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November 2005
BEE SEASON' : An Interview with Richard Gere

BEE SEASON: An Interview with Richard Gere

By Wilson Morales

Coming out on November 11 is “Bee Season”, based on the best-selling novel. Richard Gere plays Saul, a beloved university professor, who dotes on her talented elder brother Aaron (Max Minghella), until he realizes his daughter Eliza is a spelling whiz and her newfound gift garners an invitation not only to the national competition, but an entrée into the world of words and Jewish mysticism that have so long captivated her father’s imagination. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Gere talked about the film and how it relates to Kabbalah.

Is this your first Jewish character you played?

Richard Gere: I guess it is, I just actually played another one. I just cut all my hair off, but I had kind of a Jew-Fro. (Laugher) I had a perm, dark hair playing Clifford Irving—I just finished that one. It's called "The Hoax." We just had a wonderful time on this movie. Lasse Hallstöm directed this one [The Hoax.]

Can you describe immersing yourself in the Jewish religion? I understand you went to Synagogue a few times.

RG: I talked to a lot of writers and rabbis and thinkers and spokespersons, some that I knew before and some that I met during the process of this. In the book, this character is really a cantor, I mean he is so hardcore Jewish. The decision was made to make this a little more universal, so he's a religion professor at Berkeley who specializes in Kabbalah, even more specifically in Abraham Abulafia—he's a 12th Century mystic. You can't really, in three months four months; you can't become totally an expert on anything. What you can do is learn enough to find how it stimulates sympathy with what you have learned in your life. My training in Tibetan Buddhism, which is 30 years of practice, I found certain aspects of this guy, Abulafia, and kind of the approach of Kabbalah that were similar enough that it kind of hotwired into my own truths of exploration in Buddhism,

Will you continue research or look into Kabbalah? I think there's lots of bonds between Kabbalah and Buddhism.

RG: Yeah, I mean…I'm perfectly fine with Buddhism (laughs.)

I don't mean it changing your practice, I mean it changing—it always becomes fascinating to see the contrast after…

RG: I'm particularly taken by this idea of Tikkun Olam and I don't know if you're know the magazine, Tikkun but that…Michael Lerner is someone I talked to quite a bit when I was practicing this. And we were writing how to actually describe Tikkun Olam and the origin of this concept, this idea of fixing of healing is an important—I think—part of any genuine spiritual approach. But there is a sense of…there is wholeness. In Buddhism, what we call Buddha Nature--tathagatagarba--but in that sense it's not that is has to be fixed or healed; it has to be revealed, it's been layered over—this sense of oneness, the community of interconnectedness of experiential relationship with emptiness—with Simhanada—of something that's just been clouded over with ignorance and negative mindsets. You'd probably describe Kabbalah better than I would and how it relates to something like that but its, Kabbalah, is very much about this idea of fixing of things that have been damaged. From a Buddhist point of view, things have been damaged because ignorance has intoxicated the mind. So that there is a hardcore belief in a self, and when you have a hardcore belief in a self you also have a hardcore belief in the other self, and that creates separation, dualism, and that's the source of all of our pain and suffering, it mushrooms from there.

Can you take the role of an observer right now because Kabbalah is very much in the pop cultural atmosphere right now? Many celebrities are sporting red bracelets and now this movie's coming out. What do you think it is about that that is so resonate with the…

RG: I don't know. I don't have any friends who practice it…

What drew you to this character and what were the challenges in playing him?

RG: I supposed there's two things I gotta be drawn by, basically the script when just the script what's its…what's the…every piece of serious work has a letter to the universe somehow. And the letter to the universe from this was, was…was mysterious and all encompassing and generous and very much about this yearning that I think we all have, that all beings have, to reconnect, to fix but there is a larger universe. A more…. [Pause] a less restricting one.

A less restricted?

RG: that's all embracing, that rejects nothing. This one is very, the boundaries are pretty strict here in all ways. I think you see that in children or start to. Get jumpy from feeling minimized constantly, that all growing up is making them smaller when the instinct is to get larger, encompass the entire universe, which is possible. You can expand your mind and your heart to the size of the universe. You can expand your mind and heart at the speed of light, in all directions. But everything in our culture and our basic ignorance that is intoxicated it, has conspired to minimize the possibilities. So anyhow, the yearning is for the larger self, not the smaller one, and that that is the essential quality I found in this.

It must've been a pleasure for you to work around such a spiritual movie.

RG: Yeah, the ideas were really stimulating. It was mysterious and there's darkness, you know. It's dangerous territory to be playing it, you know, we talked a lot about the responsibility of doing this in a serious, responsible way. Even inserting things in the script, we said, look this is dangerous territory. This is nothing to play with, because it isn't. This is serious stuff.

What is the challenge of playing such a character?

RG: Oh, the challenges. You know, I…it's very easy to play certain characters in a caricature way, and I didn't want this guy to be so obviously overbearing that you can just go, Oh yeah, boy, this is a controlling motherfucker isn't he? [laughs] and kind of write him off. I wanted to find a way that was subtle enough that you could take a ride with him and give him the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible. And realize that he also was caught up in his own ignorance, like everyone else is, and at the same time is definitely a controlling guy. I think he…there is a moment, I think it's still in the movie, that's really important to me that when he's talking to his daughter and he's starting to give her the real stuff. He trusts her enough and feels she's got it enough that he starts to give her real teachings, and he pulls out the book of his translation work that he's done on Alabamian.

