Dry wit and sexy repartee may, lamentably, be considered “old school” in cinema today, particularly in that wittiest and sexiest of genres, the romantic comedy. But Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, who have chemistry to spare both on screen in Michael Jacobs’ rom-com Maybe I Do (in theaters now) and off screen in an effortlessly charming interview, welcomed the opportunity to showcase their classic rom-com energy.
Maybe I Do, which also features Diane Keaton, William H. Macy, Emma Roberts, and Luke Bracey, provided Gere and Sarandon the reunion they’ve wanted since playing married couples in 2004’s Shall We Dance and 2012’s Arbitrage. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Gere and Sarandon shared their thoughts on the state of the rom-com today, and reveal telling advice they received early in their careers.
The A.V. Club: So there’s lots to get into with Maybe I Do. First, what was it like reuniting on screen? Especially since in Arbitrage and Shall We Dance, you were playing a married couple and this time—spoiler alert—you’re not.
Susan Sarandon: A-plus, plus, plus. It was really fun. I was happy from the moment he came to one of the early fittings. I just realized then how much I missed him.
Richard Gere: Yeah, actually, the director said, “I don’t think this is going to work because they love each other so much. They’re so comfortable with each other, so easy. And the banter, so unplanned and genuine.” So we had to find some ways to separate.
SS: But you can be very comfortable with somebody and banter with them and not necessarily have sex with them! So there was nothing wrong with us being close.
RG: There’s nothing wrong! Nothing wrong.
SS: Okay. I’m glad we straightened that out.
RG: Yes, dear.
AVC: How much did you have to erase your own personal history and start fresh, playing these characters who have only known each other for four months?
SS: [My character] certainly did not separate. I mean, I think she goes full into it, because clearly she doesn’t care about about taboo or what might happen afterwards. She’s just there and definitely doesn’t want anything to get in the way of it. I think she really cares about him—and doesn’t care enough about what might happen to his marriage—but she definitely is enjoying him and everything about him. So I think that’s sincere. What about you, honey?
RG: Well, yeah, I mean, she’s been through this before. It’s not the first—
RG: Rodeo for her. So I think he’s assuming there’s an end date on this, built in. I think she’s a bit of a wrecking machine. She enjoys, on some level, all the damage. We were talking about napalm, she throws napalm. That’s just what she does. It’s how she gets through things.
SS: But also for the forest to grow, you have to burn it down.
RG: You gotta burn it, I know. But it’s just so much pollution! But anyhow, obviously the trick of a character like that is to be vulnerable at the same time. A bulldozer is not that interesting. There’s a driver of the bulldozer in there, and that’s a real human being. For my side, it’s a moment I went with and I don’t know how that one night became four months. And [my character is] just like, “I’m done. No matter what it costs me, I’m done.” He’s going through a lot of personal crises, as they all are in this movie. And I think in some way he’s probably the most able to articulate his existential crisis.
AVC: How different was each take in filming this? Was there any improvisation?
SS: Yeah, there was some playfulness.
RG: I was going to say no! No, but I think there was a level of that. But Michael wrote the script and this is pretty much what he wrote and the style of it. The actors brought things to this for sure.
SS: Yeah. But the takes were physically experimental, you know, props and this and that. Trying to find your way. It was a very quick shoot because it’s a low-budget film.
RG: Which I like. I think you like it too. I like 28 days or whatever.
SS: Yeah, yeah, don’t overthink. Maureen Stapleton … was a pretty great actress and she once said to me, “Honey, just talk fast and get off.” You can find some good things when you speed things up, when you don’t indulge yourself or overthink too much. And when you’re doing a film that has a very short schedule, you have to just commit and jump into it. Right?
RG: But I think it was the style of the writing. This isn’t a wallowing movie and it doesn’t want pauses.
SS: Well, it started as a play. It was written.
RG: Did it? I forgot that.
SS: And then he rewrote it to bring it up to present day. So it does have that feeling about it too.
RG: But yeah, it’s kind of a ’40s, snappy, repartee kind of movie. And as Susan was saying, if you get it up to speed, you feel comfortable with the rhythms and we would get it going. It would have a life of its own that would carry us.
SS: And that’s really fun.
RG: We’d be riding the adrenaline of that and being on the same wavelength, especially in those scenes with four people. It was just bouncing beautifully between us.
AVC: That bouncing feels like a staple of romantic comedy. I wanted to ask you both, since you’ve starred in rom-coms over the years, what’s the current state of this genre?
SS: I think it’s really hurtin’. First of all, to find a way not to have people have sex immediately [in a script] is pretty hard. I mean, what do you create to keep people apart, to keep sexual tension? Is one of them married, is one of them sick? Because there’s no boundaries now, in a lot of ways, in the modern day. And also finding someone who can write. I mean, when you look at Philadelphia Story, when you look back on those great, classic funny things with Carole Lombard or that whole period, they are speaking [fast]. When I did The Front Page, Billy Wilder had a stopwatch. They did feel a bit like plays, you know? But it can only be helped by going faster. And I think that we have lost that. Starting with [Marlon] Brando, everybody became very method-y. And that isn’t really where to go for a rom-com. I guess TV still has a lot of it. But I think finding stories that move you, that don’t feel derivative or that you don’t know right away what’s going to happen—people falling in love, for me, is everything. Every film I’ve ever done, I think, from Dead Man Walking to anything, has been a love story. Because that interests me, that brave moment when people open to each other. But I think it’s very hard to write one now and put it in the present day.
RG: Interesting. I’m not sure about that. I think people can write, that’s all available to us. But when I made Pretty Woman, I had never made a movie like that before. But there was a chemistry with me and Julia [Roberts]. I don’t know that it would have worked necessarily with two other people. There was some magic that she and I had in that movie at that time. And I don’t know if she and I could have done it again.
AVC: Maybe the most important ingredient in a successful rom-com is chemistry.
RG: I think it is. And for that type of movie in particular, I think it is.
SS: And a sense of humor. There are some actors who are mesmerizing—because they have absolutely no sense of humor. That does exist. But you have to have a speed of language that you’re facile with and some comic timing to make for the rom-com part of it, you know? And I don’t know that everybody has that.
AVC: There’s a lot about lost youth in this film. And Susan, you just mentioned a piece of advice that you got. Was there a piece of advice that you got early on that helped you navigate craft or career?
SS: They said, “It’ll be over by the time you’re 40.”
RG: Just because you’re a woman.
SS: Yeah. So I remember I was being asked to do the cover of Rolling Stone or something in lingerie after Pretty Baby. And I said, “All they want is for me to be in lingerie now!” And Gena Rowlands said, “Do it now. They’re not going to ask in another few years.” [Laughs] I was like, Oh, she may have a point there.
RG: Did you do it?
SS: Not in lingerie. Yeah, [my advice is] do it now while your body’s amazing. Get that on record. If you’re comfortable with it.