Q&A: Richard Gere On Arbitrage

This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.

Director Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage tells the story of a charismatic businessman whose shady deals finally start getting the better of him. Richard Gere plays the smooth, successful commodities broker, and he’s earned some of his best reviews in years. Gere recently spoke with AwardsLine about his character, shooting in New York City, and working with a first-time director.

AWARDSLINE: Do you still look for the same things in scripts that you did when you first started acting?

RICHARD GERE: To be honest with you, I can’t remember that I was ever looking for anything. I was waiting for something to touch me. It’s like, I’ll be open to it, and see if it moves me. There has to be a “falling in love” moment. At the same time, you can’t know what the voyage is going to be. There has to be something that beckons that voyage and process. And I don’t know what that is. Things come out of nowhere, and you start evaluating the director, the cast, and all those other things going into it.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve said that the character you play in Arbitrage, who has been called a Bernie Madoff-type of antagonist, is really more of a guy in a bad situation, rather than a traditional bad guy.

GERE: He does bad stuff. Bernie, by all accounts, was a sociopath. I mean, this is someone who was off the charts. I don’t think (character Robert Miller) was a sick guy, in the clinical sense of sick. He’s sick in the sense of he’s not responsible in an emotional way to his world. But that’s a sickness we all can have. (Laughs).

AWARDSLINE: Were there any scenes that were particularly challenging for you during the shoot?

GERE: Shooting in New York can be a problem. I remember a scene (with Graydon Carter, who played James Mayfield in the film)—that actually turned out really well—at Le Caprice, the restaurant at the Pierre Hotel. It was one of the most trafficked places in New York, and we didn’t have enough people to control it; it was a small production, so just getting to and from the set was hysteria. It took me some concentration to keep at it (in the scene) because I was coming in from outside, so I had to walk through a crowd, come in the front door, and play the scene.

AWARDSLINE: Was there anything about working with a first-time director Nicholas Jarecki that surprised you?

GERE: No, I was just very open. (Sometimes when) someone’s directing for the first time, they’re afraid to include everyone—they have to prove they’re the director. But he never was like that. He would always encourage ideas and go with the best idea.

AWARDSLINE: What was the rehearsal process like?

GERE: He asked me, “How do you want to (rehearse)?” I said, “Slow, easy, as much time as we can. We don’t even have to talk about the script.” A lot of making a movie is the comfort level of the people. It’s just feeling open. We need to get along. We have to know something about each other. We made a lot of tea. He laughs about it because I insisted on having tea to make me feel (at ease). And you can’t lose that way. You hire the best, create an environment where the best will come out, and, of course, you’re going to be fine.

AWARDSLINE: A lot of actors are producing and directing in order to have more control over the projects that they do. You’ve dabbled in some behind-the-scenes work, too, but is gaining that control important to you?

GERE: I never felt a lack of it. Very rare were the times that I was locked out of the process. And most of the time that I was, it didn’t bode well for the movie. I’m rarely in a situation where, if you have a good idea, it’s not embraced. That’s stupid. And I don’t work with stupid people.

AWARDSLINE: Is the promotional work for a film more demanding than it was when you started in the business?

GERE: No. I’ve actually done longer interviews (for Arbitrage). The ones that are killer is when you do 150 in one day at, like, 3 minutes each. (To someone in the background) That’s tomorrow? (Laughs). That’s tomorrow! It’s deadly, but you try to make it sound like it’s the first time you’ve said it. But it goes with the territory. I mean, you have to do that with every movie.

A movie like this, they don’t have the kind of power to go out and buy television. I certainly am doing more on this picture than I would normally do because of where I am on the marquee (and) the fact that this company doesn’t have unlimited power to break through in the marketplace. So it’s up to me and (the rest of the cast) to do a job that maybe in the not-too-distant past would have been just a TV buy.

Arbitrage’s Richard Gere Dedicates Hollywood Award to Limato

Richard Gere

One of the great aspects about the Hollywood Awards that goes largely unrecognized is that it’s arguably the only show that doesn’t put a time cap on acceptance speeches and hook its recipients off stage. As such, both presenters and winners are not only more heartfelt, but candid. And that’s a wonderful rarity during a season when show producers are anxiously tapping their watches anytime a trophy gets handed out.

When the final award of Monday’s ceremony was handed to Hollywood Career Achievement recipient Richard Gere, it became clear why sometimes it’s better to let an honoree speak without a time clock. Following a riveting clip package of Gere’s best moments, the 63-year-old actor delivered a moving six-minute acceptance speech, remembering his late agent, Ed Limato of WME, who passed away on July 3, 2010. Limato was a living legend who shepherded the careers of such acting icons as Denzel Washington, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Mel Gibson.

“These awards go to everyone I ever worked with, but there’s one person who deserves this more than anyone else,” Gere exclaimed. “There was an award I was given at the Museum of the Moving Image six or seven years ago. I mentioned this person there, and I kicked myself that I never spoke more about him, and it’s my dear friend, agent Ed Limato.”

Gere first met Limato when he moved to New York City after working in repertory theater for several years. He was referred to a female agent in the city, however, she was moving out to London to rep the great Italian director Franco Zeffirelli. However, she had an assistant.

“My hair was down to here, and I was wearing a motorcycle jacket and had a huge chip on my shoulder,” Gere recounted. “And that’s when I walked into Ed Limato’s office, and he became my dear friend and agent for over 40 years from that moment. There was not a decision I made without talking to him as a friend, a really dear friend. There was no silliness involved. He would cry with me over my making a decision. Ed died two years ago, and he was a chain smoker: three packs a day, the coffee, the cigarettes, and the telephone. He came from Mount Vernon, New York. I never visited his hometown, but we converged upon it for his funeral. As we were driving around the funeral home, all the mailboxes said ‘Limato’ on them — he was a second generation, Neapolitan Italian and they had taken over this whole section of Mount Vernon.”

Gere continued: “The first four rows of the church were The Sopranos: Big black hair and sunglasses. Then there was an aisle and the next four rows were agents and lawyers in Prada. That was Ed’s life: This combination of Sopranos and Prada.”

Well, Limato must be beaming from above, as there is serious talk once again about Gere in the lead actor’s race this season for his portrayal of a troubled hedge fund manager in Roadside Attractions’ Arbitrage. During Gere’s 40-year career, he’s been overlooked by Oscar voters in terms of acting noms, however, in 2003 he came within breathing distance of a potential one after winning a best actor in a comedy/musical Golden Globe for his portrayal of the tap-dancing criminal lawyer Billy Flynn in Miramax’s Chicago.

“If I had a career of mostly good choices, some lousy choices along the way, but mostly really good films and things I’ m proud of, it’s because of this friendship and trust and this really wonderful man, Ed Limato,” Gere concluded in his speech.

Read Pete Hammond’s coverage of the Hollywood Awards over at Deadline here. Check out Gere’s interview with Charlie Rose about Arbitrage below: