Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. Two dancing lawyers in a row, are you about to go
for the hatrick?
A. In Chicago! What's
another dance that I could do? Because I've done tap dancing and
ballroom dancing. I suppose I could do jazz, or something like
Q. Highland dancing? In a kilt?
A. I'm soliciting now for a Highland script! Or ballet
- I don't think I could even consider ballet.
Q. Have you ever worn a kilt before?
A. In the privacy of my own home [laughs]. I've got a
picture of my father, actually. My father's a lunatic. He grew
up on a farm, Irish heritage, but I have this wonderful picture
of him being a total lunatic doing a table dance with a t-towel
around his waist, naked as a jaybird other than that, as a not
young man, also, which is something I cherish.
Q. But it's clearly something you're proud of?
A. He's a lunatic, yes!
Q. You have been accused of being a professional lunatic
in this film, because of the amount of preparation and work you
put into it?
A. It's fear! 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. I was so bad [Peter Chelsom enters].
Peter 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 off or not'? 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 the movie. That bit about the
stick was actually a moment where my first teacher, during the
first lesson, was trying to tell me how to keep my arms up in
this peculiar way. She found a 2x4 over in the corner and she
put it over my shoulder.
This, of course, led to my total humiliation on this first meeting.
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 beautiful.
Why do we have such a fresh memory of that [says to director].
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 York.
Peter: And we videotaped your first rehearsal
so that you could remember what it was like to be dreadful.
Richard: It wasn't that hard to remember!
Q. The character, although he has a happy home life,
is basically going through a midlife crisis. Have you ever faced
a sort of crossroads or looked for something else?
A. Mine happened much earlier, I was a teenager when
I had my first midlife crisis. Doing a film like this is an interesting
test, because it's a different film to Peter, I think, than what
it is to me, and that's fine.
This translation, which was an interesting problem, was how do
you make the Japanese film relevant to the West, to America, to
here? It was a movie very much about repression in the Japanese
movie. And as Peter said, the Western story is one about we basically
have everything. And it's not just the material stuff; it's not
just you 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. It's not that 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 film.
Q. Have you ever had any midlife crisis?
A. As a teenager, I looked around and said the world
is dissonant, it's not what it appears to be or what I'm being
told it is. There's more, there's more love, there's more openness,
there's freedom, there's liberation, and there's a possibility
of getting past the boundaries.
Q. Did the dancing skills you learned have a similar
pay off in your own life? Do you still dance?
A. It had one pay-off. After we had finished shooting
- my wife and I had been married for a least a year, and we hadn't
got around to having a wedding party, we'd been too busy. And
we had a wedding party.
In the meantime, my wife had been taking lessons from one of the
dance teachers in the movie.
I knew she'd been taking a couple, but I didn't know she'd been
taking a lot. But I found out later.
So we had our wedding party, we had a band there, and at one point
my wife grabbed me and said 'let's dance for people', and we had
one of those spotlight dances.
We just started, and it was spinning and dipping, the whole deal
- I mean it was like I was doing routines from the movie and she
knew them all, and took the lead and followed beautifully. It
was one of those magic moments, and both our families were there,
and all of our friends, and it really was out of a film! It was
Her family had always said that she had two left feet and couldn't
dance - so for them to see her move like an angel was fantastic.
Q. There's not many genres
of movie that you haven't touched on in your career, is there
anything you would like to do?
A. I'd like to do a cartoon. Honestly. Something that
my son can see. Some kids movie, I'd love to do.
Q. The pressure on you to look vaguely competent as a
dancer was presumably increased by the fact that your co-star
learned to dance as one of the first things she did in life? I'm
talking about Jennifer Lopez? How daunting was it to pair up with
A. One of the things that Peter brought to this and I
brought to this was that we knew we had to have a dance between
these two people. As I recall, it doesn't really happen in the
Japanese version. To do something that really is sensual, deeply
sensual, and find a way to make this sensual but at the same time
have it not leave any unanswered questions about what their relationship
is. To not beg that there's more. And it was very difficult to
And I think it was in the editing that you found a way to make
that work. When we shot it, I spontaneously laughed at the end
of the dancing and that seemed to defuse a lot. And Peter edited
that in very well so that it just rounded it out and there was
no residue left over.
