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Interview: Richard Gere of 'Arbitrage'

In which the star disagrees with out thoughts: 'No, no, no. You're off on a crazy footing here ...'

By James Rocchi Sep 13, 2012 2:59PM

Over the phone, Richard Gere does not suffer fools -- or, at least, me -- very gladly. At the same time, the actor and activist's passion is evident as he speaks clearly and intelligently about his work -- specifically as Robert Miller, a high-flying financial titan who gets very close to both the sun and the ground, in "Arbitrage." After its Sundance debut, the film's been acclaimed as Gere's best work in years, but even beyond his performance, it's a scalpel-sharp cutting examination of wealth in New York and the things we need. We spoke with Gere by phone.


MSN Movies: When you're playing a hedge fund titan like Robert Miller, you yourself have more than a passing interest in Buddhism with its 8-fold path and giving up yearning. How do you reconcile those two things?


Richard Gere: What's the question? I didn't quite get that. (Laughs)


I mean you as somebody who has an interest in zen and an interest in giving up on suffering and giving up on desire, playing a character seems to be solely motivated by desire…


I'm telling stories. I'm not the character.

Richard Gere | 'Arbitrage'




I'm telling stories.


So you take a second to look a stance at the character's conduct and go, "No, that's not me" and then just play the part?


No, no, no. You're off on a crazy footing here. You look at a script, you look at a story, now where's a context of a story? People have to have problems and potentially learn from a problem, right?



Or there's no story. So the context of this is what it is. Now are you left at the end of this feeling the negative things that do happen in this are good or are they questionable? And that's the decision I think a moral person makes before they work on a project. So the context of this is a guy who's having a problem and has made very bad choices within the context of a story that is saying that let's look at the choices that were made. They probably were not great choices, and maybe there's something deeply wrong with this world.


I guess what I was trying to establish earlier -- and did a bad job of -- is just wondering how much of a mental exercise is it for you to wrap your head around a character who represents such a completely different ethos and world view …

I don’t see … again I've got to stop you, I don’t see … I think we all almost every second, certainly every day, there are moral and ethical decisions we have to make, and it's very rare that we don’t somehow shave that, parse it. There are very few things on the planet that are totally in their own wise skins 24 hours a day, and we're all very odd creatures and we're doing the best we can given who we are, what our mind state is and the circumstances in our lives, so I'm not judging. I can't judge a character that I'm playing, but I can find his humanity that we're all kind of poor shmucks on the bus.


It's very interesting 'cause it's very difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea of somebody, a character, who's juggling 400 million dollars as a poor shmuck on the bus, but then again whether you're…


That's not the issue. It's not about money.




Take the money factor out.




The money just makes it, that's the level of New York that he's dealing with. The poverty is not about money. The poverty is about the mind state.


Right, and the idea that no matter what sum of money it is, it's either not going to be enough or not be perfect.


Or what you do with the money.




Or if you need the money. Or the money just comes. The many levels of how to evaluate these kinds of things but people aren't dark and evil just because they have money. The darkness isn't about the money. The darkness is about motivation and a sense of responsibility or not in the world.


There is that great line from "Citizen Kane" that if all you want to do is make a bunch of money, you can make a bunch of money. The question is what else you give up.


You don't have to give up anything. That's not the issue, that's not the issue. And again, poor doesn't make you a good person. Rich does not make you a bad person. It's just not the way it is.


Was it gratifying to see in this script that this wasn't simply a workplace film? That it was very much about his life and his interactions with the characters?


Yeah, well I think that's really the skill and real excellence of Nick Jarecki in writing this script is that he found a way to do three things basically, to get the financial world, which is, you know, in our face all the time now. Get that right, and make it interesting.




To integrate that with the personal world of is family and the choices we all have to make in the world. And the third thing is the thrilling in telling a story that it keeps pushing hard. I showed this screening to friends of mine last week and I was, the reaction I got that kind of delighted me the most is how riveting they found it. They were on the edge of their seat and exhausted by the film.


I mean your character is one of those great classic plate spinners in that he's got all these balls in the air and you're kind of watching to see which one will go first.


That's true.


The cast in this, like Mr. Roth or even like Mr. Graydon Carter -- who better to play the flaxen haired patriarch of huge finances? Was it great stepping in to an ensemble full of so many interesting faces and interesting actors?


Oh yeah. Yeah, I mean Tim does a great job with the cop who could've been a pretty stock character, but he brought his own interests and skill that that. Obviously Nate did an incredible job with his character in this. He totally hit it out of the park. Susan, a solid old friend of mine, absolutely believable that we've known each other forever, and Brit which everyone saw and I fell in love with her immediately. You know when I saw her in the film, her other film…


"Another Earth"?


"Another Earth." Yeah, she would bring this other quality to this. A delicacy as well as a strength, a great beauty but intelligence also.


And someone who has to be believable as both your CFO and your daughter.


Yeah, I mean you clearly see while I've decided she's going to run the business, not my son.


Are you somebody who does an insidious level of research? Do you now feel like you could explain this to somebody what a credit swap derivative is?


No, not at all.


(Laughs) Do you feel like we might be better off if the people who are actually behind high finance could explain what a credit swap derivative is?


I don’t think anyone can. I've asked that question many times. But whatever I say in the movie, I do understand.




Or at least I did when I said it.


This film and also the film "Cosmopolis" which is out right now have this very interesting look at high stakes capitalism as this sort of consensual hallucination, in that you're walking around with a piece of paper that is essentially worth 400 million dollars. Is part of getting into that mindset, as you say to the artist character played by Miss Casta, portraying success at all costs, giving off that image?


Well, I don't know if it's about money for this character. It's about winning, and it's a gambler's mentality. A gambler wants to lose ultimately, wants to be on that fence, wants to get the thrill of, "I may lose, I may lose, I may lose." And the hubris of the personality that "I'm not going to lose." But also knowing the percentages you can't win every time.


Would it be safe to say that modern finance is a little bit more defined by Dostoyevsky than the Dow Jones in terms of all these big strange crazy gambles?


Oh, in terms of emotional personality stuff, yeah, absolutely. I don't think it's about money. Money's too easy.  It's about power and on a deeper level it's existential of what am I, what is the universe, what can I control, do I even exist? It's pushing and pushing and pushing.


("Arbitrage" is currently in limited release; which is your favorite Richard Gere film? Let us know on MSN Movies Facebook or through the MSN Movies Twitter.)

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