Richard Gere: “his silky walk and fluid gestures”

In this review of The Bee Season (which sounds very interesting)Manohla Dargis has this pointed bit of analysis of Richard Gere’s acting:

The casting of Mr. Gere proves a challenge the filmmakers never surmount – not only because of his celebrity, but also because he fails to convince as a man devoted to the life of the mind. An appealing and poised screen presence, Mr. Gere wears designer threads and Navy uniforms with ease. His gifts as a film actor are located in his body, in his silky walk and fluid gestures, but he does not have the open, expressive eyes that so often serve as the way into a character, particularly one meant to have a lot going on behind those same eyes.

I never quite thought of it that way before. I wouldn’t call myself a Richard Gere “fan”, but I loved him in Officer and a Gentleman and I loved him in American Gigolo. But sometimes he annoys me (don’t even get me started on Chicago), or … it’s not that he annoys me, it’s just that sometimes there’s something OFF in his character portrayals. When he’s good he’s good and when he’s not good, he seems to … not even BE there up on the screen. Strange. I always thought that maybe it was because he was too self-centered to submit to another character, but I am not sure that that’s true. I actually met the man once, and he was very nice, and interested in other people. Kind, social. Also, and this is very attractive, he cares so much about acting. He is dedicated to it. He was very friendly with all of us actors-in-training, his stories about his early days were terrific. I was also surprised at how FUNNY he was. I never would have imagined Richard Gere to be funny, not from his screen performances, but he is.

I didn’t get a narcisstic vibe from him, and, come to think of it, that possible explanation of what is missing in some of his roles doesn’t quite sit well with me. That’s not WHY he can’t “get into” certain characters. At least I don’t think it is.

Although, I do think he has a difficult time NOT being the leading man anymore. That, for me, was one of the main issues with Chicago. That movie was about the WOMEN, Gere, not you. That was not “a Richard Gere film”. He couldn’t surrender the screen to the women. I noticed the same issue in Pretty Woman, which, let’s be honest, was all about making Julia Roberts a star. He was basically support staff in that film. But he tried to OWN the scenes, as though he thought we were there to see him, but she just walked away with that movie. Easily. The scene when they go to the opera in San Francisco in his private jet there’s a moment where the two of them are getting into a limosine and he doesn’t open the door for her. She’s in that long red ballgown … and he gets into the car first. It always struck me as … a very revealing moment about Richard Gere. And who he is as a movie star. Me first. You’re a romantic lead in what is, essentially, a fairy tale, and you don’t help the princess into her car? It may not be an attractive quality, but it is what made him so riveting in American Gigolo and Looking For Mr. Goodbar and Officer and a Gentleman.

Pretty Woman was all about Julia Roberts. It was about making her a star. I think Gere had a problem with that, on some level. He resisted it.

I think mainly when it seems that he is OFF, it’s a matter of casting: He has a limited range. I don’t mean that as a criticism. Most actors have a limited range. We can’t be EVERYthing. But actors get in trouble when they over-step, when they don’t know WHAT their range is. Most actors who become major stars know exaclty what their range is. They know who they are. Actors who don’t know who they are don’t get very far.

If you’re fat and you can’t or won’t lose weight, then embrace it, and go for the fat-girl parts. Don’t bitch about how people judge you on your looks. They judge EVERYONE on their looks. You think Jessica Alba doesn’t get JUDGED on her looks?? It might even be WORSE for her because if she gains two pounds, she will definitely hear about it from her manager, her agent, her publicist, and Perez Hilton. Camryn Manheim is fat. She never let ANYONE stop her. And she was so good that directors CHANGED how they viewed a character so they could have HER in whatever show they were producing. Her first big break was in a national car commercial where she played a mechanic. The producers/directors of the spot had only been seeing men, of course – guys who fit the “mechanic” type. Big blurpy blue-collar types. My friend, who is a casting director, had seen Camryn’s one-woman show and had thought she was fabulous. She called her in for as much stuff as she could, and she snuck Camryn into the audition lineup for the mechanic part. One woman (Camryn) against 50 guys. Guess who got the part? The director changed his entire VIEW on who the mechanic should be based on Camryn’s audition. How amazing is that? Nobody gave Camryn Manheim anything. She FORCED people to see her TALENT, not her fat. Good for her.

