Credit: Myles Aronowitz

It really can’t be true, can it? Richard Gere has never been nominated for an Oscar? Really? Let’s check again. For Chicago, surely. Nope. Officer and a Gentleman? Nope. Unfaithful, The Hoax, Primal Fear? Eh-eh. Damn… Dude’s due.

With Arbitrage, Gere might finally land that elusive nomination. In the Sundance hit from first-time writer/director Nicholas Jarecki, Gere plays a Bernie Madoff type who needs to unload his financial company before Wall Street figures out he’s short $412 million. It’s a subtle, daring performance, but also one that reminds you how consistently remarkable the 63-year-old has been for more than 35 years, since catching Diane Keaton’s eye in Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

With Arbitrage out on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download today, the 33-year-old Jarecki checked in to discuss the New York he knows and loves, how he connected with his Madoff-like anti-hero, and why it’s time for Gere to finally hear his name called by Oscar.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Watching Arbitrage gave me the same feeling that I have when I read a Richard Price novel.

NICHOLAS JARECKI: That’s a hell of a compliment. You know, I almost never listen to books on tape, but I think while I was writing it, I may have driven to Sundance with Lush Life playing. Bobby Cannavale read it.

It’s just such a New York story. Was it easy to capture so much of the city’s character?

New York is such a vibrant location. It becomes a character within the film itself. And through my parents, through growing up in all different parts of the city, I was exposed to a lot as a kid. And you see the highs and lows of the city — it’s all right there in your face. Uptown where the elevated train came out on 97th and Madison, you’d go from these multi-million apartments to these multi-thousand dollar apartments in — boom – one block. There’s the high life, there’s the crime life, there’s the street life.

You filmed in so many of the actual places. How did you get such access?

It’s really by hook or by crook. When you’re making an independent film, and people suspect you’re up to something good, the doors kind of fly open to you. We went to the Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom, we’re up in the GM Building — the top of the world is Roger Miller’s office — and then at the same time we’re with Jimmy in Harlem. The courtroom scene where Jimmy is indicted, that was the actual real Manhattan Grand Jury room that no one had ever shot in in the history of movies — and the very next day Dominique Strauss Kahn was indicted in there. That’s what you get from shooting in New York — an authentic flavor that I love from the 70’s movies, the Sidney Lumet New York. But there were a number of twists and turns along the way. The financing of the film kind of mirrors the screenplay. There was a point at which this one producer suggested that not only would I allow Gaddafi to finance the film and cast his mistress in the central role, but also that we should shoot it in Louisiana and pretend that was Wall Street. None of those ideas sounded really good to me because there’s really only one New York.

Your main character Robert Miller does some pretty reprehensible things. I’m curious how you felt about him, viscerally, as you were writing him?

Well, I loved him. We’re not doing Downfall here, you know, the Hitler movie. I saw the humanity in this guy. Again, I’m so influenced by the 70’s films, I loved the concept of an anti-hero — a guy you don’t know really how you feel about. He’s doing really sketchy stuff but you have a sense that underneath it all he’s a good guy. Richard and I talked about doing the wrong things for the right reasons, and that Robert had his own kind of morality. He was an ends justify the means type guy. I fell in love with him because I understood his tragic flaw, which was hubris. The way he charms everybody, that is something Richard brought to it. I didn’t have that in the original script. You feel for him even though he’s sketchy. Richard tells the story, when the film came out, he got a lot of angry calls: “How could you play that guy? He’s such a scumbag.” You know, I don’t see him as a bad guy. I see him as a guy, much like me. He didn’t really do anything so terrible. He just read one too many of his own press releases and began to feel invincible.

I think that’s part of what makes Richard’s performance so remarkable. He doesn’t ask you to like Robert in any way. He seemed to be willing to grab on to all his character’s warts and flaws.

