Richard Gere ditches his well-tailored suits and seductive smile in his newest film, Time Out of Mind. In the drama, Gere plays George, a homeless man living in New York City, trying to find shelter while also attempting to reconnect with his adult daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone). Directed by Oren Moverman, Time Out of Mind has already been shown at multiple film festivals and earned Gere rave reviews. The tragic drama and authentic story have many audiences wondering, is George in Time Out of Mind based on a real person? As it turns out that George is not inspired by any one individual, and Time Out of Mind is not based on a true story, but that didn't make the project any less real for Gere. George may be a fictional character, but the project is nothing but personal for the actor that plays him.
Gere first stumbled upon an early draft of the script for Time Out of Mind a decade ago — the script had been in the works since the late '80s — and held on to it for years. In the meantime, he began working with the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City, volunteering at shelters. "I went through a period where I insisted on talking, and then I realized how abusive that was — asking people about their stories and these intimate details of their lives," Gere told the New York Times about his time as a volunteer.
Gere's experience working with the Coalition for the Homeless certainly influenced the final script, written by Moverman, who was brought to the project by Gere around 2013. The two altered the original script immensely, toning down conflict and dramatic story lines in an effort to make a film exposing the complex bureaucracy surrounding the homeless in a city like New York. (Moverman is credited as screenwriter, with story from Jeffrey Caine.)
"We liked a lot of what was behind that script. We liked the idea of a man who was homeless, is in between worlds and goes into the homeless shelter system in New York," Moverman told Variety at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
One thing that was important to both Moverman and Gere was to ensure that George's story didn't become a melodrama, and that included not giving George a backstory to explain his homelessness. "Any kind of spelled-out backstory would have been a cheat on our intention to look at a person you don't know anything about, and try to find compassion for him by seeing him, as opposed to 100 percent understanding him," Moverman said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Time Out of Mind may not be based on a true story, but Moverman and Gere made every effort to make the on-screen product as authentic as possible. Shooting with a minimal budget meant that the filmmakers didn't have enough money to shut down New York City streets to film Gere panhandling as George, nor did they have enough money to hire a horde of extras. Instead, Moverman set up the camera a good distance away from his star, ensuring that he would be out of sight from both Gere and any passersby who happened upon the actor in character. The result? Very few people stopped to give Gere money or food, and, as the actor later recounted, nobody made eye contact with the Hollywood actor. He told the Wall Street Journal,
"We didn't have money to shut down Astor Place or Grand Central, so we had a test day to see if this was going to work, shooting with superlong lenses. I was in character and the clothes, and I made my way to a corner across the street from Starbucks in Astor Place and just stood there. No one paid any attention. Then I got a little braver and I had a coffee cup and just said 'Can you help me out? Spare change?' We did a 45-minute take. I made about a buck and a half, but no one even made eye contact when they put money in my cup."
At it's heart, Time Out of Mind is about human connection, and the desire for that is a universal truth, whether the story is real or not.
Images: IFC Films