After sampling US writer, filmmaker and producer Nicholas Jarecki's thrilling narrative debut, Arbitrage (2012), featuring the acting talents of Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling and Tim Roth, CineVue's Russell Cook had some questions for the man behind the lens (and pen, in this instance). Despite the film's serious tone concerning the global economic crisis, family betrayal and criminal deception, it turned out that Jarecki's also quite the character - making our questions about his steering of the directorial ship all the more colourful. We caught up with the inimitable Jarecki to discuss his first foray into fiction, working with legendary Hollywood stars Gere and Sarandon, and his next film, entitled Fuel.
Russell Cook: How are you feeling now that the publicity tour for Arbitrage is drawing to a close?
Nicholas Jarecki: I was just talking to [executive producer] Mohammed Al Turki in my room just now, and we were just kind of sad. This is my first film; it holds a very special place for me, and I'm just happy that we were able to achieve something that seems to strike a chord with people. Wherever we played it, it seems to be received well. We went out to Dubai and saw women wearing Abayas laughing at the same scenes that people in New York were laughing at. Now, I'm really excited to see the reaction of people here in London, because this is a centre of finance in the same way that New York is, and so many of these traditions of business come from here. It's the cradle of modern venture capitalism.
NJ: The rehearsals actually. Richard would come over to my place everyday and make tea - he's really into tea. We'd sit at my kitchen table and just talk about the script, and we'd bring the other actors in, one by one; Susan Sarandon came in, Brit Marling came over, and so on. Tim Roth and I rehearsed pretty much one-on-one.
RC: It sounds like you had fun making the film?
NJ: Arbitrage was a very hard film to put together, but we finally cleared everything out and my producer turned to me and said, "No compromises and no gimmicks. We're going to make the film our way." We had a great crew and a great cast, including a fantastic cinematographer, Yorick Le Saux, whom I met here in London. It was also an independent film, which meant that I had final cut and control over who was going to distribute it. All kinds of innovative things were happening, but it really felt like the lunatics were running the asylum.
RC: In terms of character, who is Gere's Robert Miller?
NJ: Richard chose to play him - having worked on the script a lot together - as someone who wasn't to the manor born; he didn't have a silver spoon in his mouth growing up. We chose to play him like a Jay Gatsby, a man who invented himself and came from nowhere. We wanted to create a mystique about him, like he rose up at an investment bank or something and started his own firm. He's just a very smart guy and a great salesman who could inspire the people around him and build this empire. However, what happens is, the more powerful he gets, the more arrogant he becomes; like a classic Greek paradigm or Shakespeare's King Lear, where he becomes drunk with power, forgetting he's only human.
RC: How well do you think Gere conveys this sense of being "only human"?
NJ: You don't have to be a billionaire to identify with this character, and that's because of Richard. We all face these kind of moral questions - every time we do our taxes at the end of the year or every time we report into our partner about our whereabouts today. I've done all these things wrong myself, so that's how I know the length to which we will go to protect our own self above the people we love. I think people have connected with that in this movie.
Arbitrage, but the one I was very excited to see was Brit Marling. Did you go after her specifically?
NJ: I had seen in the order of around 30 actresses for that part [Brooke, Miller's daughter], and I didn't meet Brit until late in the game. My producer had seen Another Earth at Sundance and Richard had also seen it, but when I finally managed to see some footage I though, "Wow!" I got on Skype with Brit and she started to tell me the story of her life.
She had gone to Georgetown and majored in economics and had gone on to work for Goldman Sachs and been heavily favoured there to move into investment banking. Then she just decided one day to quit and become an actress in Hollywood. She gave up this very reliable life and decided, "I'm going to write my own films. I'm going to raise the money. I'm going to produce them." Once I heard her story, I asked if she could come and see Richard and I. We rehearsed for about 15 minutes, and it was clear to everybody that she would be great.
RC: Before we wrap up, can you tell us anything about your next film, Fuel?
NJ: It's a detective story - I've been working on it for quite a while now. I'm somewhere between the middle and the beginning. It's about a surveillance expert who's hired to investigate crime in the electric car industry and the theft of confidential patents. It's going to be a California story, but I'm really trying to get the narrative right first; the more research I do, the harder it becomes. There's a great revolution coming in the electrification of vehicles. I don't think we’re going to be seeing the gas car for too much longer.
RC: So again, it's grounded in something extremely topical?
NJ: Yes, something that's on people's minds. But the trick, of course, is to find the personal story amongst all of that. I hope to make it later in the year when things all become a little clearer.
Arbitrage is released in UK cinemas on 1 March. To read our review of the film, simply follow this link.