Richard Gere Talks Cannes Film Festival Movie ‘Oh, Canada’

By Taaza Facts

Published on:

It’s been more than four decades since Paul Schrader and Richard Gere worked together on the seminal American Gigolo. Some 40 years after they impressed upon audiences the power of a well-tailored Giorgio Armani suit, the director and star have reteamed for Oh, Canada.

The film, which is premiering in the Cannes Film Festival competition and is being sold out of the fest by Arclight Films and WME Independent, sees Gere play Leonard Fife, a renowned muckraking documentarian who, as he is dealing with a terminal illness, decides to sit for a documentary to tell the truth about his own life story while his wife and longtime filmmaking partner, Emma (Uma Thurman), listens in the wings. The story flashes back to his younger, unmoored self (Jacob Elordi) who stumbles into a career as a documentarian and travels to Canada under the auspices of dodging the Vietnam draft but is revealed to be running away from even more responsibilities. The story deals with morality, mortality, and legacy, and the inherent conflict therein.

The film is based on the book Foregone, by Russell Banks, who also wrote the novel Affliction, which Schrader turned into the 1997 Oscar-nominated Nick Nolte film of the same name. While Schrader was adapting Foregone, Banks became ill and died before the screenplay was completed.

For his part, Gere began working on the film about six months after his father, for whom he had been caretaking, died at 100, an experience that Gere says influenced his performance. “With any work of art, whatever it may be, you just want people to see themselves in it,” Gere tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Specifically, I don’t have any ax to grind; it’s not like people have to be taking this from it or have to be taking that. You want people to see themselves and be open to it.”

Ahead of Cannes, Gere spoke to THR about reteaming with Schrader: “At this point, he makes the movies he wants, and he is very clear about it.”

You last worked with PaulSchrader on American Gigolo. How did he approach you about working together on Oh, Canada?

Paul and I have run into each other over the years and are always happy when we see each other. He called me out of the blue and just said, “Look, I’ve got this script and it’s important to me and I want you to do it.” And I said great. He said it came from Forgone, the novel, and I know he was close with the author. [He’d] done at least one other movie from his work. I said, “I’d love to read it.” I did, and we started talking and then jumped in.

What did you like about the prospect of playing Leonard?

Everyone has secrets, no matter how open we think we are. At a certain age, you kind of want to close the circle and come clean, especially with the people you’re close to. I certainly think we all could relate to that. I liked the fact that he needed to do this, to have a camera on him to tell the truth, which is a theme we talk about quite a bit in the film. He needs this process of filmmaking to be as honest as he wants to be. There’s the meta-universe of Paul and me and our history over 40 years and the nature of creating an idea of ourselves. How much of that [idea] is empirically true? And does it really matter?

Did Leonard being a documentary filmmaker influence how you played him?

I’m actually editing a documentary right now, and you’re really editing reality, even on subconscious levels. You’re making decisions about what you’re shooting and what you put in the film. So, it is not wholly different from a narrative film. You’re still making choices and you still have an idea of what you’re going to present for those two hours. Sometimes it can be radically different from what you thought it would be — your idea of what you want to share and tell. That degree of being honest comes from the same place as your artistic impulse of finding something that’s real and interesting and challenging, both to the filmmaker and someone who sees the film. I think Leonard is pretty clear about that when he says, “Look, I was shooting this film and I didn’t know what I was doing.” It just ends up that it was an important documentary about Monsanto and Dow and Agent Orange. He stumbled into it, but it doesn’t make it less important because he stumbled into it. At the stage of his life he’s at, he has an idea of himself. There’s certainly a point of view that only when you completely drop ego or any conceptual idea of yourself can you be honest. And, I can’t say he is [honest] in this movie, but he tries.

Is having a text outside of the script helpful in terms of performance?

When you read a novel that a movie comes from, a certain taste and texture will become part of you when you’re playing it. The book is rich; it’s very textured and presents a lot of material that you can’t possibly get into in the film. You’re still making a movie, so you have an hour-and-a-half experience. But [having a book] is going to fill you up with more material and probably make you feel more confident of where you’re coming from in the character, which is always great. The more you can be relaxed and be confident that you know this guy, the work is going to be better, most likely. There were things that I brought to Paul, and I said, “What about this?” He obviously thought about a lot of stuff already, but we were still structuring the 78 or 80 pages [of script]. And that is exactly what the movie became — he’s at this point where he knows his page count and he budgets for how he can make these films and makes them exactly how he wants with no controls. 

Jacob Elordi plays a young Leonard in the film. Before filming, did you two have any conversations about how you would play the character, albeit at different times in his life? 

No, we didn’t really talk about it. He just wanted to watch me, frankly, and just pick up what I was doing because that would inform him of what he was going to have to do in the flashbacks. You could also watch early films of mine, when I was about the same age, just to see me as a young man when playing characters in movies. We didn’t do much together, but he’s great in it. There was one shot where we were in the same shot, but it’s almost invisible — I walk into the shot and he walks out of it. But I thought he was wonderful in the film, and I was delighted when I saw the film and saw what he was doing.

What about Leonard’s relationship with Emma? Did you talk to Uma Thurman about how that onscreen relationship — which is both a marriage and work collaboration — would look? 

That’s a more evolved relationship and was more of a process. I have known Uma since she was 30 years old, so we have quite a history together. We went with this idea that, yeah, Leonard is more of a dominant personality, but Emma needs to be strong. She is the partner and producer in this and she’s not a cipher. We all wanted Emma to be a strong woman, albeit one who maybe didn’t ask the difficult questions. She didn’t know everything that I’m telling the interviewer, and, for her, it’s clear that I’m doing it for her. I want her to be sitting there listening to this and watching.

What excited you about the prospect of working with Paul Schrader again after four decades?

With Paul, it’s been 45 years since we worked together. We are in another stage of our lives and are able to use what we’ve learned. Paul is probably 80, and I am 74 — we’ve got some perspective on things at this point. So I knew it would be interesting for us. 

My dad died about a year ago, about six months before we started shooting, and he was one month before 101. I used a lot of him and my relationship with him, and what I witnessed in him and his mind and his body as he got to be that age. It’s unbelievable clarity and then disorientation. My dad lived with me. Having your father in a wheelchair and dealing with the toilet and dealing with the disorientation and the drifting off at times — although he was funny and singing and very involved in the present conversation up to the end — for me, it was cathartic bringing him into this process.

Did you notice a change in Paul’s direction or working style?

Paul knows what he’s doing. At this point, he makes the movies he wants, and he is very clear about it. He hires actors who also know what they’re doing, so there’s not a lot of jabbering or deep communication on the set. He trusts the actors to do their thing. I came to him at one point and I said, “Paul, you got anything else you want to try with this?” And he said, “No, no.” (Laughs.) I said, “OK, all right.” He knows the parameters of what he wants, and he writes his script knowing that. After he had cut the film, he said, “Richard, I used every setup.” He was very proud — there wasn’t one scene cut. Every camera setup was used, there was no waste. This is how he makes these difficult films for a [low] price. There’s no waste, and we moved very quickly, and that’s good. I’ve been making very minuscule-budget independent films for years now, and I love working that way. This worked out well for me. I was happy. 

Taaza Facts

I am a multifaceted content creator with expertise in blogging, Finance, and Cryptocurrency reviews. My creative journey involves weaving captivating stories in blogs, designing aesthetically pleasing and functional websites, and dissecting the nuances of cinema. We are dedicated to sharing our passion and insights with a global audience.

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