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Shall We Dance - Richard Gere Q&A



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 that?

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 beautiful.
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 her?
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 orchestrate this.
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 on?
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.

 

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