The title of Richard Gere’s new show MotherFatherSon gives away both a little and a lot about BBC Studios’ new drama.
It’s the story of a media mogul, but the producers are billing it more as an “emotional thriller” surrounding a family’s business and personal baggage — and there is a lot to unpack. Gere plays Max, an American baron with a “new money” fortune built on trashy tabloids, who purchased a British institution much to the consternation of the old elite. The magnate is also a kingmaker of sorts, deciding who to support in the upcoming election as his son suffers a life-changing medial issue that throws the family balance into chaos. But at its core it’s also a political drama with elements of abuse of power thrown in, said executive producer and BBC head of drama Hilary Salmon.
On Chesil Beach‘s Billy Howle plays Gere’s son and heir apparent, Caden, while Peaky Blinders‘ Helen McCrory plays his ex-wife who had been excised from her son’s life.
Adding another layer, it also touches on a scandal about how Gere’s newspaper gets its scoops, with shades of the phone-hacking scandal that put Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World out of business. However, the team emphasized that Gere’s character was not based on any particular real-life media mogul or family.
“I think we’re all trying to tell stories that relate to this crazy moment on our planet, and it’s probably impossible to go directly at it, because you can’t compete with how crazy someone like Trump is,” said Gere, who calls it a “neo-Shakespearean story” in size and scope though it is “particularly apropos of this moment.”
While the team is keen to emphasize it doesn’t discuss specific political situations or name any names, it hopes the show can break through the never-ending noise surrounding current events.
“The reality show president we have I think highlights the real stuff even more,” said Gere.“We have now become accustomed to seeing something that is false and lies, and is all artifice, so when you do something that is actually coming from an honest place, a generous place and wants to somehow explain the world as it is with the motivation of making it better by understanding it, it comes out even more. It is highlighted even more in our world not as entertainment, but just as the truth.”
Howle joked that he didn’t want to “badmouth the U.S. at all,” but added: “I think it feels like an antidote. I think a lot of people turn to drama for the purposes of entertainment and escapism, but in terms of that, drama acts as an exploration and as an antidote to what is happening in the real world.”
Gere’s mogul, as powerful as he is, is not a man who rules by force. Instead he gets by on a combination of charm, cunning and a mastery of conversational acrobatics. “He doesn’t have to walk through life with a hammer,” Gere said. He signed on to the project because it was “dense with words” and there was not one page of easy script. “I don’t have to work. I do what I want and this was something I thought, ‘This is going to be five or six months of my life but it is worth it,” he said of deciding to forego long walks in the woods with his new wife and child.
The eight-part limited series was penned by The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story‘s scripter Tom Rob Smith. Gere’s media mogul in MotherFatherSon brings it full circle of sorts for Smith, since American Gigolo was a huge influence on the feeling and aesthetic of the Emmy-winning show and bled into his work here.
Gere also heaped praise on his co-star Howle. “This is one of the best actors I have ever worked with, ever, and I’ve been around a long time. This kid is really extraordinary. He will blow your mind.”
The series has a clear ending but has an opening for a second series should it prove to be a hit, Salmon said. As for Gere, he said he’d be open to coming back for a season two, but “not this year.”