If you’re a geeky skinny nerd, then know your range. Know you will be given geeky skinny nerd parts, and embrace it.

If you’re a hot leading man, don’t be embarrassed about it, and don’t get pissy because you won’t be cast as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Embrace your leading man-ness.

LATER, if you reach some success, and you have TALENT – THEN maybe you can “stretch” and pick other parts, but unless you’re really talented in that chameleon way (and it’s usually the character actors who are talented in that chameleon way) – then you better stick to your type. Actors have made extremely successful careers out of playing one thing.

Gere, when he’s cast well – like American Gigolo – is superb, definitive. He’s so good in that film that I cannot imagine anyone else in the part.

But until I read the review of The Bee Season this morning, I hadn’t really clarified WHY. It is because his “gifts as a film actor are located in his body …” That is so true. Very few actors have what he has. His comfort in his own body. He moves with grace – and when he crosses a room with purpose (watch how he leaps up after Debra Winger when she tries to storm out of the cheap motel in Officer and a Gentleman) it is very exciting. His body is coiled, ready to strike, but laidback, too, filled with potential. Watch some of the scenes in Looking for Mr. Goodbar when he’s half-naked and freaking out on coke, and putting a knife to Diane Keaton’s throat and then bursting into laughter. He’s incredible. Fearless with his body. Watch how he walks in American Gigolo. Watch how he kisses Debra Winger in Officer and a Gentleman – and … just watch how he walks into that factory in the end of that movie. The whole scene is set up to make you excited, sure, but watch how he WALKS and the excitement in that scene can mainly be found in how he WALKS.

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18 Responses to Richard Gere: “his silky walk and fluid gestures”

  1. peteb says:

    Gere, when he’s cast well – like American Gigolo – is suPERB

    Yep.. and no better example than American Gigolo.. and it’s no coincidence that such an actor who is fearless and comfortable and graceful in his body should be so convincing in that role.

    I’m struggling to think of a movie of his that I’ve seen in which he comes close to that level of convincingness [sp?].

    What I don’t think he is, though, is fearless with his face, as the review suggests. There has always seemed to be a layer between the internal and the external character.

    btw.. didn’t he work for a time in London, at least, as a dancer.. I seem to remember an interview in the run-up to Chicago in which he mentioned something about that?

  2. red says:

    To me, his performance in American Gigolo will go in “the vault”. heh heh Like – it will be what is referenced about his career after he’s gone. At least that’s my prediction.

    It’s such a GOOD movie – and the sadness in that character – with his closet full of suits, and his immaculate apartment – but the loneliness there …

    I think people feel kind of hostile towards Gere sometimes – they resent people who are that good-looking – and that movie attempted to see the loneliness behind being a sex object. But – it was about a man. Verrrry interesting.

    I love that movie – I rent it every so often just to lose myself in it.

    I didn’t know that about him being a dancer … it makes sense. He knows how to move his body – even in the obstacle course scenes in Officer and a Gentleman – you just get the sense that he is REALLY doing all of that. He’s an athlete – but yeah, with the grace of a dancer.

    And I totally agree with you about his face. There’s a wall there. That’s what made his earlier parts so interesting – because he was so handsome, and yet not really accessible at all.

  3. peteb says:

    An immaculate and sterile apartment.. which his character was seemingly oblivious to.. and that made him perfect in the role.

    I’m not sure how long he was a dancer.. probably not very before he went full-time into acting. I think he brought it up in the interview in defence of an impertinent question about him being in Chicago.

