Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon on Shall We Dance?

Something is missing in the life of John Clark, he just can’t figure out exactly what it is until he follows a beautiful dancer, Jennifer Lopez,  to dance studio and becomes a secret Ball Room dancer.Shall We Dance? Is a remake of a Japanese 1996 film, Shall We Dansu? At first glance I would’ve never had realized that Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere had never shared the big screen together. There true life chemistry and friendship is obvious even on film. Gere and Sarandon spoke to Latino Review about their roles on this contemporary romantic comedy. Below is what they had to say to us.

Were you a fan of the original film?

Gere: Yeah, I liked it. It was not an easy transition to make, translation. To turn it into an American story. Because it was so culturally rooted. I read one review, and the reviewers had brought up the point this was a… You know, the cultural dilemma of the original film wasn't in this, and I said, yeah that's true. We found another way of doing it. What I thought was interesting in this, was not to have dysfunction. Not to have the inability… Who's seen the Japanese film? For women, it's an interesting film to see, because the wife in it, is very traditional Japanese, although she's just Western, very weak woman, her whole presentation is that she's dependent, and that's part of his dilemma in the piece, it's not an emotionally open situation for this guy. And he needs this outlet, and the ability just to touch, to dance, to do these things is a big deal, in Japanese society and culture. Not so much here. And what was interesting to me, is looking at a family that was functional, everything's right. It's a strong woman, very American, Western woman. Who's not just tough, but she's sensitive too, and she's smart and she's funny, and all of that. Good kids, they've got everything, they got a house, they got a job, they both work. And everyone seems to be healthy and happy and everything seems right. And yet there's still something missing, there's an X factor missing. So I thought that was an interesting way to start, it was peculiarly American. I think that’s a lot of our problems, is everything looks right, why are you still feeling this way? [laughs]

In some of the dialogue in the film, the point is put across that sometimes it’s easier to rewrite your personal narrative when you’re alone because once you’re a couple there’s that whole issue of witnessing what the other person is doing. When you make big life changes, it’s getting divorced or going to Europe alone. Doesn’t Richard’s character kind of do something like that? He has to be alone to change his personal narrative?

Sarandon: I think that’s a good point. Sometimes you have to separate. That’s what’s great (for me) about going on location to do a film. You’re taken out of the context of your life and suddenly, for a brief period of time, everybody is focused on this thing in a different way. And it does help you. Whenever you have to go to a different place you have to break down what already exists, and it becomes easier if you are out of your home environment. Again, I think it’s just the fact that he doesn’t tell her. And it’s not just the fact that he doesn’t tell her. He lies to her, too. He lies about where he is. I really don’t like lying. I find that very difficult. And then I get really get worried about why would you have to lie? ‘Why would you have to lie to me?’ I try to not lie in my life. I think I’ve lied to my kids once about how their ducks died. Actually, they don’t even know their ducks died. They think they flew away and they still don’t know that their ducks all died. Maybe they’re old enough now to know the ducks really died. But they might not trust me now. In fact, I’ve thought about whether or not on my deathbed I should tell them the ducks really died. It wasn’t my fall.

The dancing makes him happy

Sarandon: I think it engages a part of him that hasn’t been going in the marriage, which happens when you seem to have a safe life and then you just get into a routine. Now, suddenly, a little spark goes off. I’m watching my kids now get to the point where they’re falling in love for the first time or whatever and you really do look back and think, ‘Oh, wow, remember those days when you couldn’t keep your hands off that person and you couldn’t wait to talk to them.’ It changes. Your relationship changes. It’s a different thing. And suddenly this person is all activated again, maybe not in the ‘I can’t keep my hands off way,’ but with that kind of insatiable need to be there. I think her family brings her a lot of satisfaction, but maybe she’s not as desperate to get out there and pull the weeds as he is get there to go dancing. Maybe she’s missing some of that in her life, too. But I think she’s mostly just hurt. ‘I thought we were there for each other? What was the deal?’ I think that’s what it is, really.

