One of the most prolific and highly anticipated stars to come to Ireland for this year’s Audi Founded in 2003, the Dublin International Film Festival sets the agenda of the year with its programme of outstanding Irish and international film. is undoubtedly Richard Gere. To list just a few of his key credits, he wooed us in An Officer and Gentleman, made us fall in love in Pretty Woman, and charmed us again as he sang and danced in Chicago, the role for which he won a Golden Globe.
Understandably, the crowds that turned up on Friday night at the Savoy, where Richard was in attendance for the Arnotts Gala screening of his film Time Out of Mind, were massive, and women were calling out his name and shouting that they love him left, right and centre. The actor comments: ‘I like women very much and I’m happy with the attention, but I never get used to it.’
For the film Richard is promoting on this occasion, Time Out of Mind, he plays a significantly different character to the romantic charmer we have come to associate him with. The character, George, is a homeless alcoholic and mentally ill man. Everyday is a struggle to survive, and he is also trying to get back in contact with his estranged daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay).
Last October, a photo taken of him during production went viral. Richard panhandled during filming next to real people and his transformation for the character was so complete that he went completely unrecognised and undetected on the streets of New York. He thus experienced the truly harrowing sense of ‘invisibility’ that the homeless struggle with on a daily basis.
For the role, Richard says he drew on the book Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets, the memoirs of a homeless American who goes under the pen name the Cadillac Man: ‘He’s not a trained writer but there was something so authentic in the way he told the story. It was so hard-boiled, there was no sense of shaped dramaturgy, making a point, editorialising, or being sentimental in any way whatsoever. I realised that’s the way this [film] has to be done.’
A devoted humanitarian, Richard has been an activist with New York’s Coalition for the Homeless for the past decade. He has worked with lobbyists and charities in Italy and Spain and spent a great deal of time discussing homeless laws and policies with various politicians. Thursday afternoon, Richard met with one of Ireland’s leading homeless organisations, Focus Ireland, to discuss these issues.
‘I do [this work] everywhere. I make a point of it. When we sell the movie, I tell people that it’s less important for me to see the best theatre than it is to engage with local NGOs that are doing this kind of work. These organisations are usually running on a shoestring budget, don’t get the kind of resource help that they should have, and don’t have help to change societal views. They can use this film to highlight the now. This is being done almost everywhere and I’m really happy about that.’
It is a film that Richard describes as one of the proudest of his lifetime: ‘I’m an old guy, I’ve done a lot of things, but this is certainly one [of my proudest accomplishments]. With Time Out of Mind, we made the film we wanted to make, there was no compromise in any way whatsoever on this film. It turned out exactly the way we wanted it to be.
‘It’s about something important to me personally, and the people who see it are affected. They seem to be changed and opened up a bit to that homeless man or woman that they see every day on the corner. Maybe there’s another way to engage, to not shut off, to keep open, to a see a basic humanity, because they are human beings. We’re all in the same boat. This lifetime, maybe we have more resources and they don’t. In another lifetime, it could be the other way around. So, to engage each other truly as brother and sisters, that’s the hope.’
And what worldly advice does the shining star leave us with? ‘To learn anything you have to have an enormous amount of energy, and to make the energy mean something it has to be personal. So just remember that: work hard, and keep it personal. It has to be out of your own experience. You have to keep going as a human being. Someone once said it’s not up to the world to make you interesting, it’s your job to make you interesting. The more interesting you are, the more you think and feel, and are able to give, the better you’re going to be as a filmmaker, an actor or as a human being.’
Time Out of Mind is out in Irish cinemas on March 4th.