Guest editor Susan Sarandon interviews Richard Gere: ‘No one paid any attention to me. Nobody.’
Richard Gere sits down to chat with his longtime pal about his brave onscreen turn
Sarandon: What prompted this project?
Gere: You live in New York; obviously, homelessness is there if you choose to see it. The script that we began with was actually written 25 years ago, yet surprisingly little has changed since then. The underlying realities for homeless people are the same.
Gere: It’s a beautiful story that’s haunted me for years. I bought the script a while ago, but I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, although I was very sure of what it should feel like. I ran into the great writer-director Oren Moverman (The Messenger, I’m Not There), a good friend of mine, one night and said, “Look, I want to give you this script.” Then we basically just dove in.
Sarandon: The film sounds fascinating.
Gere: It’s a delicate film, an unusual film, a bit of a fever dream—not at all what one would expect. Oren did kind of a miraculous job with this, I think, and we’re all very, very proud of it.
Sarandon: How was the shoot?
Gere: We shot for 21 days. The concept was to shoot on very long lenses with me out on the streets, with almost no moviemaking footprint. If we had to be on the streets, cameras were hidden under men at work signs, behind windows or on roofs. We set up the cameras in a Starbucks on Astor Place, and I just went out there panhandling for 45 minutes. No one paid any attention to me. Nobody. I was just shaking my coffee cup and asking for spare change. No one made eye contact with me. Forty-five minutes. It was scary, it was disorienting, it was challenging, and it was profoundly moving to me. I’m still letting it all settle in. Sarandon: You were invisible.
Gere: It was worse than being invisible. There’s like a force field around you. People can see you from two blocks away, and they’re already putting up some armor. It’s a black hole. It’s a radiation field. It’s not that they don’t see you; they don’t want to go near you. They make a conscious emotional choice to not see you and not engage and not get close enough that they might have to engage. It’s not simply about money, although we’re all stingy, too.
Sarandon: That’s true.
Gere: Everyone has a story, you know? And clearly, there are people on the street who have mental issues. But that’s not everybody; some lost a job, have medical bills, bad luck. The reasons are irrelevant from a human point of view. It’s still within the realm of our responsibility as social beings to take care of them, to take care of each other. I want to tie this very much to policy change.
Sarandon: What organizations do you support?
Gere: I’ve been supporting the Coalition for the Homeless and the New York City Department of Homeless Services for years. They’re enormously helpful. Authenticity was extremely important to us, and we probably couldn’t have made the movie without them. There’s also a city program called the Homebase Prevention Network (311, nyc.gov). If you qualify, it will help you pay your rent until you can get yourself back on your feet. We want to keep people in their apartments and off the streets. In fact, it’s much cheaper for us to keep people in their apartments than to put them through the system.
Sarandon: You’re clearly very passionate about it.
Gere: Well, the streets are not a place that one can easily escape from. Once you’re there, there’s so much damage, so much pain, so much self-hatred. Again, I think eye contact is a big deal, the genuine, respectful engagement. I don’t think homeless people want to give their life story to everyone who passes them on the street, but the human touch, the thought, the eye contact, the moments mean a lot. There are around 60,000 homeless people in New York. Twenty thousand are kids. We’re in danger of losing them all.
Time Out of Mind premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival Sept 7.
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Actor, activist, icon and complete badass. All hail Time Out New York’s guest editor-in-chief Susan Sarandon. Photograph: Paul Stuart There are certain people who are synonymous with New York City. Then there are those who simply are New York. Who are woven into the very fabric of the city like the steam rising from below the streets or the Greek cups stacked behind the bodega counter. Susan Sarandon is that person. As a lifelong New Yorker, she has seen it all, from the mean streets of the ’60s to the much cleaner ones of 2014. Along the way, she’s made a truckload of films, won an Academy Award, become an activist, had three kids, started a production company and helped to found a Ping-Pong club. So how did we feel when she agreed to edit this issue of Time Out New York? We won’t lie: absolutely fucking delighted. And a little bit smitten. As a native New Yorker, what does the city mean to you? The business that I’m in tends to isolate you and congratulate you on that isolation. New York guarantees that you’re still connected to real life. Just by the way it’s designed—you’re on foot, it’s crowded, you’re coming into contact with all kinds of people—it’s very hard to stay separate and above in New York. I also tend to suffer from inertia and don’t constantly look for ways to surprise myself. New York, by its very definition, does that. All you have to do is walk 20 blocks in any direction, and you’ll see something or meet someone you hadn’t counted on. The serendipity of N