    And actors/directors will reference Gigolo.. the peak-time news will probably run clips from the final factory scene of Officer and a Gentleman.

  4. Stevie says:

    This may sound weird, but it’s Gere’s narcissism that I find compelling. I’m sort of fascinated with people who are that into themselves. Yes, he was about the most beautiful man in the world in his American Gigolo days, and still is quite phenomenally handsome as a mid-50′s graying gent. To be frank, I think he may be the only man ever that I thought, “Shit, I’d like to look like that.”

    But it’s not his beauty, I think, that sets him apart – goodness knows there are plenty of beautiful people to gawk at. He exudes love for his own beauty, his body, his whole demeanor. It think that’s what is on full display in Gigolo, Breathless, Officer/Gentleman, and even Goodbar.
    His self-conscious appreciation for his body and face (call it cockiness or preening or conceit) is reflected in that bouncy way he walks – he’s conscious of the way eyes are lovingly turned on him, and he feels the attention is deserved.

    Remember the guy in high school who was just like that? Remember the Dittos jeans and the feathered hair (okay, those of you in my age range)? Throughout the echoing corridors of time, people have looked upon the stunningly beautiful and felt admiration, envy, lust, and for some of us, a sense of utter defeat (just kidding – or am I?).
    Once we’ve analyzed every follicle, pore, muscle, skeletal structure, tooth and movement, we search for the person within. That guy in high school, he was a Sheik, you know, it was obvious that he thought the adoration he received in waves was deserved.

    Try though he might to be Brando in Goodbar, I think Gere is actually the polar opposite – Brando was a magnificent hunk of man who had NO self-consciousness at all. You might appreciate the bulge of Brando’s biceps in Streetcar (I mean, WOW, what a body!) but you were riveted by the expression on his face and the emotion pouring out of him in buckets. Brando used his body at least as well as any actor ever has; I think Gere DISPLAYS his body for us to admire, walking, dancing, running, doing sit-ups hanging from the ceiling, walking around naked, whatever.

    Even a moment like in Officer, when Gere is finally broken down and blubbers,”I can’t go home, there’s no place for me to go,” his acting is okay, but he’s also telegraphing, “Look at how emotional I am, how broken down I’m being!” It’s the self-conscious person’s point of view, which happens to be spot on for a role like he had in Gigolo.

    Gere could play roles that explore what it’s like to be a self-absorbed former beauty who’s now in his 50′s and has lost a lot of his power. If Tennessee Williams were around, he could write the part perfectly.

    Well, that’s what I think, anyway.

  5. peteb says:

    “His self-conscious appreciation for his body and face (call it cockiness or preening or conceit) is reflected in that bouncy way he walks – he’s conscious of the way eyes are lovingly turned on him, and he feels the attention is deserved.”

    Nodding furiously in agreement here, Stevie.. I think that’s the layer between the internal/external in his case.. and that is either understood by the audience.. or it may become repulsive.

    It would take the writer and/or director to turn that to a movie’s advantage.

  6. red says:

    Stevie-

    WOW. I think you are totally onto something there … that sounds SO correct to me. Yes … the pleasure in his own physique – but it’s kind of a casual pleasure – NOT a preening pleasure really – or at least not overtly vain … It makes him like a panther lying in the sun or something.

    And funny – as I wrote this post I thought about Sweet Bird of Youth and how amazing he would have been in that. Because make no mistake about it: for all his Buddhist Zen stuff – that guy is AMBITIOUS. He works HARD. He goes AFTER things he wants. Yet there’s also something lazily self-pleased in Gere’s demeanor as well. Like – he will be okay even if he DOESN’T get what he wants … because he just knows that something alluring will come along anyway. It’s a very interesting combination – just like Chance Wayne has in Sweet Bird of Youth.

    Thanks for the comment, stevie – REALLY interesting!!

  7. red says:

    Also – the Gere persona (at least when he started) is more commonly a persona utilized by beautiful women.

