Shall We Dance?: An Interview with Richard Gerez
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By Wilson Morales
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE GOOD TIME YOU HAD IN WINNIPEG?
RICHARD GERE: Well, my wife actually, she's always bemused by it, says this is really like the Midwest in America. It's what it used to be. That's true, it's kind of in many ways, thirty, forty years ago, fifty years ago maybe. But we found an area of Winnipeg that was very Chicago. I found my guitar shop, which is always a great thing, it's a vintage guitar shop there. The restaurants were great. Usual parks there. People were very open, very easy. Very livable place. It's certainly a place where you can raise kids and feel relatively safe, although there was a murder when we were there, a couple murders.
HOW WAS THE CREW, AND SHOOTING THE MOVIE?
GERE: The crews were great. We were planning to shoot in Toronto, so it ended up being a lot of Toronto crew just came over there, they were all under contract. So, you know, I've been shooting in Canada quite a bit, there's a lot of people who've been shooting there, everybody's been shooting there. I think the quality's always good, but I think it's getting better and better. The operator's, I mean, we had a really terrific operator. He worked on 'Chicago,' worked on this picture, the camera crew was almost I think it was all Canadian. Terrific people.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT? Were you a big fan of the original movie?
GERE: I liked the original movie. The script just came. I could see possibilities there. We ended up doing quite a bit of work on the script to bring some themes out. The translation from‹culturally--from Japan to America was tricky; how to figure this out because the first one, the original was so based on cultural reticence, just not being able to express and the difficulty of‹especially physical expression. A man touching a woman is a very big deal there. Dance is a big deal. And I don't know‹who's seen the Japanese movie?‹the woman in that is the biggest transition to make. How do you paint a different type of woman? The Japanese version‹although she looked western--was very culturally, emotionally Japanese. Very dependent. Very weak. Presented herself as weak. Presented herself as needy. Presented herself as not quite having a life some how; just being a housewife, but even at that, being not particularly good at it or capable. So, we thought, 'This character is not going to work in America, for sure.' (Laughs.) No one will relate to this. So, we said, 'Let's play into who we really are. What is the American paradigm?' I said, 'Well, the middle-class, in this case, upper middle-class paradigm, I think, is that everything is OK; everything is good. Everyone is smart, educated, ironic, funny, emotionally available, with kids, everyone is healthy, the house, the car, the dog. It's all there and it's‹you can get it in this culture. It's not that hard. You can get that, but there's still a feeling of something wrong, something missing; there's an aching need of some kind. So, we said, 'Well, let's explore that.' So, that's how the script started to work in that direction and to make that happen, you need a really strong woman, who represents American women and Susan's great because you don't need the scenes to be demonstrating that to make the point with Susan. She shows up and you see: she's smart, funny, capable, sensitive, multi-layered, multi-dimensional and you get all that stuff just from the pure fact that she's there, so to explore these two characters, meaning my character and Susan's, and say, 'Well, why doesn't he just say, "Well, I'm off dancing?" But also why doesn't she just say, "What are you doing every Wednesday night? I don't think you're going to the office. What are you doing?"' And why are they both incapable of doing that. And I think that the fear is of getting the wrong answer to the question. There's still an insecurity there in terms of relationship, in terms of marriage.
THIS IS YOUR SECOND FILM ABOUT THIS SORT OF SUBJECT, IN ADDITION TO 'UNFAITHFUL.'
GERE: Well, yeah. I think it started with the same premise, different type of film though. I will always intend to give you a very naturalistic film, and the kind of details of that film, the emotional details and physical details of that film, were really important for us, to get the minutia of movement, was where the film was. It lived there. And it was dealing with much, much larger issues than this, this is just an obviously a very theatrical kind of entertainment. But it's still working from the same place. And I do think that's an interesting thing, for us. And for mass market entertainment to deal with, is that's who we are. We want to make a film about people who we would recognize, that all of us would recognize. It's not a romantic leap, you know, into another time, another place. It wasn't a gritty, on the street, kind of experience, but it was pretty much the middle class American life.
DO YOU THINK THIS FILM WILL GIVE PEOPLE THE INSPIRATION TO TAKE UP DANCING THEMSELVES, OR ANOTHER PURSUIT?
