Feature by: Jack Foley
HAVING played Danny Zuko in the original West End production
of Grease, some 30 years ago, and then appearing as a tap-dancing
lawyer in Chicago, audiences might
think that Richard Gere was a natural choice for the role of a
successful lawyer who finds new meaning to life through ballroom
dancing in Shall We Dance.
Yet far from being a natural, Gere had to work incredibly hard
to perfect his technique, training for three hours every day for
four months so that he could convince audiences of his ability.
Even then, the modest star of films such as An Officer and a
Gentleman and Pretty Woman admits that his skill isn't worth getting
"I'm an actor who can fake a lot of things and I worked
really hard on that," he said, during a recent London press
conference, held at Claridges Hotel.
Indeed, fear of failure and big screen embarrassment proved the
ultimate driving force.
"The realisation that whatever you do on film is going to
be there for a while tends to be a good motivator to be as good
as you can get," he continued, with a wry smile.
"And I was so bad to begin with. Peter Chelsom, the director,
was actually there at the very first lesson I had and I think
they all were kind of worried, you know, 'can he really pull this
"So they showed up and I was in the middle of the first
lesson and it was horrible.
"And it was horrible for a long time, I must tell you, it
was really embarrassing and humiliating, all of that.
"But it actually ended up being quite good because we took
a lot of things from the early rehearsals I had and put them into
"Also, ironically, my very first rehearsal was in a studio
that was half the size of this room, but then there was a glass
wall and there was this extraordinarily beautiful Argentine girl,
who was doing a tango on the other side of that. I mean she was
"So I'm dancing so badly I can't believe it, I wanted to
look good in front of this Argentine girl, but it was so much
like the movie that we ended up designing the room in the film
to make it look like this very first rehearsal that I had in New
For director, Chelsom, however, the hours of dedication paid
off and he credits Gere with achieving one of the most amazing
transformations he had seen from any actor he has worked with.
"I'd never, ever imagined in
my wildest dreams that the actor playing the lead as a non-dancer
could be that good," he added.
Shall We Dance is actually a Hollywood remake of a small Japanese
movie of the same name.
It finds Gere as Chicago lawyer, John Clark, who has become bored
with his routine existence and 'trapped' in a safe marriage.
Desperate to find something more to life, he suddenly finds himself
captivated by a beautiful face in the window of a dance studio
and impulsively gets off the train he is riding home to sign up
for dance lessons.
The face in question belongs to Jennifer Lopez's heartbroken
dance instructor, Paulina, and she gradually draws Clark into
the world of ballroom dancing, providing him with an innocent
but much-needed outlet for his day-to-day frustrations.
But while Clark finds happiness in the tango-foxtrot, he feels
too ashamed to tell his wife (Susan Sarandon), who subsequently
begins to suspect he is having an affair.
The Japanese version of the film, starring Koji Yakusyo and Tamiyo
Kusakari, was basically about repression and the taboo in Japan
that exists about ballroom dancing.
The biggest challenge in remaking it, therefore, lay in presenting
something that was relevant to Western audiences.
"The Western story is one about how we basically have everything,"
explained Gere. "And it's not just the material stuff; it's
not just you've got the car, the nice house, the stuff, the job,
the wife's got a job.
"This is not a dysfunctional household. There's wit and
charm and love and affection and sex.
"They have everything seemingly on all levels but still
there is this yearning for something else, for something more.
"And I think this is very relevant to our problems in the
West. We do have it all and still there's this itch.
"And it's not about a traditional midlife crisis. It's not
about changing your hairstyle and getting a red sports car and
a trophy wife, and I think we went to great pains to make it not
about that, but about some kind of mysterious yearning that became
manifest in seeing this melancholy girl in an Edward Hopper-esque
setting at the window.
"That set it off, and literally got him off the train. The
poetry of that, getting the guy off the train, I thought was really
beautiful. And it set me working, as an artist, how to make this
The ensuing film has since taken over $140 million at the worldwide
box office even though it has yet to open in the UK and, more