Richard Gere

Shall We Dance?

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

“It was horrible and it was horrible for a long time... ”

Ever since his breakout role in American Gigolo, Richard Gere has been cast for his inimitable brand of suave - from Pretty Woman to Chicago. More recently, he's been exploring the psyche of the middle-aged everyman, most notably in 2002's Unfaithful opposite Diane Lane. In Shall We Dance - a remake of the Japanese film by Masayuki Suo - he takes a much more light-hearted approach, rediscovering his passion for life with fancy-footed co-star Jennifer Lopez.

You've played a dancing lawyer twice now. What about going for the hat-trick?

Oh, in Chicago? Well, what's another dance I could do? I've done tap dancing and ballroom dancing. I suppose I could do jazz dancing, or something like that. Or Highland dancing. OK, I'm soliciting now for a Highland script. If a script comes my way, I'll do it! Ballet though, I don't think I could fake ballet.

You trained very hard, once again, to get the steps right for this...

It's fear. Fear does that. It's the realisation that whatever you do on film is going to be there for a while. It's a good motivator to actually get you to be as good as you can get and I was so bad... Peter [Chelsom, director] was there at the very first lesson I had and I think he was really worried, thinking, "Can he pull this off, or not?" It was horrible and it was horrible for a long time, I must tell you. It was really embarrassing and humiliating and all of that. But it actually ended being quite good because we ended up taking quite a few things from the early rehearsals I had and put them into the movie.

What kinds of things?

You know that bit about the stick? Actually there was a moment when my teacher, in the first lesson, was trying to tell me how to keep my arms up in this peculiar way. She found this two-by-four in the corner and she put it over my shoulders and of course this led to my total humiliation in this first meeting. Also, ironically, my very first rehearsal was in a studio, but there was this glass wall and there was this extraordinarily beautiful Argentine girl who was doing the tango on the other side of that. She was beautiful. Anyhow I'm dancing so badly I can't believe it and I wanted to look good in front of this Argentine girl but it was so much like the movie that we ended up actually designing the room in the film to make it look like this very first rehearsal that I had.

How daunting was it to pair up with Jennifer Lopez, since she is an accomplished dancer?

She's a great dancer, 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 this.

But you didn't get much time to practise together, because Jennifer was off shooting another film at the time. Did that make it more difficult for you?

The only dance we had was the Argentine tango and I learned that with several other dancers - not with her - and she also learned it with other dancers. I don't think we ever had a full rehearsal before we shot it and we shot it quickly. But it came together very quickly, thank God, because the choreography was right and she and I had a good chemistry. But believe me, she was incredibly generous and forgiving. She's a ten and I am somewhat below ten.

Why do you think your character in the film is so dissatisfied, even though he's living the American dream?

He has everything but still there is this yearning for something else, something more. I think this is very relevant to our problems in the west. It's that we do have it all and still there's this itch and it's not about a traditional mid-life crisis. It's not about changing your hairstyle and getting flying glasses and a red sports car and a trophy wife. I think we took great pains to make it not about that, but about some mysterious yearning that became manifest in seeing this melancholy girl [Jennifer Lopez] in an Edward Hopper-esque setting - in the window. That sets it off for him [his character] and gets him ofF the train. The poetry of that, of getting a guy off the train, I thought that was really beautiful.

So, like your character, have you discovered a new passion in ballroom dancing?

It had one pay-off and it was after we had finished shooting. My wife and I had been married for at least a year and we never got around to having a wedding party. In the meantime my wife had been taking lessons from one of the dance teachers on the movie and I knew she'd been taking a couple, but I didn't know that she'd been taking a lot. Anyhow we had the party and there was a band there and at one point my wife grabbed me and said, "Let's dance for the people." And we had one of those spotlight dances and I said, "Are you sure? Okay." And we just started dancing and there was spinning and dipping and the whole deal! I mean it was like I was doing routines from the movie and she knew them all and followed beautifully. It was one of those magic moments. It really was out of a film.