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The Hoax - Richard Gere interview

Richard Gere in The Hoax

Compiled by Jack Foley

RICHARD Gere talks about playing real-life author Clifford Irving [the man who falsely claimed to have written the official autobiography of Howard Hughes] in The Hoax and how historically accurate the film really is…

He also reveals why he needed some convincing to take on the role of Clifford Irving in The Hoax and why being referred to as a sex symbol at 57 is just not realistic…

Q. What did you think of Clifford Irving as a person?
Richard Gere: I think Clifford had a great deal of self-loathing that he was dealing with. He’s just like us; we all lie and we all cheat, and even if we don’t do it, we think it and we could at any moment. There’s nothing that he does in this movie that we haven’t done to some degree, and some us do much worse than these sorts of lies. He even convinces himself of the stories he’s telling. You can see that when he talking, he’s like a bad actor. You don’t quite believe him but you know that he believes what he’s saying.

Q. And yet he’s quite likeable, for all his faults…
Richard Gere: That’s the trick with any character. If an actor makes a judgement on the character you’re lost right from the beginning, even if the character’s consumed by self-loathing. What’s interesting to me is that he is a real character. He is us, but like Rosencratz and Guildenstein he finds himself in a story that’s much larger than he imagined, where there are universal forces at play, that he feels he is in the jet-stream of. But he realises in the end that he has no control over them, that they’re so much bigger than him and it does lead to a form of madness. You see him descend.

Q. So meeting him could have been dangerous?
Richard Gere: I didn’t want to protect a friendship with him or have to protect confidences. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with this part, which was to go full out. And I’m not sure I could have done that had I known him and he’d been part of the process.

Q. Were all the main events historically accurate?
Richard Gere: I didn’t want to do anything that violated the reality of him. There is one decisive scene in the movie that never happened, when he sets up a friend, Suskin [Alfred Molina], to cheat on his wife with a hooker. That never happened; the writer invented that. But that kind of manipulation of his friends is just the kind of thing that Clifford Irving was capable of and in terms of dramatising that for film, this was a decisive scene. There was some talk that we should cut it out to get it past Suskin’s wife, but I said “no”, this is a really important scene, to show how far this guy will go. We changed everyone’s names, even the literary agents, although not the publishing house. But this is all true and there’s stuff in there that’s not from books, but from interviews between the writer and Clifford where he was telling stories that are entirely whacky. There’s a scene with a helicopter that came straight from Clifford.

Q. Do you think that telling lies is always a bad thing?
Richard Gere: There are times when telling lies are not a bad thing. It can be a compassionate thing. But to make it benign, you have to be aware of your compassionate reasons for telling that lie. The story shows that people will believe what they want to believe. I think Clifford had a bit of that frat-boy thing – he liked the idea of getting one over on the establishment, on the guys who ran the media and the publishing houses.

Q. Do you think Clifford Irving [your character] always intended to own up to the book being a hoax?
Richard Gere: I think he did believe that he would tell the public about it, but it got out of hand. When you look at the material he faked, it’s shocking that anyone would believe him. The forgeries of Howard’s signatures are so bad; a 12-year-old could have done them better. But that underscores one of the main themes of the film, which is the gullibility of people who want to believe. It’s human nature – we want to believe our children, our families, our President!

Q. The film’s like a platonic love story between you and Alfred Molina at times…
Richard Gere: It’s absolutely a love story between Clifford and Suskin, and you have to have some deep betrayal to give that meaning, which is what the [set-up] scene shows. I don’t think it’s possible to dramatise it and have that power without that scene. This was always a good script, everyone read it, but it never got made. And that’s because it’s this love story. You pitch that and they go: “I don’t know…” You only know in retrospect if those things work.

Q. You’d passed on this script before. Why did you connect second time around?
Richard Gere: I don’t know. Maybe it was because Lasse Hallstrom was doing it. I could see where he was coming from. You read a script and it’s just a template. Not every detail is there, it’s not a novel where it’s giving you so much information telling you what to think all the time. A script is just a schematic but Lasse makes a certain kind of movie, and I could see this filtered through his sensibility.

Q. What do you mean?
Richard Gere: He’d make the characters fully rounded and real, and you believe in the situation. There’s no sense of heightened reality. He keeps it real, but let’s it float with humour. That’s what Lasse does, especially in his very best films. There’s a wonderful balance between these elements and he could make this script come alive. That’s why I took the second time – there was no one attached when I first read it.

Q. American Gigolo was the big turning point for you, but it cast you on this path as a sex symbol…
Richard Gere: I’ve always said it’s flattering to be desired, just as it’s flattering that people accept the reality of the character you play. But it was always ridiculous to assume that because I could play a gigolo on screen I’d play anything like that role off screen.

Q. Does it bother you that people still bang on about being a sex symbol?
Richard Gere: I’m 57 years old! How much longer can I be a sex symbol? Let’s be realistic!