Playing Robert Miller, though, wasn’t a chance to make up for not being a previous generation’s iconic plutocrat. Sitting in a fashionable SoHo hotel (and, it must be noted, looking much less like a 63-year-old than recent red-carpet photos suggest), he says he wasn’t interested in turning this character into a Gekko-sized icon — even now in an era ripe for One Percent-bashing.
“It’s a dead end to go there,” he says. “Is he an archetype? Of course he’s an archetype. It doesn’t help me to think that way.” Doesn’t help, that is, in constructing a performance as psychologically complicated as those in Gere’s best films.
Asked whether, given his years of fame, he has known people in Miller’s realm, he admits: “You know, I don’t really know the financial world at all. I certainly have met people who are unbelievably rich. More than anyone could ever imagine, and powerful in that way. But it’s not the world I know well or think about very much.”
But when figuring out how to play a new character, he says, “it’s never about the [character’s] job description. Ever.” The actor’s job is to conjure a character’s internal state, to ask, “Under these causes and conditions, why do they make that choice?”
But doesn’t a character’s choice of career say a lot about his psychology?
“Well, we choose our profession based on what our drives and ambitions are,” he concedes, but “some of us make choices based on what we’re not good at. I started as an actor because I was extremely shy. So we’re counterintuitive in many ways.”
Asked whether Miller proved to be counterintuitive, Gere says: “I don’t think he was a surprise to me. My job with him was to let myself be vulnerable enough to let the different sides come out,” understanding that some aspects, such as Miller’s alpha-male drive to control, would be obvious without Gere’s encouragement. “He’s absolutely a freight train of alpha energy.”
Gere felt a special need to deepen Miller’s relationship with his mistress, making it more significant than the usual Hollywood scenario of a rich man with a beautiful young woman on the side (played by model-turned-actress Laetitia Casta; his wife is played by Susan Sarandon). He worked on the screenplay with writer/director Nicholas Jarecki to determine, as he puts it, “how real” the couple was.