    There was an inversion of the normal gender divide with Gere – it was kind of unsettling to see a man so openly accepting his beauty – We generally like our good-looking men to be (or at least SEEM) unaware of it, and not too into their own looks. This is what we all sort of agree is proper.

    But Gere in Gigolo … turned all of that upside down. And it was a very strange and memorable performance because of that.

  8. Stevie says:

    Yes, Sheila, absolutely!

    There was a nice contrast in Gigolo between Gere and Lauren Hutton, who is quite stunning but never seemed self-absorbed in her beauty (more in keeping with how you describe the way we want our beautiful men to behave). Lauren Hutton has aged outstandingly well, whether or not you consider her rip-snorting motorcycle accident. Kinda like the way a man is supposed to age – not too concerned about it all, wrinkles, roughness and witchy hair be damned.

  9. Stevie says:

    - and glowing with personality and life experience, instead of with microcrystalline buffing creme.

  10. peteb says:

    In Gigolo, though, the inversion of gender in the role, played magnificently by Gere, was the idea of the writer, surely? Perfectly cast and directed, of course.

    And wasn’t the preening in Gigolo contained within the confines of the immaculate apartment? Hidden from public view by the character.

    Admittedly, though, a deliberately casual conceit seems more appropriate than preening in his case.

    But it probably all combines to be a source of some of the adverse reaction to him.

  11. red says:

    I love Lauren Hutton. Yeah – she does have a kind of casual earthy beauty that seems not at all concerned with itself. I kind of want to hang out with her.

    The other thing that made that movie so good, I think, is its core of SADNESS. We all think we want to be that good-looking, and have a life like that – or … many people do … we assume it would be easier for us if we were gorgeous or rich … That movie was an unforgiving look into what it’s really like to be judged only by your looks and your bank account.

  12. red says:

    peteb -

    The preening in Gigolo struck me very differently than Travolta’s preening in Saturday Night Fever. (Although Travolta’s preening is no less interesting). travolta preened as a way to imagine himself into the character he needed to be every Saturday night … he preened and posed as a way to escape the fact that he was in a depressing little bedroom in his parent’s house …

    Gere’s preening was much more cold. Calculated. It was part of his job. He accepted it. He needed to be immaculate, well groomed, and perfectly dressed – if he wanted to be successful at his job.

    So there was this sadness there. A hollowness. It didn’t have the nervy exuberance of Travolta reveling in his own gorgeousness before going otu dancing … It was a requirement of the Gere character’s lifestyle.

  13. red says:

    Oh, and peteb – Yeah – it was a Paul Schrader film and we all know what a lighthearted guy he was!!

    No, but seriously – he wrote it AND directed it. It was a very personal film for him, obviously.

  14. red says:

    Damn – this is a great conversation.

    It makes me want to run out and see the film again – it’s been years!

  15. peteb says:

    Obviously.

    hahaha

    I hadn’t considered that particular comparison [with Travolta], Sheila.. but deliberately casual conceit still holds for Gere in Gigolo, I think.

    Arguably the character perfected the calculated preening, over time, from a similar characteristic that Travolta found in his role in Saturday Night Fever.

  16. Stevie says:

    Yes, Travolta preened in Saturday Night Fever, like a proud rooster just discovering that he ruled the roost. But in the midst of the cockiness were those soulful, emotionally naked eyes of his, and that slight feeling of sadness around the eyebrows (Monroe had this, too). This is sadness borne of empathy, maybe one of the most painfully beautiful things there is.

    The intense sadness that permeated Gigolo, I think, aside from the evocative Georgio Moroder score, was because Gere’s character’s life was gorgeous but empty, and when it started to spiral out of control, he had no inner resources to draw upon to fix things. All he could do was vehemently – and ineffectively – deny that he had killed that woman, then put on a new outfit and drive around in his convertible. Paul Schrader made some powerfully naive movies (did you see Hardcore?), but Gigolo was on the mark as an editorializing expose of sumptuous, soulless, skin-deep LA in the 80′s. And Gere was the perfect choice for the role. Travolta would have been much too emotionally connected, too aware of the other characters, to play this stunning, self-centered cypher. At the end of the movie, we don’t care if Gere is charged with the crime or is let off the hook. Hell, even in an orange prison jumpsuit Gere would look good.

