It’s been 27 years since Richard Gere and Julia Roberts charmed their way through “Pretty Woman” and today Gere is seated in a room at the Beverly Wilshire, the very hotel where they shot the blockbuster movie. And according to Gere, that was the last time he set foot in the Los Angeles establishment. “It struck me I haven’t been here since then,” he notes.
Gere goes on to reflect on that film’s director, the late, great Garry Marshall, who passed away last July. “Garry was good to everybody,” he says. “I’ve known him 30 years and never saw him abuse anyone, be cross with anyone, or be less than a gentleman. It didn’t matter how powerful or weak someone was, no one was outside the realm of his concern.”
He goes on to talk about the memorial held for Marshall last November, on what would have been the filmmaker’s 82nd birthday. “His service came right after the election and we were feeling so depressed,” Gere recalls. “Garry’s up energy and his family’s up energy gave us this sense we were a community. It was powerful.”
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Point out that it’s difficult sometimes to not get depressed again, and Gere adds, “It’s really hard, but no one should check out. That’s what they want, for the good guys to check out.”
One of Hollywood’s most enduring good guys, the actor and humanitarian activist was in L.A. to discuss his latest movie, “Norman,” in which he plays a small-time Jewish “fixer” from New York; a non-stop networker always looking to make more connections. He finally gets his shot when an acquaintance is elected prime minister of Israel, but Norman soon learns it’s tough to play in the big leagues.
Everyone knows a guy like Norman. As Gere says, “I think all us of are Norman a little bit. That’s why we get him. Those sides of us we know are annoying and needy and we sense people around us don’t want to get too close. We’ve all felt that at some point.”
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Gere has excelled at playing sophisticated, confident archetypes, be it “Chicago” or “Primal Fear,” so he might not seem the obvious choice to play a desperate loser like Norman. In fact, when writer-director Joseph Cedar came to him with the project, Gere tried to talk him out of casting him. “I told Joseph if I were directing and producing this movie, there’s no way I would hire myself,” Gere reveals. “I said, ‘I can name a dozen terrific, New York, Jewish actors who know this character inside and out. They could fall out of bed and play this character.’ But I think Joseph was looking for something that wasn’t obvious.”
“Norman” was a quick shoot, but Gere took nine months to prepare, finding the right body language and look for the character. “It was a deep process and being un-rushed allowed both of us to avoid clichés and find solutions to problems that would have been different if we’d had to operate just on instinct,” he says.
And Gere says he actually prefers to work fast. “I like shooting 25-30 days instead of 60 days. Everyone is one their toes, everybody’s working,” he says. And lately he’s gravitated toward small indies like “Time Out of Mind,” which was directed by Oren Moverman, a producer on “Norman” who he’ll reteam with later this year in “The Dinner.” Moverman met Gere after writing “I’m Not There,” and first introduced the actor to Cedar at a cocktail party. “I suspect we will be in each other’s lives a long time,” Gere says of Moverman, with whom he’s currently discussing two more indie films.
“If you’re going to do dramatic work and literate, smart, artistic work, it’s going to be independent. That’s just the way it is,” says Gere, adding that he also only wants to shoot in New York. “My thing now is I’m not going to work outside of New York. That’s why all these movies are set in NY. My son is 17 years old, I don’t want to miss the next few years of his life, I didn’t want to miss anything. And I like doing these things in New York, I like sleeping in my bed, I like the stories, and I know how to do these stories.”
In fact, Gere isn’t sure he’s ever done “a big studio movie.” Even the Oscar-winning “Chicago” wasn’t a big budget, and was shot quickly, he says. “And ‘Pretty Woman’ was a tiny movie — no one knew it was going to be so big. Maybe Jeff Katzenberg.”
In fact, the original script for that film (then called “3,000” after the amount the prostitute is paid for the week) had a much darker ender — where the couple didn’t get together. Says Gere of that original ending, “It does exist, but I’ve never seen it. It was a dark movie,” he adds. “But I think Jeff Katzenberg saw something in it and didn’t want to make that movie, but he saw this other movie in it.”
Gere says that he, Roberts, and Marshall spent a lot of time working on the movie to make it appear so lighthearted. “You think a movie like that is fun and breezy, someone writes a script you make the movie,” he says. “We were continually rewriting and adding stuff and rethinking. We were all working hard to make it feel as breezy as it was, but still have some kind of mysterious undertow to it that would give it weight and longevity.”
In fact, Gere notes, “The roles that appear to be the easiest are usually the hardest.” Though Norman was quite different from anything he’d played, Gere found him fun to play. “A character like that, once you are there with him and feel it, they go by themselves. And it’s easier playing the wacky character than someone who appears to be normal and keep it interesting.”
Asked if he found himself liking the needy but optimistic Norman, and Gere confirms he did. “I don’t want to be Norman, but he surprised me in a lot of ways,” he says. “I was surprised that there wasn’t more anger coming up out of him. At the very beginning, Joseph said, ‘He can’t afford to get angry. He can’t afford to have doors closed in his face that will never open again.’ This anger, there’s no place for it in the Jewish experience. That is central to who this guy is. At the same time, he is a completely universal character. We all know what it’s like to be on the outside wanting to get in.”