'Every Culture Has A Norman': Richard Gere On Playing A Fixer And Wandering Jew Gere's latest film, Norman, is about a Jewish man who pops up on the streets of Manhattan dropping names, handing out cards and promising to connect people.
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'Every Culture Has A Norman': Richard Gere On Playing A Fixer And Wandering Jew

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'Every Culture Has A Norman': Richard Gere On Playing A Fixer And Wandering Jew

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Norman is a man in a nice camel coat who always pops up on the streets of Manhattan, dropping names, handing out cards, promising to connect you. But why? What's his angle? Who is he really? Norman stops a runner in Central Park to tell the young executive there's someone he really must meet. But the man isn't sold.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NORMAN")

DAN STEVENS: (As Bill Kavish) Excuse me, I have to leave. This is unacceptable. Please.

RICHARD GERE: (As Norman Oppenheimer) Bill. Bill. No, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was worth Jo's time. Worse comes to worst, he kicks me out the door.

STEVENS: (As Bill Kavish) No, worse comes to worst, he kicks me out the door. It is my job to keep people like you away. Don't you get that?

GERE: (As Norman Oppenheimer) Yes.

STEVENS: (As Bill Kavish) So please, respect my position. Stop.

GERE: (As Norman Oppenheimer) So I'll tell my partners that we had a good conversation.

SIMON: The film is "Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer." Norman is played by Richard Gere, who is receiving raves along with co-stars Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lior Ashkenazi. Richard Gere joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

GERE: Hey, Scott. Oh, I'm happy to be here.

SIMON: Do you see Norman as a fixer or something else?

GERE: Well, I think the word fixer was a compromise. He's really a macher. And I'm not sure exactly what that translation would be in English, but...

SIMON: That's Yiddish. And half of me should know. But...

GERE: (Laughter) But he's definitely trying to get something going, you know. He's - I think we know these people pretty well, that - they're just outside of the perimeter or the boundary of what's going on and just trying to find an opening and get in.

SIMON: But money doesn't seem to be his angle.

GERE: Well, he wants his 7 percent, for sure. But, you know, I think as we see as the film goes on is he wants to belong, of course, becoming essential in some way to the world - essential to the world around him.

SIMON: Yeah. And why did you want to play Norman?

GERE: Well, he's a very human character. The writer-director Joseph Cedar, I think, wrote a completely original character here and a completely original movie. It's kind of hard to say, no, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do with this guy. Joseph and I had about eight or nine months to talk about this before we started shooting.

And I think it was the process of me asking questions and probing where this guy came from and his consciousness and how he popped out of his creativity. I mean, it has precedence, I think, in Jewish culture. But I think every culture has a Norman.

SIMON: Yeah. It's an Israeli-American film, we should say. And Joseph Cedar's an Israeli director.

GERE: Yeah, I mean, one of the best. I mean, he's pretty extraordinary. This is his first language - English-language film.

SIMON: Although there's a lot of Hebrew in it. The premise of the plot is that Norman befriends an Israeli politician in a personal way who's in New York for a conference when his career is on the outs. Three years later, he returns as prime minister, and their paths cross again. Why do you think the prime minister now remembered Norman? Such an incidental encounter.

GERE: Well, it's one of those magical things. In a way, they're both peripheral characters.

SIMON: Yeah.

GERE: You know, when they meet, Norman sees something in Eshel, who is a junior minister in the Israeli government and who feels peripheral himself. He doesn't know where his career's going.

Norman is nowhere, but he sees something in him and fashions a meet, a cute meet at a shoe store. But that's really the only face-to-face major scene we have together. You just saw the film. So we definitely connect in other places, mostly over the phone.

SIMON: Yeah, that's right, come to think of it.

GERE: But that scene has to be large. I often talk about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in "Hamlet," peripheral characters who get caught up in something much larger than themselves. Tom Stoppard wrote a play about that. In this case, Norman and Eshel become central to something very, very important to the planet.

SIMON: And yet, I've got to think that that couldn't have been in Norman's mind when he buys a pair of shoes for this junior Israeli Cabinet minister, or...

GERE: Well, as Norman says, you never know. You never know.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GERE: You don't know where this is going. You never know. You never know. But he tries. I mean, this is a guy who has a lot of spinning plates, for sure.

SIMON: Yeah.

GERE: And I guess the thought is that one of those plates is really going to turn into gold.

SIMON: You're an inspiration to those of us with silver hair.

GERE: I'm looking - actually, the engineer is smiling through the glass over - there's another one.

SIMON: It's got to be Neil (ph).

GERE: (Laughter) Is that Neil?

NEIL: It is.

SIMON: Yeah, I'm guessing. And Neil is an inspiration to those of us with silver hair, too. Don't get me wrong.

GERE: I'm totally inspired by Neil.

SIMON: So how does an actor age not only with grace but, I don't mind saying in your case, you become even more magnetic somehow?

GERE: Oh, I don't know. I mean, that's kind of a silly question. Look. You know, to tell you the truth, for six weeks now I've been a complete vegetarian. But I haven't had any any red meat in 40 years.

You know, I take care of myself. I like being energetic. I like being in shape. It makes my disposition better. (Laughter) People around me like me better. But I think, of course, you have to take care of yourself as you get older.

SIMON: Richard Gere. He stars in the movie "Norman" in theaters now. Thanks so much for being with us.

GERE: Thank you, Scott. Appreciate it.

SIMON: Tomorrow, director Oren Moverman talks about his new movie "The Dinner." It also stars Richard Gere.

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