presented an intriguing tightrope walk for the actor. What’s substantial about the role and the performance is that it endears the audience to him despite all the various bad, at times detrimental decisions he makes. Indeed, the first phone calls he got as friends were seeing the film were from those playfully furious with him for getting them to pull for a scumbag. But that complexity is always key for Gere.
“I don’t like the word ‘sympathetic,'” he says. “I’d rather use the word ’empathetic,’ or ‘identifiable.’ And that’s the choice I made. Not someone who would be labeled a villain. You’re then looking for the hero, who is the counter to the villain. It’s just basic storytelling, which we’re hardwired for, and not that interesting to play, really. When I play someone like in ‘Internal Affairs,’ I could have played that guy as a villain, as a really dark, sociopathic killer. No interest to me. It’s just too obvious, and I don’t think it’s that fun for an audience. He’s too knowable. You get him right away…Any character who is lying, it’s more fun. It’s not the darkness factor, it’s the complexity. It’s the lie, then fixing the lie, then compounding the lie. The character I played in ‘The Hoax’ is like that. Every moment is multi-layered. You don’t really know where he’s coming from because he’s juggling so many balls at the same time.”
Indeed, that’s the problem with someone like Bernie Madoff, Gere says, who is obviously a bit of a touchstone for a character like this in this day and age. “Madoff, in the end, is not a very interesting character because he’s such a sociopath,” Gere says. “He didn’t get it. There was no sense of remorse about it. You didn’t see that there was any moral ambiguity from his side. He’s reptilian. But this character is not. He’s aware. He makes bad choices. He burns bridges…But at any moment I don’t think he’s making decisions that it would be unthinkable that we could make under pressure. I think the audience is always aware that he is aware of what’s happening, as it’s happening, and would like to fix these things if he could.”
Something else stood out to Gere when he was considering the project: the promise of shooting a New York film in New York. Jarecki was able to call in a lot of favors through connections with his family in the city and allow for affordably shooting in places like Central Park and high-rise office buildings overlooking the park, up-scale restaurants, etc. Duplicating it elsewhere would have taken away from the identity that Gere was excited about conveying.
“New York is a character in the movie,” he says. “There are movies like ‘Manhattan,’ where Woody is self-consciously showing you sill frames, basically, of New York. ‘This is the Empire State Building. This is the Statue of Liberty. This is the Woolworth Building.’ Head-on. ‘This is my Manhattan.’ And then bad movies do that because they have two days to shoot in New York, because they’re shooting in Toronto, so when they come and do their location work, they want to make sure that you see that it’s New York. So they start showing too much of New York in an obvious way.
“But New York is never seen that way. You don’t look at New York when you’re in New York. You’re just in New York. You only see it peripherally. You see it in a funny angle. You see it looking up. You see it out of the corner of your eye as you’re moving. You see it out of car windows, cab windows. People don’t look at each other in the face. Everything is in motion. And one of the early choices we made with this character is that he’s always moving. Shark-like.”
As is Gere through the treacherous terrain of Oscar season. He didn’t manage a SAG nomination but the Golden Globe bid puts him on some radars he may not have been on otherwise. It’s a tight race for Best Actor this year, but people are always in the market for alternatives. So you might say, here’s one, an actor at the top of his game with a rich career already behind him but no Academy love yet to show for it.
Makes for a good yarn. Much like the film.
“Arbitrage” is now available on VOD.