SHALL WE DANCE? - Q&A with RICHARD GERE and director PETER CHELSOM
Movie interview by Neils Hesse
Richard, two dancing lawyers in a row, are you trying to set a record?
RICHARD GERE: What's another dance I could do, ballet or maybe highland dancing?
Have you ever worn a kilt?
RICHARD GERE: Only in the privacy of my own home, although on a different note I have a picture of my dad dancing on a table top with nothing but a tea towel. He has Irish roots and he's a lunatic.
Richard you put in a lot of work for this role?
RICHARD GERE: Fear is a very good motivator.
(At this point the director Peter Chelsom enters the room and Richard says: "And straight from Blackpool...")
RICHARD GERE: Peter and the rest of the production people were very worried from my first lesson because it was very bad. My first rehearsal was in a studio that had a see through window to the next studio and there was this beautiful Argentinean girl and I desperately wanted to look good for her, so from that experience we designed the dancing studio to accommodate that kind of situation.
PETER CHELSOM: We videotaped the first rehearsal so that you could remember how bad you were.
Peter, you didn't want to do it?
PETER CHELSOM: No, so I lied about it even though I hadn't actually read it and I loved the original so I didn't want to spoil it.
RICHARD GERE: Then they sent it to you after a year claiming that it had been rewritten and you approved of the rewrites, but it turned out that there had not been any rewrites.
PETER CHELSOM: Yes so we proceeded but unlike the Japanese one we concentrated on the American dream and how it holds back Richard's character from admitting to wanting more.
On a different note, do you know about the premiere in Blackpool Richard?
RICHARD GERE: No
PETER CHELSOM: Are you coming?
RICHARD GERE: Nobody laughs in America when Blackpool is mentioned but everybody laughs over here.
Richard your character is somewhat in a midlife crisis, have you ever been in a similar situation in your life?
RICHARD GERE: When I was a teenager yes. It was an interesting process for me to see this Japanese film made relevant to a western society. It is about repression. We basically in many ways have everything and it's not that my family in the film is dysfunctional but still there's this yearning for something more and it's not a midlife crisis it's about the yearning that was set off by seeing this melancholic beautiful face of a girl from the window of his train. I thought that the power of that to make him get off the train was very beautiful.
Richard, have you ever had that experience?
RICHARD GERE: Yes as a teenager I felt that the world was dissident.
Peter, did your version of that yearning to try something else come when you quit acting to direct?
PETER CHELSOM: Yes, I had a boringly respectable career as an actor and I was thirty so I decide to try something new although very recently I was offered a role in a good movie.
RICHARD GERE: Was this something that I turned down?
PETER CHELSOM: I was set to play a golfer and they told me that I would have to spend at least two weeks learning to play the game. In the end scheduling conflicts didn't allow for me to do the film.
RICHARD GERE: Yes acting offers some great opportunities. I was told that I would have to spend two or three months with some very beautiful women. [He smiles].
Has dancing made you find a new exuberance?
RICHARD GERE: Well my wife had also been taking dancing lessons although I didn't realise just how many she had been taking and then one night when we were celebrating our marriage, she took me to the dance floor and it was one of those spotlight dances and we did it all, it was like a movie. It was good for her because her family have always said that she has two left feet so they were really amazed to see her do all that so well.
Peter, do you inhabit that dancing world?
PETER CHELSOM: I am a closet dancer, I grew up in Blackpool and that's how you got to snog your first girlfriend, snog not shag. It was part of our culture.
Richard is there anything that you'd like to do?
RICHARD GERE: I'd like to do a cartoon or a kid's movie, something that my kid can watch.
How hard was it for you to pair up with Jennifer Lopez, seeing as she is such a qualified dancer?
RICHARD GERE: We knew we had to have a dance between these two people something sensual to leave no questions about their relationship, she was very generous and at the end of it I spontaneously laughed and that diffused the sexual element of that dance.
PETER CHELSOM: That dance allowed for us to do away with several lines of boring dialogue.
RICHARD GERE: I'm not a great dancer she is. I am an actor who can fake a lot of things.
PETER CHELSOM: Richard is a great dancer, I never realised until we shot the last scene. He worked very hard.
RICHARD GERE: The tango scene with Jennifer was shot in one take and we had both learnt it from different teachers but we had good chemistry and she was very giving.
Richard, who would your dream partner be?
RICHARD GERE: My wife. In fact when it opened in New York I was in India and she called me on the phone, she was crying so I thought that something was wrong but she explained that she had read a review so she read it to me and it started out like 'Not since Fred and Ginger has there been such a...' and so she was so happy and so proud for me.
Richard, is ballroom dancing big in The States?
RICHARD GERE: Not really, I was amazed at how many eastern Europeans are dance instructors over there.
Was the whole experience as punishing on your body as playing Danny Zuko was 30 years ago?
RICHARD GERE: The BBC aired a tape of me doing that recently and I was surprised at how much energy I had, I couldn't do that now.
Richard, why is it that women take the whole dancing thing in a very relaxed manner whereas men are so uptight about it?
PETER CHELSOM: That's because dancing is for poofs, well at least that's the opinion of most people.
RICHARD GERE: Men tend to armour up a lot more and so it is hard for them to open up, be vulnerable and to feel silly. I felt that way to start with but by the end of it all it felt totally natural to do stuff like put my hands in a certain way and in the real world it is totally natural to be vulnerable.