AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. In the new movie "Arbitrage," Richard Gere does something remarkable. He plays Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge fund manager, philanthropist, loving father and, as Gere told us...
RICHARD GERE: He's a gambler.
CORNISH: ...in a big way. Gere's character is racing to close a deal to sell his company and cash in before auditors discover a $400 million hole in the books, a hole that could not only scuttle the deal but land him in prison, child's play to Robert Miller.
GERE: He's on a continual adrenaline alpha rush of success.
CORNISH: So naturally, when Miller gets in a car accident that kills his mistress, instead of stirring up headlines that could shut down the sale of his firm, he covers his tracks and begins an elaborate game of cat and mouse with police. In case you couldn't tell, Robert Miller is a monster.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARBITRAGE")
GERE: (as Robert Miller) I'm the oracle. I have done housing. I've borrowed credit swaps. I have done it all. And, yes, I know it's outside the charter, but it is (bleep) minting money. It is a license to print money for everybody forever. It is God.
CORNISH: How do you make someone like this likable? I mean, what do you find in him to root for? Because I have to admit the whole time I'm watching on paper I'm like, oh, this character is a jerk, but I really, really want him to pull it out somehow.
GERE: Isn't that funny? I mean, that's one of the uniform things and kind of mystifying things. And the comments I've gotten back, even from very close friends, that they're very angry with me, that they care about this guy and want him to get out of trouble, although they're well aware the guy is a jerk, as you say, and makes some very bad decisions in his life and has a kind of a mindset that you go, huh? But look, that's my job, is to make characters human, to make them knowable on some level. I think it had root in when you spend time with even supposedly monsters, there's a human being there. And in storytelling, you've got to find that human being.
CORNISH: Part of what makes this character human is his interactions with his family. His daughter, played by Brit Marling, she's his chief investment officer, and there's a wonderful scene where she confronts her father about the money that's missing from the books.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARBITRAGE")
BRIT MARLING: (as Brooke Miller) They'll take away my brokerage license, failure to supervise you, my name in every paper and blog while I visit you at your jail cell.
GERE: (as Robert Miller) What do you want me to do? Did you want me to let our investors go bankrupt? Is that what you wanted? You wanted people to get really hurt.
MARLING: (as Brooke Miller) What gives you the audacity to think that you can make other people...
GERE: (as Robert Miller) You wanted those lights to be - no, because it's my job, yes.
MARLING: (as Brooke Miller) Job, it's illegal. It's illegal. And I am your partner.
GERE: (as Robert Miller) You are not my partner. You work for me. That's right. You work for me. Everybody works for me.
CORNISH: That scene is so jarring because up until that moment he's really talked as a patriarch who sees his family as carrying on his legacy.
GERE: Mm-hmm. That was a scene we worked on a lot, and in the end, it came out of an improvisation, actually, that she's not my partner, that she works for me. And I found myself almost in an animal growl saying everyone works for me. And I think that was the truest moment with this character, that that's his mentality - horrifying but true. I mean, he's naked in that moment.
CORNISH: There's a great moment where your character, you think he's about to do the right thing in some way, and he lies down for a second, thinks about it and then comes up with a completely other plan...
CORNISH: ...that kind of gets himself out of the jam.
GERE: Yeah. My sister brought this up. My sister is a shrink, and she saw it last night at the screening, and she highlighted that moment also. And that mentality of I'm always going to find a way out, always find a way out. I think it's that kind of gambler's thing. Well, I'm down to my last penny, but I'm going to turn that penny into two pennies, and I'm going to get out of this. It's a really interesting kind of person that never truly gives in. Now, if you'd imagine they were in the service of something extraordinary on the planet, what they could achieve, I guess the hope for me is, is that the people who are so effective in the world and can do this stuff, which is just ultimately pretty silly, just the accumulation of wealth, if they were putting their minds and their talents and their skill towards being of service and responsible on this planet, man, this will be a garden.
CORNISH: People are familiar with some of your roles where you're in this very kind of lux environments, and this certainly has that element. Is that anywhere like you grew up? I mean, is that in your background, or do you come from a very different place from your characters?
GERE: No. I came from a very small town in upstate New York, and so these are all characters to me and kind of research jobs. It was funny to me early on that I found myself in the best dressed list because of the characters I play. It would be a tuxedo movie, and I'd be on the best dressed list, but it was like I'm sitting here in a T-shirt and running pants right now...
GERE: ...which is basically my world. You know, I live very simply in the country, and that's who I am.
CORNISH: Do you think, as time has gone on, have you come to understand something about wealth? I mean, you're not like an actor kind of scrapping around for parts. And at this point, is there anything for you to identify with these characters or how they can, like, let things go so far?
GERE: Well, look, I've seen - I've lived in New York since I was 19. I've seen New York from the point of view of someone who can't afford to go to Blimpie's for a sandwich to someone who can eat at any restaurant in New York and can take a limousine around. It's, you know, my father grew up on a farm, and he was just extremely poor, but he found a way to go to college. I remember talking to him a few years ago, and it was - we were talking about technology, and I said if there's any technology that's emerged since he was born, which was in 1922, and has it really made life better in terms of kind of genuine happiness?
And he said no, no, no, not at all. And the wisdom of that, I think, is extremely powerful, that the qualities of happiness that we all can embrace are certainly outside the surface of things. On the other hand, we should all have health care, we should all have food, we should all have shelter, all those basic things, and we can do it. We can do it on this planet. But the excess and the greed, that's what everyone is reacting to now.
CORNISH: I feel like as a fan, every movie I've seen you and I've always been rooting for you no matter what you're doing, which I don't know what that is. Have you figured that out? Has a casting director...
GERE: I don't either.
CORNISH: ...said to you...
GERE: I don't...
CORNISH: ...or have you said...
GERE: I don't know. I don't know what that is. I suppose it's some peculiar thing I'm able to do. I don't know. It's certainly nothing I work at or particularly aware of in the process. Again, I just...
CORNISH: Maybe you look vaguely vulnerable all the time.
CORNISH: Like you need a hug.
GERE: I'm more than vaguely vulnerable, believe me.
GERE: On the scale of one to 10, it's quite high.
CORNISH: Well, that's good to know. That's good to know. No matter what the suit is.
CORNISH: Thank you so much for talking with us.
GERE: Thanks a lot.
CORNISH: Richard Gere talking about his latest movie "Arbitrage."