And what is interesting too, is also when he turns on his son for choosing his own religious structure. He also shows a hypocrisy that is kind of natural in human beings, but to people who have chosen a religion, usually they consider themselves to be more accepting. Do you see that in your…

Gene: I think what you say is true, but I think it's more complex than that. I think it's also, here's a son who lied to him about what he was doing—now for good reason because he is a controlling influence. And if he had just told him the truth, he wasn't guaranteed he was going to get the answer that he would have wanted. There were a lot of lies…he got a call in the middle of all these problems with his wife to find that his son has run away to be a Hare Krishna and has been doing it for the last three months or whatever. Course he got angry.

So you think he got angry because of the lying or—

RG: Ah, no, I said it was more complex than one or the other. All these things are more complex than one thing and that's part of the trick of doing a movie like this. You can't let it ever be, "Oh, I get it. It's that." It's like life; we're a myriad of conflicting forces—all of us. The direction has to tell that, our storytelling has to tell it; the actors have to be telling that. Yeah it's "that", but it's also "that" and "that."

What was in the discussion--

RG: There's moments of…let me just follow…I think, I mean I was moved by the movie when I saw the early cuts. It was working on that level, I couldn't tell you why but when it got to the end of the movie and this little girl made the decision she made, I found it incredibly moving. Not consciously, I couldn't tell you exactly why it was moving to me. It was a mysterious, spontaneous reaction to it. And if the movie works for some people, and I'm sure there'll be people that it doesn't work at all, just leaves 'em cold. It's because it taps into a non-conceptual emotional space that is generally, again, leading us into that space of that yearning without telling us exactly what we're supposed to feel. I don't think there's any music in this movie that gives you that emotional cue that most movies do that, oh I'm supposed to be feeling this here or, Oh! I'm supposed to be feeling that there. It's much more complex playing, the same way Abulafia is a complex way of playing with the structures of the mind, disorient from the known, disorient from the habitual. I think that's one of the good things about this and probably one of the reasons it won't be a hugely commercial movie. Even if it is successful, it's never gonna be one of those type of movies

Is it complex?

RG: You gotta be on the wavelength with it. Some people are, some aren't. It's not good or bad, it's just…you know, some people, you know, like an intense chocolate and some people don't.

Can you talk about working with Juliette [Binoche] and the amount of preparation here?

RG: Yes, Juliette is a...She's a wonderful actress and I was so happy she was making this movie. We had known each other for some time, but not well. A very difficult part to play, it was all internalized. She...the way Juliette works is she's, she's…in a way, she apologized to me, she said, "this is not going to be easy for you." She's pretty much the character all the time. She immersed herself in this character. She became remote to me. The relationship on screen was more or less the relationship we had off. It was a bit disconnected. You know, that's just the way it was

What about working with the kids? They're sort of new at this. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage in a movie this complex?

RG: Well, both. Look, Max [Minghella] is not a newcomer. It's his first movie but he's hardly a newcomer. He was born into the sea of movies and theatre; it's in his DNA most likely. And he's smart; you know he's observant and self-critical. He knows when it's good and knows when it's bad. He's monitoring himself… but he's always trying, he's always working. He has a great natural sense of self-editing. His bullshit-barometer is very acute, which is really important for an actor.

And Flora?

RG: Flora…we were just talking about this because the approach…I'm kind of instinctively doing this because I've been doing this for so long, but design a performance. I know what the shape of a performance needs to be; I know how to pull the pieces out to do this on this day and this on another day. I can organize it that way. Max is very much that way as well, he's instinctive yet it's not yet become spontaneous with him. His mind will work that way. Flora is day to day, it's like, "I come to play. I want to see what's required of me." She works hard, she would have someone, the nigh before and the morning of, go over her lines with her and she'd be prepared. It wasn't like the design of a performance; I don't know if she ever understood what was happening in the process. But she inhabited fully each day, and that's a different approach. It means you have to have a really good director to do that and you have trust the people you with.

So, working with the directors…

RG: Which was fine, and I said both those counts as great. I loved working with those kids.

Since everybody's kind of covered around that area that I wanted to get to, which was what was around investigating since there was all these ambiguities and decisions you had to make that were tough decisions. And how did that work out in terms how everybody rehearsed and everybody worked together? Especially with the directors, in terms of how you worked with them, where they put you at…

RG: My…they had a similar feel to me of how to rehearse. Rehearsal, to me, is not about, okay, let's get the script out and make decisions about what we're going to do. That to me leads to bad filmmaking. I think all of it is much more mysterious and creative than that. And the most important thing is to feel confident, comfortable and trusting. So just spending easy time together, yeah you talk a little bit about the script, maybe read a few things, roundtable. Not getting too heavy, not getting overly dramatic. Just start to throw out things, look through magazines together talk about wardrobe on each other, easy, light. The creative process starts to use that anyhow. And we start to move it in a certain direction.




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