Peter: I think what we didn't want was a film
that was story, story, story, then dance. We wanted a film that,
in the same way as a musical people burst into song because they've
run out of things to say, that particular dance sequence, the
late night tango, does more than five pages of pretty boring dialogue.
I'd much rather see it in the language of a sexy dance; it's the
sex scene of the movie as well, I suppose.
Richard: But to get back to the question, she's
a great dancer, there's no question about that. I am not a great
dancer. I'm an actor who can fake a lot of things and I worked
really hard on that.
Peter: He did three hours every day for four
months. We'd wrap at nine and he'd go off for another two hours
to dance and dance and dance. When I saw him do the competition,
it was... I'd never, ever imagined in my widlest dreams that the
actor playing the lead as a non-dancer could be that good.
Q. Rehearsal was a nightmare clearly, because you were
in the US rehearsing and Jennifer was in Canada with Lasse Hallstrom.
A. The tango was the only dance Jennifer and I had together
- but we never had a full rehearsal. I learned that with several
other dancers, not with her. She also learned it with other dancers,
and I don't think we ever had a full rehearsal together before
we shot it - and we shot it quickly, it came together very quickly.
Thank God the choreography was right, we'd had good people that
we'd both learned it separately with, and we had a good chemistry.
But she was incredibly generous and forgiving. She's a ten - and
I'm somewhere below a ten.
Q. Jennifer and your wife aside, who would your perfect
movie fantasy dance partner be?
A. No, it's my wife. There's no one else. I have to say,
though, I think I was in India when the movie opened and I got
a call from my wife and she was crying on the phone and I thought
something had happened to the kids, or whatever. But she started
reading the New York Times review and the first line
was something like 'not since Fred and Ginger'. It was really
one of those incredibly generous paragraphs and she was just so
proud and all of that. There were moments that had some magic.
Q. What is the perception of ballroom dancing in the States?
Is it a big thing?
A. First of all, I don't think it was exploited the way
it's been exploited here. They really have gone into the ballroom
world and made them know about it. I was talking to the marketing
people and they've gone into the hairdressers and dance halls
and let everyone know in that community. I don't think that really
happened in America, I don't think they went to that extent.
I was amazed in America how many Eastern Europeans were the dance
teachers - how many Russians and people from the Ukraine and Georgia
and Slovenia were the teachers. Even in the small towns in America.
I think it actually picked up a lot after this movie. It made
me think we should have started a dance company and done a tour.
Q. None of us are as young as we were. I wondered if
this was as punishing on your body as the West End stage and Danny
Zuko in Grease 30 years ago?
A. When Chicago opened there was a tape that the BBC
had done of me doing Grease, at 23 or something, and it was played
a lot in the States. I was amazed at how energetic I was at that
point. I don't think I could do that now.
Q. Speaking personally as someone who is awkward on the
dancefloor, why do women make such better dancers than men? Men
are so self-conscious, which is something that the film touches
Peter: Dancing's for poofs! It's kind of true, it's not
regarded as a particularly masculine thing.
Richard: Having gone through this, you've really
got to be very trusting and very vulnerable to do this. And that
thing about the wood across your shoulder, it's for a reason.
Men tend to armour a lot, we don't want to open up too much and
feel too much. And when you dance, you're in like this and have
to open up to be vulnerable and maybe look a little silly and
feel silly. By the way, it felt silly in the beginning, but by
the end of the shoot it felt totally natural being out like this
[gestures with arms]. But I think this thing of being vulnerable
and trusting is not particularly masculine, the way we usually
think about it. Of course it is, in the real world, it's the most
masculine thing to be trusting and vulnerable.