One of Richard’s great strengths is that he has the ability to give you a double man. He plays two sides to the coin. When we met initially, he said “When I put on a suit, my audience has a certain expectation based on my iconography as a movie actor, and what I’m interesting in exploring is the darker side. I want to take this character to another place and really delve in there.” We tried to boil down the theme of the film and the best that we could come up with was, Will you give up the power that you love, to hang on to your last shred of humanity? Robert will hold on to what he’s got no matter what it takes. He justifies it to himself: He’s saving the employees, he’s saving his family. It’s his daughter in a self-righteous moment who says, “How dare you! I’m your partner!” He says, “You’re not my partner! You work for me!” Richard wrote that line in a rehearsal. That was a great line, and it was very meaningful to him when he says, “Everybody works for me!” So this character’s megalomania gets the better of him. So I think he really brought that. Richard brought the charm and seduction, as well as the darker side.

I’m so pleased he received a Golden Globe nomination, and I’d like to see him get recognized by the Academy. No matter how many times I hear this factoid, I have to peruse his IMDb resume again to convince myself that he’s never been nominated for an Oscar.

It’s weird. Richard will be the first to tell you that he’s probably what he would call quote-unquote a very reactive actor. He plays off the energy of the other people, and it’s really a beautiful thing to see – it’s almost like a ballet when you’re directing it. So I think he makes other actors look really good, which you want. [Editors note: True. Gere’s co-stars from five of his biggest films have been nominated for Oscars.] But because he doesn’t always go with the big, showy scenery-chewing, it’s easy for him to get occasionally overlooked. But I think that despite the competitiveness of this year and the amount of terrific performances that exist, I really think Richard did something special, and of course it would be an honor to have him recognized by his peers. But hey, if it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. We had a blast doing it. This movie is now approaching $50 million in [global] gross. Given that we made it for a little over $10 million, that’s a great success.

Speaking of actors being overlooked, I haven’t heard Tim Roth mentioned at all for awards. But he’s so fun to watch as the police detective. Just the way he sits in a chair is fascinating.

That’s another one I’d love to take credit for, but I can’t. That’s why I love the rehearsal process so much: Tim came in and he really had a take and an idea for this character. I had a different idea that I had originally written in the script: this much more plodding, methodical cop; he’s sitting in the office moving the chess pieces. But when he came in, he had this all worked out. He was like, “What is this sh-t? I’m not sitting back in the office! I’m out on the street! I don’t give a f–k who these people are! Let’s do a scene with Sarandon! I’m not going to call her! I’ll confront her!” So that scene got written during rehearsal and we filmed it. He came in with this pit-bull ferocity, and then coupled it with this insane, ridiculous posture. I just think it’s a delight. He really made something.

Maria Bartiromo of CNBC stars as herself in the opening moments in the movie, and in an extended version of the scene available on the Blu-ray, she and Robert Miller discuss Bernie Madoff, who’s frequently mentioned as the inspiration for your protagonist. Was it too on-the-nose? Is that why it got cut?

With regards to Madoff, the films that I love are timeless. I just thought, it’s Bernie Madoff today, tomorrow it will be someone else. Like UBS, who’s now paying $1.5 billion to settle price fixing on LIBOR. That conspiracy makes Bernie look like little three-card monte guy. So, just not to date it. And Maria was wonderful. I actually wrote her into the script, but I originally thought we were going to make the film for $50,000 in some remote corner of New Jersey so I’d planned on getting some great extra who looked like Maria Bartiromo. I finally called her and she said, “I’d love to do it.” And not only that, she came over to my apartment and helped me rewrite the whole scene, based upon all her interviews with world leaders. So, she’s awesome.

You sold Arbitrage at Sundance earlier this year, and by any criteria, it’s turned into a success. Will you find a reason to head back to Utah next month?

It’s the premier place for independent film, and I’ve gone the last six years running. It’s a beautiful cultural platform for the exchange of ideas; those are movies you really wouldn’t see anywhere else. What Redford and all those guys have done there is nothing short of remarkable. My reason to come out there [this year] is pure entertainment. The reason not to go there is my lazy ass should be writing my script.

This is Fuel…?

Yeah. It’s set in Los Angeles, and could be very cool, I think. It’s a modern noir. It’s a story of a young man. He’s a surveillance guy and he gets in over his head in a world of conspiracies about alternative energy and beautiful electric cars. This is my eighth month working on the script, and it can be maddening, but we’ll hopefully do it next year, probably towards the end of the year.

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