March 31, 2007

A week or so ago I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Richard Gere for the upcoming movie The Hoax. In the film Richard plays a real person who writes a fake book. Here is the studio provided synopsis:

Directed by Lasse Hallström, The Hoax is inspired by true events in the life of Clifford Irving, the writer who nearly pulled off one of the most audacious media scams in history, when his “autobiography” of Howard Hughes was published. Richard Gere stars as Irving, who claimed the book was based on in-person interviews he conducted with the reclusive billionaire, which were in fact completely bogus. Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis also star.

While a lot of you might be unfamiliar with the legend of Howard Hughes, I knew quite a lot about him going in and quite enjoyed this movie. While some of the film has some fake scenes put in to help the story along, most of what was shot was based on what actually happened. The story is fascinating.

If you haven’t seen a trailer click here to check it out.

Otherwise here is the interview with Richard Gere.

So what was the appeal of this guy for you because he’s sort of unusual?

Well, first off it was a really good script with beautiful structure, beautifully written, a lot of surprises in it. I think that in particular the appeal was the characters were real. They all have their own issues, issues that we all have, but it also resonated in a much larger universe meaning Nixon and Watergate, the world, the Supreme Court and much bigger stuff. I thought that was really interesting to play with for an actor, for someone who’s lying all the time.

Spinning things?

No, not spinning things.

Well, he didn’t need to do this. Why did he?

He did it because it was fun. Under the surface it was fun. I don’t think that he thought he was hurting anyone. I think that he really felt like every step along the way I think that he figured he was going to get caught and he’d give the money back. You have to understand that the time it came out of too was a time – I’m not sure if anyone here is as old as me -that was different.

The book he write was surprisingly unapologetic.


Yeah, did you read the book?

I did read the book. He was a funny character. He was going to do an interview with me in New York and he cancelled so I still haven’t met him. What was I talking about before this?

The time this happened.

Right. The time was Happenings. You might remember Happenings, but none of these people will. It was a time in the art world, a time where it was the end of the ’60’s. Literally, ’71 is when the story takes place, but they came out in the ’60’s and he was kind of never a hippie, but he was like a college professor who had hippie students and was kind of looked up to. He was kind of a Timothy Leary in a way. He was a cross between Timothy Leary and Hemingway, I think, was his self-vision. Though I never heard him say Timothy Leary, I think he kind of saw himself that way inside.

Like a guru kind of thing?

Like a guru and there were always women around and he had his salon in Ibiza. What we do in upstate New York was Ibiza where all that took place, where he came up with the idea and it was all kind of found through the (can’t hear).

Were you familiar with the book before the movie?

No. But again, to take it a little further, it was a time when people did things just to shake it up. People’s lives and actions and schemes that they had were like, ‘Lets take this and turn it upside down.’ It wasn’t negative, but it was more like, ‘Lets just find the humor in our world by flipping it upside down.’ I think that in a way I believe he thought of this as a Happening, as a kind of an art object, an expression. At the same time, I think it was fueled by a lot of frustration and maybe anger on his side that he was not getting the kind of attention that he thought he deserved as a writer.

You decided not to meet with him. What was that based upon? Were you afraid that you’d have to do a performance that was close to who he actually was?

Well, yeah, but he’s obviously a highly manipulative person and I had the good sense of what I wanted to do with the role. I’d done enough research. I don’t think that this movie is pretending to be a documentary on him. There is one scene that clearly did not happen. The whole thing with the prostitute did not happen, but was a scene used as a dramatic device to show how far this guy would go.

Also the helicopter didn’t happen, right?

He said that it did and then he said it didn’t. Almost everything was taken from notes that he had given the producer when he was developing the script. So he was very contradictory about many of the things that he said. He invented almost everything as he went along and continues to I’m sure. In any event I would be happy to meet him. I think that there is some wonderful writing in the fake autobiography. There is some wonderful writing in there. Aside from whether or not it was all fake there was wonderful writing, just the quality of writing, about himself. He talks about himself. He talks about himself as a journeyman writer and it seems to be a really interesting self-exploration of Clifford. And then talking about the connection that he had with Howard (Hughes). It was kind of like, ‘Why me? Why did he pick me?’ It was a wonderful writerly improvisation, the whole why me thing. There is some really beautiful stuff in there.

Some parts of the film are reflective of out time. In what way do you think this film is reflective of what’s going on right now in our world?

Oh, well, look at the newspapers. We have a President, a Vice-President and a Secretary of Defense and an Attorney General obviously these are people who lie constantly, constantly. The ramifications are that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people dead. Are they in jail? Clifford was in jail, I think, for a year and a half or something. You’d have to ask Marcia (Gay Harden) because I think she would know better than me.

Did the parallels of the script to today’s world also interest you?