GERE: Yeah, but I think it's about acknowledging those things, inside of ourselves, and talking about them, it's okay. And one of the ironies of this film, is we were developing it, and trying to figure out what to do with it, to make it an American story. And this guy doesn't know really why he gets off the train, you know, I'm sure his first impulse is because it's this girl, it's that beautiful face, and it's sexual tension. With this, whatever it is. More mysterious, but that's really what it is. And then when she, pretty corporate, says no [laughs], it's not gonna happen, forget it. That he realizes it wasn't about her at all, it was really that he liked dancing. He likes the way it makes him feel, like the camaraderie, the people there, he likes the kind of team atmosphere of the ballroom dancing world. But the way it makes him feel, what he's doing. Now, Susan [Sarandon], the girl was just curious. What's her issue? Why doesn't she just ask him? When she knows something's going on, she goes to a detective, why not say hey, hey, come here, just talk to me, what is going on? What are you doing every Wednesday night? Can I come? You know, oh you say you're going to a meeting, I'll come over, I'll bring you sandwiches. But she doesn't. There's also something that is insecure, something that is missing. There's a problem that's presented, and a fear of finding out exactly what it is, directly. Which is an insecurity, to have to be kind of thrown out there. And it's because of real things we all deal with. We all have relationships, on some level, we're afraid to get the answer to a difficult question, so we don't ask the question.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH JENNIFER LOPEZ AND DANCE WITH HER? WHAT DID SHE BRING TO THE FILM?
GERE: Well, she's a great dancer, to begin with. Which for me was a great joy, she was very patient with me.
GERE: Well I can't dance! No, I looked fine in it, I mean, it's, you know, I'm happy with it, but you wouldn't have wanted to see me dance, but actually, some of the dances were fine, I had rehearsed them so long, you could film me from beginning to end, it would be fine. The tango that she and I did, we never danced together, until we shot it. She learned it with someone else, I learned it with two other dancers, and we shot it there, and it was, from my side, there was so much adrenaline, because I didn't know what was going to happen! And I've benefited from some very good editing, I think. Because then you look better in the film than it really was. They use the good moments. But she was incredibly generous, knowing that I wasn't a dancer. Sometimes I would do things that weren't helping her to look as good as she could, and she would give me the space to work through it.
WHAT MAKES A WOMAN IRRESISTIBLE, EITHER ON SCREEN OR IN GENERAL?
GERE: Oh, that's like, so how do you make a hit movie? [laughs] If you knew, you'd make one every time. I mean, certainly people are attractive who are in their own skin. They are who they are. And they're okay with it. There's a lot of things, start to fall away. I know you've been around, well of course, you do interviews with some beautiful men, beautiful women, and the first ten minutes, you're probably going, oh my god, they are so beautiful. And then it all kind of just goes away, you don't even notice that any more, and you're just talking to someone. And they're not looking at you going, my God, where the fuck are they from? Jesus Christ! And they drop it too, and it's just people talking. I think that's the reality of the world. One premise I go on, is the surface of things is very unreliable. Very shallow beneath that surface, is our unity, we're all the same. We have the same issues, we have the same problems, the same needs, desires, hopes, fears, and all of that. And the quicker you can get past the surface, is when you get to the matter and you find out if you really do have something in common.
YOU AND STANLEY TUCCI HAD A GREAT RELATIONSHIP.
GERE: We got along great from the beginning. I'm trying to remember if I met Stanley before this, no, I don't think we did. I'd actually met him at the dance hall, where we were rehearsing. He graciously decided to do the film, and he realized he'd have to do a lot of work here; all of us were kind of in our own boot camps. Bobby Cannavale, we're all slobbing through those things, trying to figure out how to make this work. And it's not easy. In many ways, tap dancing is easier than this. This is much more controlled.
IT'S FUN TO WATCH YOU AND STANLEY HAVE YOUR MOMENTS.
GERE: I think, yeah, we would've loved to have more of that stuff. Because that was a great joy for me, because he's the only one I talk to in the movie. HOW PHYSICAL WAS THIS ROLE FOR YOU? GERE: These were workouts, man! I would be at two-hour three-hour sessions of dancing I was soaked. I would drink gallons of water and whatever else I could find. It's a real workout. It's ironic because it looks so serene, but I found the biggest workout for me was the waltz. It's so controlled and it's so gliding, but you have - musculature-- tension isn't the right word, but you are using every muscle in your body in a controlled way. The other ones that were quicker and, I found, much easier. You just kind of get in the stream with them and once you get the steps down, you just go and then it's over and you kind of go, 'Oh, we did it!'
