Richard Gere is in Israel this week, both to be a guest of the Peres Peace Center and to film the new Joseph Cedar movie, Oppenheimer Strategies.
In between the film shoots, Gere is set to meet with former president Shimon Peres and the Peres Center’s “Young Ambassadors,” a group of 25 Jewish, Muslim and Christian high school students from Jaffa.
“Richard Gere is a close, personal friend of former president Peres, and he is an enthusiastic supporter of Peres Center for Peace initiatives since the center was founded in 1996,” the Peres Center said. “During Gere’s previous visit to Israel in 2003, he met with children to encourage their activities promoting co-existence.”
Gere, who landed overnight Sunday at Ben-Gurion Airport, will be staying at the 22nd-floor presidential suite of Jerusalem’s Leonardo Plaza hotel. He asked that the room include a variety of Green teas, as well as fresh-potted lemon balm, sage and mint. Gere also requested that his room contain a mix of dried fruits and raw nuts, especially pecans, and a selection of fresh organic fruits and vegetables.
Gere’s presence here may herald an important change in Israel’s ability to lure top stars to appear in major films. The jinx started in 2000, when the second intifada broke out and production on the big-budget thriller, Spy Game, starring Brad Pitt and Robert Redford, which was shooting in Haifa, was moved to Morocco.
For the past 15 years, no A-list actor has worked in Israel on a major production, except the Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, who directed and starred in her adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, in 2014. But while Portman is certainly a star, and had acted in Israel before, in Amos Gitai’s 2005 drama, Free Zone, the fact that she was born in Jerusalem and is a dual Israeli-American citizen makes her willingness to work here a bit less dramatic. (Jeff Goldblum appeared in Paul Schrader’s 2008 Adam Resurrected, which was shot close to the Dead Sea and in the Judean Desert, but this movie, which featured a mix of foreign and Israeli actors, was a low-key, independent production.) Cedar’s previous two films, Footnote (2011) the story of the rivalry between father-and-son Talmud scholars, and Beaufort (2007), about Israeli soldiers withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000, were nominated for Oscars for Best Foreign Language Films.
Oppenheimer Strategies, which started filming in New York in the winter, is about a small-time operator (Gere), who helps out a young politician when he is at a low point in his life. Three years later, the politician is a world leader, and the older man comes to him for a favor.
The cast also features American, British and French actors, including Steve Buscemi (best known for Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and the television series, Boardwalk Empire); Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon and the television series, Masters of Sex); Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey); Charlotte Gainsbourg (Samba, I’m Not There); Isaach de Bankole (The Limits of Control, Casino Royale); and Josh Charles (from the television series, The Good Wife, In Treatment and Sports Night). The movie also stars Lior Ashkenazi, who starred in Footnote.
In addition to Footnote and Beaufort, the American- born Cedar’s earlier films, the 2000 Time of Favor (also known as Ha Hesder), about Jewish extremists plotting to blow up the Temple Mount, and Campfire (2003), the story of a widow who plans to move to a West Bank settlement with her two daughters, won prizes and acclaim all over the world.
Oppenheimer Strategies is especially important to Israel’s blossoming film industry, since many Israeli film professionals have been trying to collaborate with their colleagues in Europe and the US, with mixed degrees of success. While Israeli television series were adapted into such US hits as Homeland and In Treatment, two high-profile television dramas, Tyrant and Dig, both created by Israeli Gideon Raff, were forced to shut down filming here this summer, due to Operation Protective Edge. Filming on both series was completed in Europe and the US.
Israeli director Eytan Fox is currently in pre-production for his biopic of the Israeli-born, French singing superstar Mike Brant, which will be filmed both in France and Israel, and will star both Israeli and French actors.
Avi Nesher’s next movie, Past Tense, will star an American actress and be filmed in Jerusalem. It is being produced by Anthony Bregman, one of the top independent producers in the US, who has made dozens of art-house hits, among them Foxcatcher starring Steve Carell, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, and Enough Said with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. Both Oppenheimer Strategies and Past Tense are being financed in part by Tadmor Entertainment.
Talya Lavie, whose debut feature, Zero Motivation, won the top prize for feature films at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, is working on a movie called The Current Love of My Life, based on a Sholem Aleichem story, that will be set in Brooklyn but will be filmed both here and abroad.
These co-productions are being undertaken at a moment when Israeli films are drawing large audiences abroad, at least for subtitled films. In the past two years, Lavie’s Zero Motivation, Nesher’s The Matchmaker and The Wonders, and Fox’s Yossi and Cupcakes, among others, have won rave reviews and attracted large audiences in the US and Europe.
In the distant Hollywood past, such movies as Otto Preminger’s Exodus, starring Paul Newman, and Melville Shavelson’s Cast a Giant Shadow, with Kirk Douglas as Mickey Marcus, historical dramas of Israeli heroism, were filmed here. But it’s been quite a while since a similar movie was shot on Israeli turf, although currently negotiations are underway for more than one feature film about the English-speaking Israeli Air Force volunteers, which will presumably be filmed mostly in Israel, with both American and Israeli actors.
Gere is unusual among American actors in that he has visited Israel several times, as part of his commitment to spend time in areas of conflict to try to foster peace.
In 2004, he visited Israel and gave master classes all over the country, including in Sderot at the first Cinema of the South Festival, where a rocket had caused serious damage to the industrial area the very morning of his visit. Presented with some of the shrapnel from the missile by then Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, Gere joked about how he would fit it in his luggage.
At a master class at the Sderot Cinematheque in 2004 hosted by Israeli journalist and television personality Gal Uchovsky, Gere was asked if he would make a movie about the political situation in the Middle East.
He responded, “I have a challenge for you. Write a good script. I’m more interested in making a good movie than in being politically correct, or incorrect.” He went on to say that he got a lot of scripts that had a “good message,” but were “terrible scripts” that lacked “the excitement and joy of life, the taste of reality.”
Given Gere’s statement, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Cedar’s work that it was his script that lured Gere back to Israel.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.