Sure. Of course. We were using Nixon, but really it’s any president in that same position. We’ve had some really incompetent administrations. Probably none as incompetent as this one though. I was talking about this earlier, but everyone here would admit that we have a President who’s incompetent and we elected him twice. We also are responsible in that we didn’t call enough people out to try and convince them otherwise. We didn’t go out into the streets enough. You have to take responsibility for this. We didn’t do enough. We all could’ve done more.

For someone who’s interviewed a lot, if you found yourself in the Howard Hughes position like in this movie how would you deal with it?

It happens constantly. Constantly. It happened just last week. I read a thing and I was like, ‘What?!’ It was in a major publication, one that you would think was above reproach. It happens constantly. Do I get pissed off about it? Sure, I do. The time that’s wasted doing the interview to begin with when this thing doesn’t reflect at all what was said. Then there are the ones that are just made up whole cloth where I’ve never even met the person.

Can you name the publication?


What was the most fun part of playing a character that’s engaging and charming but also betrays his friends and is completely unreliable all rolled into one?

(Laughs) You make him sound so attractive. I think that a decision that I felt strongly about when we started the picture was that he had to be kinetic. He’s got to be in motion all the time like a shark. He can’t stop. The water has to be going through the gills. Part of that is too, and this is kind of a death wish on his part, is that he’s always putting himself into the worst possible situations where he can fail the largest and it demands that he come up with something extraordinary to get out of it. I guess the fun part of watching the movie is thinking, ‘How is he going to get out of this?’ And then he comes up with something that’s even more out there than what he just had before. That kind of spontaneous improvisation was fun as an actor, certainly.

There was a scene in this where he had his hair slicked back and had the mustache and was looking very much like Howard Hughes. Was that your idea?

I think that was my idea. I wanted to actually … I said, ‘Lets get a jacket like the ones that you see on “The Aviator.'” I said, ‘What about if he’s starting to put a mustache on.’ It didn’t feel too crazy at that point, but then he’s standing over the mirror and kind of improvising it and then obviously it becomes progressively crazier when you see him do that.

What was it like working with Alfred Molina?

Alfred is the top. There is no one better than him. There is no one nicer than him. There is no one more creative or choosy than him. This is a love story between two men, basically, and I mean, he’s the best lover I’ve ever had (Laughs).

Did you and Alfred ad lib a lot? Your scenes kind of look ad libbed?

We did a lot of stuff. You get to the point where I would start a sentence and he could finish it which is really fun. What I really enjoyed [is] one day we were improvising… We improvised a lot and the reality is most of the improvisations are not in the movie but they created an atmosphere of invention even when we went back and did the script which was really good. It had that sense of invention and spontaneity to it. There was a long sequence in that when I’m in the office up at Time magazine, I think it is, and I’m telling them the story. ‘I think it was the craziest thing, you know. He told us to come down there, we waited at this place, blah, blah, blah, blah, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then finally we go to this room and it’s dark in there and there is Howard Hughes and I see this hand come out and he offers a prune, but this was not in the script – I was supposed to take the prune but I went [gestures to show how Alfred took the prune]. But we were able to because of that – you know we really liked each other so much that we were able to be spontaneous in a real way like that continually throughout the film. It was a joy.

Do you think Clifford Irving’s affair with Nina was as much as he claims it was in his book or in the movie?

More than in the movie. I think much more than in the movie.

So it was a real thing?

Oh yeah. Yup.

Lasse didn’t think so.

Lasse didn’t?

No. He didn’t think it was real. He thought it was made up.

Oh, no, no, no.

I thought he said it was real.

It was definitely real.

She confirmed it.

It was definitely real.

Based on your research, do you think Hughes at some point manipulated the situation as suggested in the movie because that’s a very interesting point?

Yeah. I think he was the smartest guy in the room, for sure. He was smarter than Nixon. He was smarter than the Republican Party. He was smarter than Clifford, for sure. He was a god-like figure. Clifford at one point told the writer and producer when they were working on the script — he was in Danbury prison and two of the guys that were, not the big names, but two of the guys who were in the second Watergate break-in, they came up to Clifford in the prison yard and said, ‘You’re the reason we’re in here.’ But that line goes all the way back to Hughes. Hughes was smart enough to make a loan pay off to Nixon and slush it through Donald Nixon and do just smart stuff to cover his own ass in the process. But he knew that there were favors that would have to be paid for that down the road. So he kept this whole sham going. He could have stopped it a lot sooner than he did, so I think he just took advantage of realities of what was happening. I take him at his word when he did finally call. We do have the footage in the film of him calling up the reporters and you could hear his voice going [imitating Hughes voice] , ‘In all my years in Hollywood, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I wish I’d made a movie of this. I never thought of something that crazy.’ I think that’s all true. I think it was exasperation at that point and saying, ‘Okay, enough. I don’t want this guy making money off this. I got what I wanted. You know the Supreme Court overruled the anti-trust laws and I got my merger with TWA and va voom.’

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You actually did the Howard Hughes voice in the movie too. That was interesting.

