A/V Room









Shall We Dance - They have everything seemingly on all levels but still there is this yearning for something else

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 excited about.

"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 off'?

"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.

"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.

"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."

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 film."

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 crucially, Japan.


# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z