MotherFatherSon

Tom Rob Smith's original eight-part drama for BBC Two

An interview with Richard Gere

I was still trying to figure out as I was playing him just how dark he could go. Max does questionable things - mischievous things - but I certainly don’t see him as an evil villainRichard Gere
Date: 24.02.2019     Last updated: 24.02.2019 at 08.11
Richard Gere plays Max in MotherFatherSon.

What can you tell us about Max?
At the surface you think you know this guy, because we know figures like him from real life - men like Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Richard Branson. Guys who have achieved so much in life you have a sense that they have a golden touch, and are involved with all kinds of businesses linked with power, politics and media.

But Max is not based on any of them - he’s someone new, a work of fiction. So my question was, how do you create a character who is unique, but at the same time is a recognisable contemporary or a counterpart to those men, who reaches the audience in the same way, but has a personality of his own?

When you look at what Max has done with his life, he’s kind of a Citizen Kane type character. He came up out of the steel industry before giving that up to buy a local newspaper, and then another bigger one, and another, and then finally becoming the owner of reputable national newspapers and news organisations that are involved in the highest levels of politics.

Would you say he’s a good guy or a bad guy?
Like all of us, he is a mix. I was still trying to figure out as I was playing him just how dark he could go. Max does questionable things - mischievous things - but I certainly don’t see him as an evil villain character. I think his behaviour and actions are understandable, and that’s my job - to make him understandable from a human point of view. He is one of us, all be it he has more power and money, and he probably has more problems than most of us.

What did you think of the scripts when you first read them?
I’ve been involved with this series for a long time, long before all eight scripts were complete, and it was so intriguing to see where things were going. You want to know where they’re going to go. Tom Rob Smith is able to juggle a lot of characters, and from the beginning I felt that there was a Shakespearian scale to this story. There are even elements in the language Tom uses which are kind of contemporary Shakespearian, that have a real poetic depth to them and such power. I’m sure Tom will like to hear I’ve said that! But it’s true.

How did you get involved in the show? You haven’t done TV for a while…
I’ve never done anything like this - playing a lead character in a TV series, or even playing a character for this amount of time. The only thing I remember doing on TV was at the height of the US AIDS crisis, when the producers of a piece called And The Band Played On - about HIV AIDS and how the pandemic started - needed someone with some visibility to play one of the parts in order for the series to get greenlit. So I found a couple of days in between something else I was doing to be a part of that.

But I’ve not done anything for television before or since then, so this is my first time making a whole series with the kind of novelistic approach that you just can’t do in film. I see MotherFatherSon as an eight-hour movie.

Why should people watch MotherFatherSon?
I can only speak for myself, but it’s rare to see this kind of depth and presentation of - not just characters - but human dilemmas, emotions and thoughts, and confusion, and people trying to do the right thing, trying to do well and tripping over themselves and everyone they care about.

This is the world we live in, because most families are dysfunctional to some degree, and this one certainly is.

It is about a mother, a father and a son, and how those relationships destroy each other, how they feed each other, how they need each other, how they need independence but it’s impossible. And this human story which we can all relate to is set against a much larger story about international politics; and about the movement of populism which I feel is spreading across the planet at this moment. What does it mean? What is it even about? Why are politicians and people behaving badly? Why are we not caring about each other enough? Why are we feeling angry? Why are we acting out in strange ways?

I see populism in the US, and it’s obviously happening here in Europe, and Asia. It’s happening everywhere. So that’s the context for this very human story. I think that’s unusual and it’s why I feel MotherFatherSon is Shakespearian in scale. It’s got real human honesty, but also a vastness in its ambition of dealing with big questions.

What is it about the story that will resonate with viewers?
People relate to human stories. If the human story isn’t there, then the rest of the story doesn’t matter. These are things that resonate and, ultimately, if we - me, Helen and Billy - get it right, then it’s this relationship between mother, father and son, that’s going to interest anyone.

The series is fuelled by human relationships - that’s what we’ve been focusing on. Yes it’s set in a glamorous, powerful world, but really it doesn’t matter who the clothes designer is or what house you’re living in. Ultimately those things fade away, and it’s the relationships that matter.

Where do we find Max at the beginning of the series?
The series begins with Max flying into London after some time away. The first episode is about meeting the people in his life and returning to his UK-based newspaper, which Max’s son Caden - played by Billy Howle - is running now. Max is involved with UK politics, and he’s the kind of guy that’s always got a lot of plates spinning in the air. In episode one we see some of those plates spinning, and really get a sense of his energy and how he engages with the world.

You mentioned Caden (Billy Howle). What is Max’s relationship with him like?
Oh it’s complex, like I think many father and son relationships are. Max is the kind of guy who has high expectations of his son and maybe pushes him a little too hard down a track that fits his expectations. Caden of course chafes at that, like many sons do.

What’s Max’s relationship like with Kathryn (Helen McCrory)?
Well they’re divorced, and you know, they still have some kind of a relationship, but you see that it’s always going to be prickly. There certainly is still love and concern there, mixed with regret and pain and suffering. But they do their best to be civil, certainly around Caden after what happens to him at the end of episode one.