Movie Stars like to boast that they can play just about anybody, if they put their mind to it. But for a celeb and sex symbol like Richard Gere (Pretty Woman, American Gigolo), morphing into a dazed and confused homeless man literally wandering the streets of New York City in Oren Moverman’s dramatic feature, Time Out of Mind, proved more than daunting.
And it wasn’t just being mistaken as really homeless and his actual character George, by those passing by and very occasionally offering him spare change – and in one case a female tourist who handed him some food. But his own personal identity crisis as well during filming, when otherwise being accustomed to dealing with the limelight and enormous attention bestowed up him by the public, he was suddenly thrust into the everyday plight of the homeless – virtually ignored and callously invisible to humanity.
Gere met to talk about taking on this new, formidable challenge, following the press screening of Time Out of Mind at the NY Film Festival 2014.
Maybe my imagination went off the rails, but most of the time I was watching you as a homeless guy in the movie, I was thinking about Julian Kaye. So could you compare and contrast George here with your American Gigolo?
RICHARD GERE: That’s a really bizarre question! Let me see. What can I do with that! Well, you probably didn’t know this, but the genesis of American Gigolo was The Pickpocket of Bresson.
And that was also a movie about procedure. How do you pick a pocket. What does a pickpocket do, was really what the film was.
And that came from Dostoevsky. So there is a certain line here, of just seeing what do people do. In terms of what their job or situation is.
And not in terms of plot. But seeing characters just in terms of what they do. What does a homeless guy do.
I’m stretching this. Gigolo has nothing to do with this movie! But when you think about it, what is the plot of this film.
Well, the guy only asks for two things. I need a place to sleep, and I’m hungry. That’s all he asks.
Gigolo was asking for something else! But in that sense, again it was about procedure.
You know, you start out – I haven’t see the movie in a long time. But I think it’s very much about, how does the Gigolo do his thing.
Um, when they showed clips of that movie in Toronto, I barely recognized myself! It was so long ago.
How far did you go to get inside the head of a homeless man, like did you sleep in the shelters?
RG: No, but I visited a lot of the shelters. Over the last, like eight or ten years, of doing that.
And it felt like something that I knew, the details I was picking up.
But I don’t think it’s hard for us to get it there. I think we all have a yearning to be known. And to be seen.
And we didn’t know when we started out, that this was going to work on any level. We just went in with what we decided to do.
Did you identify with George in any way yourself?
RG: I think what I got into watching this, was that sense of yearning. I’m not this guy as a homeless guy anymore, I’m seeing him as us.
And we’re all yearning. For love, for affection. To be seen. To be embraced. To be part of all those things.
And all that is certainly highlighted and very clear, in a homeless person. Even if we see the substance abuse, we see mental illness, we see all these things. In a part of that population.
But I also can see how quickly we all can descend into that territory. When we are totally cut loose, from all of our connections to people, and love and affection.
And just being well thought of. That kindness, of someone looking and smiling. And thinking, oh we should have this.
These guys don’t get that. And how quickly this ugly thing starts to happen. And that is dark and lost, deeply lost.
And in our own lives, we make judgements on people. without knowing anything about them. By how they look, and how much money it looks like they have.
And maybe we posit where they live, or you know, where they come from. And very quickly, without any real information.
And I think that’s what we were doing. Like okay, let’s just present a guy here. And he’s a Rorschach test, for everyone. But what he is.
And I had no interest in that, whatsoever. We wanted to make this film much more intuitively. Like life.
How did you manage to make this portrait of a homeless man feel so real?
RG: I was very in tune with a bullshit barometer, in approaching this material. But it really came together quite quickly, and naturally.
And Oren had this incredible sense of the process being the movie. And people don’t do that anymore, it’s all about plot.
And you don’t need to pump it up like that with anything else. Life itself without any dramaturgy, is enough.
And picking up dialogues out there, and situational stuff, in the shelters. He stole all of it!
And nobody recognized you running around like a homeless man on the streets of New York?
RG: That was one of the most bizarre things about this! But I must tell you, there’s one interesting thing that I found out.
I think there were two or three times, that people talked to me on the street. Once was a French tourist woman.
She just totally thought I was a homeless guy, and gave me some food.
The other two times were African Americans.
And they just passed me and said, hey Rich. How ya doin’ man! Nothing. Just, how ya doin’ man. And continued on.
But white guys, white people, were very much in their capsules. We know where we’re going to, and we see little going between here and there.
African Americans are much more in the moment. They kinda see the world around them, for whatever reason.
So that was a very interesting part of this process too. But in general, psychology, back story – not interesting to us in this movie.
You know, it wasn’t about communicating where he came from. That makes it too easy, for a character like this. You have to live with him.
So it’s not like, I don’t believe we’re seeing a homeless guy, by the way. We’re seeing ourselves. Our emotional, naked selves.
And that yearning we all share, all of us. Some of us more dramatically than others. But that’s our common denominator right there, that will to belong, to be seen, to be embraced
And there seemed to be no question in people’s mind, what I was doing there! Like, has Richard Gere fallen on hard times!
And I’m playing someone who drinks, so I started getting intoxicated with this other sense of time.
And one of the things about this film, is that it’s definitely on its own time. I was just there, with this guy. And there are no bad guys!
But we were basically making a silent movie. And from this character’s perspective, it’s not words in his mind. It’s space. And all the sound around him.
How did you go about updating this script from thirty years ago, into the present homeless reality?
RG: This isn’t so much about the details, but what it feels to be homeless. And that hasn’t changed at all, from when this script came up in the 1980s.
And how one quickly one descends into really scary zones in consciousness. You know, when you’re invisible.
How did becoming invisible for this role affect you personally, as someone very visible in the public eye as a star?
It’s worse. And I keep telling everyone, it’s actually worse when you’re invisible. It’s a dark world.
You’re radiating failure, being homeless on the street. Nobody wants to know you. And for me, this was a really strange experience.
We were filming one day in Starbucks, and nobody could see the camera. We wanted to see if this could work.
And I’m someone who is still making movies, I’m still out there. So I was scared, actually.
And anxious, about being that naked out there on the streets.
But nobody paid any attention to me. Nobody saw me.
And I started approaching people. Not harassing them, just approaching with, can you help me out. Do you have any spare change.
And nobody looked at me. Even when somebody gave me a dollar bill. No eye contact. And that was really the first time I really felt inside, whatever that is.
And for me, like I come here today, and you want to hear what I have to say. You’ve seen my movie, and I’m iconic in some way.
But I’m the same guy that I was on that street. And when I was, nobody wanted to hear this story. So for me, it was a profound thing.
It’s an experience of existentialism. And how relative it all is, all of it. Certainly, in terms of consciousness.
There’s definitely a feeling in the movie, that if this could happen to Richard Gere, it could happen to anybody.
RG: Seriously, this whole thing was predicated on that. For a lot of this movie, that I would be on the streets.
And New York would be passing me by. Behaving as if I was who I was supposed to be.
More information about the NY Film Festival currently in progress, is online at: Filmlinc.com