A Brief Chat with Richard Gere on Time Out of Mind

TOOM-posterTime Out of Mind is a beautifully subtle portrait of George (played by Richard Gere) who has spiraled into living as a homeless man in Manhattan. He navigates through the near-impossible bureaucracy while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone). Thoughtfully directed and written by Oren Moverman, Time out of Mind is a striking and intimate look into the realities of homelessness in New York City. In a recent roundtable interview, Cinedelphia had the opportunity to speak with the garrulous Richard Gere on the genesis of the film, and working with his co-star Jena Malone.

Cinedelphia: Can you talk a little bit about how this project came to be? I know you [Gere] have been interested in forms of this character for a while now, right?

Richard Gere: Yeah, a script was offered to me quite a bit—fifteen years ago, and I was intrigued by it but decided not to make it. Then I just kept thinking about this, it kept coming back to me. So I ended up buying the script, and the original script was written in 1988, but amazing how relevant, sadly, how relevant it still was. I didn’t like the script, and it took some turns that I didn’t buy, and didn’t think they were relevant to a movie that I wanted to make, but I was trying to figure out what this movie was that I wanted to make.

I read a review of a book by a homeless guy, named Cadillac Man, called The Land of Lost Souls. So I read the book, and immediately said, “This is the way to make this movie.” It has to be real, it has to be in the moment. You have to take out all the dramaturgy. All that sense that the narrative has to go in some direction because you’ve already decided what the ending is going to be. So, you gotta remove all of that. Go back to neorealist filmmakers, and Bresson. We started talking about Bresson later when [Oren and I] met.

So, I had this kind of direction I wanted to go, and the beginnings of how to articulate it. [Then I] ran into Oren, we’d been friends on I’m Not There, the Bob Dylan Movie, which he co-wrote. Then we just started talking. We met each other at an Academy party, and the script came up, I gave it to him, he responded on the same level that I did to it. And Oren jumped in. I took him around to the shelters, which I had become familiar with working with the Coalition for the Homeless in New York for the previous ten years or so. And we were kind of open to—“Let’s just see, let’s just see more things, talk to people…” I introduced [Oren] to Cadillac Man, and it just started to work on him. I think in a very natural, intuitive process, the movie became one of process itself. Let’s start with a guy with no backstory, let’s put him in the last moments—the last tethers he has to reality, to a social structure that he can count on, and let’s see what happens. And that’s the movie.

C: Your relationship with Jena Malone’s character seemed really authentically strained and damaged—

RG: Because she and I both are genuinely damaged [laughs], so it was really easy for both of us.

C: [Laughs] Did you do a lot of work with each other to build that backstory?

RG: You know what happened? This is one of the happiest accidents. We were casting that and there were many possibilities of ways to go. [Oren] had worked with Jena before, and loved her. So she was on the list of who [sic] we talked about for this. But I was leaving it open to the possibilities of maybe this, maybe that. It got time to where we had to make a decision on it. I was in India, and [Oren] called me said, “You have to make a decision.” And I said, “Who do you want?” He said Jena, and I said, “Okay…I really don’t know her work that well. I vaguely remembered her from Messenger—and I liked her in that, but I didn’t really study it.” He said, “Do you want to Skype her?” And I said, “I never really can learn anything from that. Look,” I said, “we are total brothers in this. I trust you. If you want her, go ahead and do it.” So she was hired. And I didn’t meet her—I don’t think I met her once before we shot.

So the Laundromat scene was the first one we shot. And we didn’t rehearse. I don’t like to rehearse, [Oren] doesn’t like to rehearse, and [Jena] doesn’t either. So we kind of just did it. And I remember walking out of that first take with tears in my eyes. It was so moving doing that with her. She was so alive. We did maybe three takes, each one was different, each one—if I did something different, she did something different. She did, I did. We were very in tune, vibrating, and alive to each other. So we could do no wrong, we just went—sometimes we went in that direction sometimes we went in another…but every [take] was real, honest, full, all that stuff of people who have hurt each other, and feel guilty—want to fix it but don’t know how, are angry about it. All those mixtures of emotions that you get into with a family was there from the first second. It was a delight.

Time Out of Mind opens this Friday at the Ritz Bourse.

Author: Catherine Haas

Catherine Haas is Philly born and raised, and is currently pursuing her masters in film history at Columbia University. When she’s not organizing her Criterion DVDs by spine number, she can usually be found ostensibly reading a pretentious poetry anthology in the park while introducing herself to all the dogs.

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