Richard do you still dance?

Gere: No. (Laughs) I don't think I've danced at all. When we finished dancing, we had a wedding reception, the year after we got married, because we finally had time to do it. And my wife and I had kind of a wonderful spotlight dance, and my wife had been taking lessons from one of the teachers also, one of the guys that was in the movie. Her family had always told her that she couldn't dance, and she got up with me, and we started doing all the dips and twirls, and all the things, and her family was just beside themselves. It was a very emotional kind of coming out for her, to do that in front of her family. It was pretty great.

How much preparation did you do before filming?

Gere: There was a dance… Kind of a store-front dance place, up there, upstate. And I was going there, two, three, four, five times a week. That was three or four months before we started shooting.

By virtue of the fact that Richard’s character is lying doesn’t that suggest that in his mind it’s adultery?

Sarandon: Well, not adultery. It’s something that he feels guilty about, and I think she realizes that. That’s why, initially, she follows him, because she knows something is going on that she feels guilty about. But it is a lie. He lies about where he is at times, too. He’s coming home and lying about where he’s been. That’s what I mean. That’s the thing that’s upsetting. It’s why he feels the need to lie. Why has she been relegated to somebody who keeps the house going, has her job and whatever? I think if you’re with somebody long enough to have a family and real estate and all those things you hope that that person is your friend. I remember somebody saying to me ‘It’s not the busy, fun times that you have that you know you should be with that person. It’s the quiet times when you nothing is happening.’ When I was 20 I would have thought that was a huge compromise and a terrible idea, but there is something to be said for being able to be with somebody in those quiet times and to trust the trust that you have, that you don’t have to entertain this person all the time, that you can co-exist and build a life and have a witness to your life. I love that scene. That’s one of the reasons I did the movie. I think that’s really true. My girlfriends said, ‘Well, what about me? I don’t have somebody.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re the witnesses to your life.’ I think everybody needs witnesses to their life. They don’t have to be married to them. But that is what your group of friends does. Besides acting as a place to sound your opinions and your fears and all of those things, somebody has to say, ‘Oh, my God.’ And my girlfriends are always of things that I don’t remember. It really shows you where you’ve been. It’s hard to see it from inside the way people on the outside do. And I think you do need a witness. I like that concept.

Do you think this film will give people the inspiration to take up dancing themselves?

Gere: Yeah, but I think it's about acknowledging those things, inside of ourselves, and talking about them, it's okay. I mean one of the ironies of this film, is we were developing it, and trying to figure out what to do with it, to make it an American story. And this guy doesn't know really why he gets off the train, you know, I'm sure his first impulse is because it's this girl, it's that beautiful face, and it's sexual tension. With this, whatever it is. More mysterious, but that's really what it is. And then when she, pretty quickly, says no [laughs], it's not gonna happen, forget it. That he realizes it wasn't about her at all, it was really… He likes dancing. He likes the way it makes him feel, likes the camaraderie ofthe people there, he likes the kind of team atmosphere of the ballroom dancing world. But the way it makes him feel, what he's doing it. Now, Susan [Sarandon], peculiar says, “What's her issue? Why doesn't she just ask him? When she knows something's going on, she goes to a detective, why not say hey, hey, come here, just talk to me, what is going on? What are you doing every Wednesday night? Can I come? You know, oh you say you're going to a meeting, I'll come over, I'll bring you sandwiches, I'll be… Whatever.” But she doesn't. There's also something that is insecure, something that is… There's a problem that's presented, and a fear of finding out exactly what it is, directly. Which is an insecurity that has to be kind of thrown out there. And those are real things we all deal with. We all have relationships, on some level, we're afraid to get the answer to a difficult question, so we don't ask the question.

Do you think it’s a fear of that that stops your Shall We Dance character from asking her husband what’s actually going on?