Yeah, it was fun. He’s such a recognizable thing. The twang. I don’t think anyone is ever going to know Howard Hughes. I think it’s still a mystery. At the time that this happened in ‘71, he was still vital to the culture. Everyone knew this story and the kind of images that were being… You would see these drawings, these crazy drawings of him in the paper and almost every news magazine, and people would say, ‘I had a glimpse of him.’ You know, someone who was a busboy took some food up to his hotel room or something like that and they would make this crazy sketch of this lunatic with long fingernails down to here.

He was a part of the media then? Everybody was very aware of him?

Very aware of him. It wasn’t that long [ago that] he had a movie star girlfriend. He was in the oil business. He was in the aviation business. He was in a lot of power structures, at the top of those power structures.

Are you in talks to play Joe Wilson, the ambassador, Valerie Plame’s husband because there was some talk last night?

I’ve had no communication.

No communication about that?

It’d be a fascinating movie.

But nothing yet?

No. In fact I was just reading her testimony today. Unfortunately we came down to do interviews. Maybe we should stop now and just read it, speaking of smoke and mirrors. [Laughs]

Interesting testimony yesterday.

Did you see it?

I saw part of it and I liked the one question from the Republicans was like, ‘are you a Democrat or a Republican?’ That’s like the most important thing.


Are you working on anything next or about to shoot something?

Yeah, I’m going off to shoot a movie called “Nights in Rodanthe” with Diane Lane.

Who’s your character?

He’s a surgeon. He’s kind of an alpha personality-wise which goes with the territory of surgeons. [Laughs] A real kind of rock star surgeon whose life is falling apart. It’s about a few days in the lives of these two people who happen to be stuck together for essentially a weekend and how it changes their lives.

You played Bob Dylan in a project you shot, right?

Not literally. Not any of us literally played him. This was a pretty expressionistic part in the movie. It was great. It was really fun to shoot.

What phase of Dylan’s career did you play?

Obviously the 18 year old. [Laughs]

I was giving you the benefit. Are you dying to do another musical or was the experience of doing “Chicago” so great that you’d almost…?

I would be open to that. That was really fun. That was really fun.

You were in “Grease” weren’t you at one point?

I did a lot of musicals. That’s how I started in New York. That was a time when I was very lucky. I was kind of the right guy at the right time in New York so I came and I worked and I could sing and play instruments and act, and rock musicals were happening, so the first three or four things I did were musicals.

You like working with Diane Lane, don’t you?

I’m crazy about her. She was only eighteen when I first…when we did “The Cotton Club.” She told me when we did “Unfaithful,” she was the same age then that I was back then. [Laughs]

Who intrigued you more in this movie? Clifford Irving or Howard Hughes?

Intrigued me?

Uh huh. Because they’re both different kinds of entities.

Well they become each other at a certain point, you know. Clifford morphs into him. I liked him. There’s things I’ve said already. I don’t know if I’ve said it to this group or the last one. [Laughs] Clifford I found to be a really fascinating character because he is grounded. I don’t think there’s any way that Howard Hughes can be grounded in reality. He’s so ‘off planet.’ But Clifford is a real person. Clifford Irving makes a sandwich, and he eats it, and he mows his lawn, you know, he’s a real person. I can’t imagine Howard Hughes doing anything like that. To see someone like that deteriorate or let themselves go. The boundaries of the known comes so expanded. You can see that in many of our lives when that boundary gets expanded, the possibilities go ‘ppppffffttttt’ and what happens to that individual who was in that position? Do they implode, explode? Do they go with the expansion? Is it positive? Is it negative? Is it scary? It’s all those things. That was the fun of playing him, of seeing that all the rules are gone. In the movie we took him into madness which I think was appropriate for him and for us and we bring him back. You know that coda that we have of him walking down the street after prison and seeing Dick Susskind just grounds it back into ‘okay, life goes on.’

Is there a character that you haven’t played that you’d like to play?

Madeleine Albright. [Laughs] I don’t know. I’m always kind of amazed when things come up and I’ll go, ‘That’s interesting. I haven’t done that before.’ Look, I’ve done maybe 40 movies. That’s 40 characters. How many interesting characters are there in the universe? But they’re usually surprises, you know. It’s not like… The times that I’ve said, ‘Okay, I want to make a music movie,’ and I’ll burrow away and read everything and it doesn’t happen. You don’t find the right thing or the script doesn’t work out or whatever. And then while you’re doing that, this script comes in from over here and you go, ‘I don’t want to read that. I’m working on this here,’ and finally you end up reading it and you go, ‘Wow, this is pretty good.’ Nothing to do with music, nothing to do with anything, nothing to do with politics. ‘Oh, it’s a girl and a guy and they’re…oh, that’s kind of adult and intimate. Yeah, let’s do that.’ That’s how it works.

Where are you shooting next?

In North Carolina.

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