Tribeca 2015: Richard Gere Gets Howling Applause at 'Franny' World Premiere

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
Andrew Renzi, Theo James, Dakota Fanning and Richard Gere

Andrew Renzi's narrative feature debut, also featuring Theo James and Dakota Fanning, casts Gere as a hedonistic philanthropist who tries to absolve his guilt and grief with money and morphine.

Richard Gere received a howling applause when he emerged on the Borough of Manhattan Community College stage, just after the world premiere of Franny at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

The indie dramedy — which also marks director Andrew Renzi's narrative feature debut — casts Gere as Franny, a hedonistic philanthropist who tries to absolve his guilt and grief with money and morphine. Five years after the fatal car accident of his two best friends, he reenters the life of their expecting daughter (Dakota Fanning) and her husband (Theo James) with the hopes of reinstating the past.

Among darker plot points, the title character — short for Franny "Francis" Watts — has "this likability and charisma, but at the same time, you don't trust him," writer-director Renzi told The Hollywood Reporter. "He's Shakespearian and over-the-top, but very interior and conflicted. It's exciting to see something from him that's different than what he's been doing for a long time."

Gere took on the comedic, complex, middle-aged bachelor (who at one point puts on 30 pounds and grows a "wizard"-like hairdo and beard) because Renzi "wrote a character I had never read or seen before," he told THR. "You never quite know where he's coming from. He's not a normal guy who has a job and a family he's taking care of; he's a bit elusive about who he is and what he wants in the world. The complexities as a filmmaker and an actor were really fun to play with."

Standing onstage next to producers Jay Schuminsky, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman and Thomas B. Fore, Gere later further described him to the audience as "someone who was his own person. He was broken, unashamed, unapologetic, crazy, artful, sensitive, out of control" and teased that, as an outtake, "there's a 10-minute clip of me singing somewhere!"

Franny still remains protective and paternal to Fanning's Olivia — "There's so much chaos around her, and she's trying to be calm for this inner life inside her," she said after the screening of playing pregnant — and tries hard to fill his longing for camaraderie with her husband, Luke (James). Gere praised James for his "innate strength," a requirement to put up with Franny's luxurious antics in a believable way.

Altogether, "it's a story about redemption — these are characters who lack an identity, but by the end, they realize who they are," said James, excited to stretch beyond the Divergent franchise for the film. "After going through this tumultuous love affair, all of them, they settle in the end with an explosive falling-out but come back together and realize what's important is family."

Yet Gere doesn't want to limit what audiences take away from Franny. "Movies are Rorschach tests," he told THR, "whatever you take from it, that's what it should be."

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