Sarandon: I haven’t really thought about it too much. I think what happens is that initially she suspects that there’s an affair. And rather than be one of these women who says, ‘Where have you been? What have you been doing?’ and whatever, because it’s so unattractive and kind of humiliating, she does something which is also humiliating. She hires somebody to follow her husband. I like that the fact that she says, ‘OK, now that I know kind of what’s going on, to keep following him would be an invasion of his privacy. So I don’t want you to keep following him.’ Then, when she finds out that he’s dancing, I think she’s so hurt and maybe waiting for him to tell her about it, to give him the opportunity to involve her. But she keeps waiting and waiting and it doesn’t happen, and I think she’s just stunned. It’s almost like she’s discovered that her husband is a cross-dresser, something that’s been going on that’s really big, that’s been happening but that he hasn’t let her in on. I think you can accept anything if somebody talks to you about it. I don’t think she has any problem with the fact that he’s dancing. I think you’re crazy if you don’t think somebody looks at somebody and thinks, ‘Wow, she’s beautiful.’ I look at woman and think, ‘Wow, she’s beautiful’ or ‘God, he’s handsome.’ I don’t think you really have to be that scared that you have to put your foot down about that stuff.

What was it like to work with Jennifer Lopez?

Gere: Well, she's a great dancer, to begin with. Which for me was a great joy, she was very patient with me.

Sarandon: We only saw each other a little bit. I know Jennifer from before this movie, actually, because her agent at one time was also Tim’s agent. So she played videogames with my boys way back when. They’ve spent time together and I know her. I really like Jennifer. We hung out more in the trailers. We were only in the one scene at the end. And I ran into her once at the dance studio because at one time they had me in to learn the waltz. I think she’s just very exotic and obviously a great dancer and very sexy and a good actor. I think she brought a lot to the movie. You believe her as a dancer and as somebody whose life’s tragedy revolves around the dance contest. It’s not everybody you could believe that of. I’m sorry that we didn’t work more together. They usually just allow two women per film, and they usually don’t work together. That’s just the way things work out in the scenarios, and that was true in this one.

Richard, why was Jennifer patient with you?

Gere: Well I can't dance! No, I looked fine in it, I mean, it's… I'm happy with it, but you wouldn't have wanted to see… Well actually, some of the dances were fine, I had rehearsed them so long, you could film me from beginning to end and you’d be fine. The tango that she and I did, we never danced together, until we shot it. She learned it with someone else, I learned it with two other dancers, and we shot it there, and it was, from my side, there was so much adrenaline, because I didn't know what was going to happen! And I benefited from some very good editing, I think. They made me look better than what I it really was. They use the good moments. But she was incredibly generous, knowing that I wasn't a dancer. Sometimes I would do things that weren't helping her to look as good as she could, and she would give me the space to work through it.

Can you talk about your next film, Elizabethtown?

Sarandon: I just wrapped Elizabethtown. I tap dance in Elizabethtown. I have a small, but integral part. It was really great to work with Cameron (Crowe) and Orlando (Bloom) and Judy Greer, who is my daughter. Orlando plays the son. I have a juicy, but smaller part. I think I’ll be able to talk about it for four days on a junket. There’s enough going on in it. And I get to tap dance to Moon River. That’s really hard.

Richard what’s next for you?

Gere: Well, I'll probably see you all in about four or five months on 'Bee Season.' Which is a small film. As functional as these people are, that's about dysfunctional people.

Is it based on the novel?

Gere: It's an incredible novel. I'm amazed at how many people have read that. Myla Goldberg wrote the script. If we pulled this off, it should be a terrific film. They found an amazing little girl to play… It's really about my daughter, it's about the girl. Who is quite magical, and her magic is expressed through spelling.

You could do a dancing Lawyer Trilogy?

Gere: [laughs] I hadn't thought about that, they were lawyers, yeah. I need one more lawyer. Got an idea? No, I had great fun doing this. I worked with the dancers, and the whole process of working with dancers is great. I was blessed to have these beautiful, talented, sensitive, funny dance teachers. So I would gladly do that again.

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