DO YOU STILL DANCE?
GERE: No. When we finished dancing, we had a wedding reception, the year after we (wife Carey Lowe) got married, because we finally had time to do it. And my wife and I had kind of a wonderful spotlight dance, and my wife had been taking lessons from one of the teachers also, one of the guys that was in the movie. Her family had always told her that she couldn't dance, and she got up with me, and we started doing all the dips and twirls, and all the things, and her family was just beside themselves. It was a very emotional kind of coming out for her, to do that in front of her family. It was pretty great.
WHAT DID SUSAN BRING TO THE MOVIE?
GERE: Strength. A part that, if it was played by a lesser person, it would probably hardly exist in the movie. But her strength, multi-dimensionality, being capable of being soft, being strong, being weak, being willing to go into difficult territories and reticent, it's a real person. And that wasn't necessarily written, she brought a lot of that, it's the mere fact of who she is.
DO YOU LISTEN TO TANGO?
GERE: I love tango.
WHO WAS THAT GREAT COMPOSER THAT DIED RECENTLY?
GERE: Piazzolla. Astor Piazzolla. What a great composer, great musician. Because he uses the essence of tango, but it takes it into extraordinary territories as well. I'd always been interested in him. My own preference is for the Argentine tango, as opposed to the ballroom, international tango. And kind of what we do in the movie, Jennifer [Lopez] and I, is probably more closer in many ways to Argentine. I love it. I mean, that's the thing that I would continue with, is that. If I had the time. Has anyone ever taken Argentine tango? You usually see the tango with that kind of duck bill thing going on, but the Argentine is not up here, it's in here. And it's all from the hips, and it's all very extraordinary. That I would do if I had time.
HOW LONG WAS THAT SHOOT?
GERE: The tango? The tango, we shot that in a day.
WHEN YOU WERE A KID, WERE YOU A FAN OF FRED ASTAIRE THE WAY YOUR CHARACTER BECOMES A FAN?
GERE: I never liked him, I don't think kids understand that, I think you have to be a grown up, to understand what dance is. When you're a kid, you're not sexually aware enough to know really what dance is about. [laughs] And girls is kind of like, girls! I mean, look, dance is sex, obviously. It's what it is, it's ritualized. And heightened. But that's what it is. The more sensual you can be in it, the more intimate it is, and the more satisfying it is, like anything.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU? GERE: Well, I'll probably see you in about four or five months on 'Bee Season.', which is a small film. As functional as these people are, that's about dysfunctional people.
IT'S A WONDERFUL NOVEL.
GERE: It's an incredible novel. I'm amazed at how many people have read that. Myla Goldberg wrote the script. If we pulled this off, it should be a terrific film. They found an amazing little girl to play the main role. It's about the girl. Who is quite magical, and her magic is expressed through spelling.
IN THIS FILM, YOUR CHARACTER'S COSTUMES IMPROVED. DID YOU FIND THAT WITH YOURSELF AS WELL?
GERE: No, I still wear lousy boxers. But you do notice stuff, I mean a lot of it is just carriage, you know. In this type of ballroom dancing, as opposed to the Argentinean, you essentially have the top of you, is as it is. All the movement is below. Almost all the dances, you present yourself like a prince. You know, kind of like pride to the prince. And all the work is below the waist, and the movement. The hip movement above is pretty much the same. I was probably three inches taller when I was dancing.
DO YOU NOT LIKE THE POSTER?
GERE: Well it was kind of a compromise, and what happened was there were several. I've seen four or five.
WHAT ABOUT THE ONE WHERE YOU'RE DANCING BY YOURSELF?
GERE: Which we actually kind of liked, we felt that kind of represented the film. And there was a big sequence we did of me dancing in the rain, but it didn't really fit the movie, so we didn't end up using it. But it ended up being this thing with the three heads, which is something I hate, it's so non-creative. But I think there was some contractual obligations there to use all of us.
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