"Arbitrage," Nicholas Jarecki's indie drama about a high-powered New York hedge fund mogul (Richard Gere) enduring self-inflicted calamities on both personal and professional levels, opened on Friday and racked up exceptionally good business over its first three days. It grossed more than $2 million on fewer than 200 screens, the best-ever showing for a film that opened in theaters day-and-date with VOD.
One of the screenings that didn't go on the ledger took place at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Saturday night, where the film played to a nearly full house and reportedly won a strong reaction from the Oscar voters in attendance.
Gere has never been nominated for an Oscar despite a 37-year career in film, and he's facing an uphill battle this year in a very crowded Best Actor category. But he's sly and quietly commanding as a wealthy trader whose world is on the verge of collapsing as a risky business deal goes bad and a midnight drive with his mistress turns deadly.
You don't work very often. Why did you do this film?
It's just a beautifully written script, beautifully structured. And it deals with a world that we all want to know more about. It's so relevant to our happiness, what those fuckers are doing.
And I liked the moral ambiguity of all of the characters, especially the character that I'm playing. The gradations of self-awareness, the empathy or lack of it.
We're conditioned to want to like the main character in a movie, but in the first few minutes "Arbitrage" gives us a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn't like this guy. Was it a challenge as an actor to keep us invested in him despite that?
I could have made the choice to play this character as more of a Bernie Madoff, or even darker. I mean, a real villain. But that wasn't interesting to me, or to Nick. It was too easy, and if I did that I don't think you'd be invested in him, as you say. Although you don't like what the guy does, you've gotta take the trip with him.
It's like with Bill Clinton. You know he's got problems, but he's our Clinton. It's like, "He's so lovable, he's so smart, he's cute, he's boyish … " It was more important for me to get all the cylinders working on that part, as well as the machinations of what a Machiavellian guy in the financial world is capable of.
So Madoff and Clinton were the touchstones?
At the time we made this, Madoff was the elephant in the room. Since then, some characters have emerged who are more like this guy. [JP Morgan Chase CEO] Jamie Dimon is much more like this character than Madoff – he's a reputable, charming guy who just lost $9 billion of someone else's money.
And Ted Kennedy. Chappaquiddick. I thought, Wow, this is a really potent combination: power with flaws, big ideas. Really Shakespeare-sized stuff here.
A Shakespearean tragic hero, though, would end up dead. Your guy meets a much more ambiguous fate.
There was a certain faction, including the director, that thought this guy was fucked. We had arguments about that. They said, "His wife owns him, and that's it – she's gonna leave him and take everything." I said, "No fucking way." Look at where Clinton is today. That's the route he's gonna take: He's gonna rope-a-dope for a while. He's gonna take the punches and do his mea culpas.
Look, none of these people [in the movie] want to change their lives. [The character's wife] is a woman totally invested in this guy and his world, and she loves him. Look at Hillary Clinton. She could have taken a totally different route, but I think she went with her heart. She said, "I love the guy, I know he messed up, but he's my Bill." And I think Susan [Sarandon]'s character will ultimately do the same thing.
The character has a sense of invulnerability, as do a lot of people in that position. There's a feeling that things can be screwed up, but there's a way out of this.
Absolutely. They're very confident: "I can make this work and I'm not going to lose." I spent time with those guys, and that's very much the mentality I wanted to feel on a visceral level. I see that with politicians, too.
I remember that I used to do this real cowboy stuff in Nevada. We would move horses from the north pasture, the summer pasture, to the winter pasture and back again. It'd be 10 days, and you'd be out there moving 150 horses. A lot of fun. But you hoped for that moment when one horse would take off, you know? We were all good at what we did, keeping the horses in line and moving along, but we were so happy when one horse said "fuck it" and ran. Because everyone could get crazy then: "Let's go get 'em, boys!"
I think that's part of the mentality. You never put it on the resume that you had a problem, but it gets your blood up.
How big a concern was it that the director had never directed before?
Huge. But he knows this world, and he wrote that script, so I knew that he can tell stories. You make a bet.
Did his inexperience show during the shoot?
Sure. He didn't know exactly where to put the camera, he didn't know what lens, but he hired really good people who know how to do that. He didn't know how to talk to actors, because he'd never been through it before. And he couldn't really demonstrate to them, because he's not a good actor. But he was good at keeping his energy up, and the stress level never buried him. It buries a lot of people.
Do you assume a slightly different role in a case like this?
Slightly. I'm always involved anyhow, but here I was translating to actors what he wanted. I could help him say things in a way that would communicate to an actor, and not obfuscate. It's easy to confuse someone – an actor especially. So sometimes I was just the interpreter, saying, "This is what he means" in the native language.
You've talked about the tie between your character and politicians. What are your thoughts on the current campaign?
I'm very happy that Obama's ahead. I'm pleased by that, and I will be voting for him, without a doubt.
Will you be campaigning or speaking out?
I don't think there's any need. It's not for me, it's for the president to tell the American people what he's going to do, and explain to them in a way that they'll feel it.