Richard Gere was in Israel on Thursday afternoon talking about peace, playing a Jewish New York fixer and his movie “bromance” with a fictional Israeli prime minister.
The star of the movie Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, which just opened throughout the country, spoke at a press conference at the Jerusalem Cinematheque with director Joseph Cedar and his co-star Lior Ashkenazi, and later at a master class for film students together with Cedar.
Gere was relaxed, joking about being the only one in the room who didn’t know Hebrew, and spoke in earnest about his meeting with peace groups earlier in the week, including Women Wage Peace, and his hope that “something good” would come out of his acting in an American-Israeli film.
“I’m not interested in politics, I’m interested in human beings,” he said. “The people that I’m meeting are... primarily involved in the relationships and bridging the problems between human beings. I’m coming from a country that is in deep anxiety and chaos right now, and we’re all a bit confused.”
At the master class sponsored by the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, Gere spoke of how he came under a great deal of pressure not to attend the Israeli premiere of Norman. “You can’t imagine the forces that didn’t want me to come, for all kinds of reasons... Believe me, it would have been easier for me to have stayed home.”
But he also voiced optimism about the possibility of peace in the region. “I feel if this conflict you all have been enduring... could be solved, 99% of the problems on the planet could be solved.”
Getting into the character of the New York Jewish wheeler-dealer was “a long process,” Gere explained. He had to find a way to relate to the character’s “utter lack of anger and desire for revenge,” and finally found an almost “childlike” quality in him. “If there’s a villain in this story,” he said, “it’s not Norman.”
Cedar – an American-born Israeli director whose last two films, Beaufort and Footnote, were nominated for Oscars – said many people pointed out parallels in Norman to the scandal that involved Ehud Olmert, but insisted the film was not about the former prime minister.
“I wanted to distance myself from any actual specific story... It’s about the relationship between an Israeli politician and American Jews,” and a world where “there are many Normans,” he said.
“For every Eshel [the prime minister character played by Lior Ashkenazi] there are at least a hundred Normans.”
Asked by The Jerusalem Post about the affectionate bond between Gere’s Norman and Ashkenazi’s prime minister, the actor recalled the moment in the film where Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes, creating the basis for their friendship.
“It was important that Lior and I connect and start the bromance,” Gere said.
During the rehearsal, “I got to the point where I got on my knees and put the shoes on his feet and it just felt so right to me... It also resonated in terms of Cinderella and a lot of things that kind of work on the imagination. Thank God that it’s Lior that I was falling in love with. I’ve met some people where it wouldn’t have been so easy...It’s a bromance and it’s a betrayal of the bromance.”
Cedar said of casting Gere against type as a New York nudnik, “I don’t think playing a Jew is a genetic aspect.
To turn Richard Gere into Norman is a compliment to my family and a really beautiful acting challenge. It became a tool in some situations, ‘What would Richard Gere do?’ and Norman would do the exact opposite.”
The movie is set to open in the United States next month.