    Especially in Saturday Night Fever, Travolta could be cocky one moment, pleading for his father’s acceptance the next; sell a couple of cans of paint with great charm and, an hour later, joyfully dance his friggin ass off.

    Has Richard Gere ever communicated joy?

  17. red says:

    stevie -

    Totally – those preening sessions in Saturday Night Fever are unbelievable. Those moments he has when the preening stops and he is caught by a look in his own eyes … and he just stares into his own eyes … There’s such despair there … like: who am I? What is my life? Can I have the life of my dreams?

    The gap between his fantasy for himself and the reality.

    Just gorgeous.

    And that’s a great question about Gere – I can’t say that I can remember him playing joy. That doesn’t seem to be in his range …

    I loved him in Dr. T and the Women – a movie nobody really seemed to like – but I did. He was perfect – because, again, we never really got inside that character – we saw him through the eyes of the throng of female patients who projected their desires onto him … and he went about his job, being a gynecologist (and a good one – you can tell he cares about his work and takes it seriously) – but we never really got inside what made that man tick.

    and that’s okay – that’s not a criticism. i think that’s what that movie was about.

    I didn’t see Hardcore – what was it?

  18. Stevie says:

    Hardcore is Paul Schrader’s weirdest movie (so far). It’s from the late 70′s or early 80′s. George C. Scott plays a Calvinist furniture manufacturer whose virginal teenage daughter doesn’t come home from a church field trip to Los Angeles. Scott sends a friend (Dick Sargeant, Darrin #2) to investigate, and he comes back with the disturbing information that his daughter might be working in pre-video porn. Scott checks into a cheesy LA motel and, working with a PI (Peter Boyle with a long pinkie nail to sniff coke), turns up a fuzzy piece of 8 milimeter film with the daughter, another girl (Season Hubley) and some creepy skinny blond guy. Scott finds Hubley and she helps him infiltrate the dirty underworld of hardcore porn by posing as a producer.

    There’s amazing shots of Scott in his Calvinist church, singing hymns, juxtaposed with voyeristic panning shots of dildo-filled counters in porn emporiums. Scott lures the skinny blond kid to his motel room for an audition and beats the shit outta him. The other auditions are surreal – Scott as a smiling producer, checking out these guy’s equipment.

    Season Hubley’s character is a “troubled child” sweet damaged prostitute/angel/addict who becomes Scott’s partner in finding the daughter. Scott needs her help but it’s only out of necessity that he befriends her; as soon as they locate the daughter, Hubley is dropped like a hot potato.

    They trail the daughter to one of the most notorious pimps/snuff film producers in town, and through a series of violent encounters, they find the daughter on the set of a porn flick.

    The finale is so strange – Scott comes into this room, sees his daughter, strides up to her, picks her up in his arms, and strides out. No interaction between them at all. Cut to the church where, except for the dark circles under the daughter’s eyes, everything is back to normal, hymns being sung, goodness having prevailed. There’s no hint that Scott’s soul was ever soiled by the experience of plunging into the Godless hardcore world.

    Schrader grew up in a Calvinist home so this movie seems to come closest to showing us his own god-fearing youth/voyeur life. A lot of his movies have that “gee whiz – look at THIS – can you BELIEVE IT!” quality of the bug-eyed sickly sheltered kid who suddenly finds himself oggling pole dancers and leather queens. Gilt-edged bibles in whitewashed churches vs. dildo displays.

    I’d love to hear what you think of it, Sheila! Pauline Kael wrote a great review (natch) and it’s in one of her collections somewhere. I’ll try to find it and send it to you.

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