Explaining the inexplicable; FILM: Richard Gere stars in chilling fact-based psychic drama The Mothman Prophecies.
THE millennium-era craze for supernatural thrillers, in the wake of The Sixth Sense and the The Blair Witch Project, continues unabated with the chilling new fact-based psychic drama The Mothman Prophecies - but for its star Richard Gere, the appeal for making it lay first and foremost with the emotional pull of the script.
"I didn't say, 'I want to make a scary movie', " smiles 52-year-old Gere. "The script came and I could see the possibilities, although it went through a lot of drafts to find the balance between a scary movie and a smart movie."
The Mothman Prophecies, based on true events, examines a series of inexplicable events through the eyes, and mind, of one man. Gere stars as respected Washington Post journalist John Klein, driven to extremes to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding his wife's death - and how they might be connected to the strange phenomena in a town 400 miles away.
Ultimately, the film is about premonition, and specifically the eerie premonitions that many people had in real life, over a 13-month period, envisaging the Silver Bridge disaster in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in which 46 people died on December 15, 1967 - after the bridge collapsed and cars plummeted into the icy waters below.
More than 100 people claimed to have seen "the Mothman" during those 13 months - a huge flying creature with a wingspan of over ten feet, with large, red, glowing hypnotic eyes. The stuff of far-fetched horror tales? Or something more chilling and truly unfathomable?
For Gere, the strongest attraction of making The Mothman Prophecies was that all cliches of the horror genre were studiously avoided - which is why the Mothman is only ever suggested, but never properly seen by the audience.
"That would have been the B-movie version of this, " says Gere. "The assumption is that this is a metaphysical story, not a ghost story, meaning that we're making the adults' thinking version. So the trick and brilliance of director Mark Pellington was finding a visual vocabulary that would suggest a presence, and give you the kind of chilling feeling that was much deeper and larger than 'Don't open that door!' This was more like a dream, and dreams aren't usually 'There's something behind the door', they're more a feeling that seems to take over everything."
Gere himself proclaims to have no strong interest in psychic phenomena.
"Although if someone came up with the Loch Ness Monster I'd be interested, " he says. "As for ghosts, there's been nothing that shook me to my marrow."
Gere has no hesitations when asked about his favourite scary movie.
"Well, the scariest movie I ever saw had no ghost in it, and that was The Servant, " he recalls. "It was a Joseph Losey film from a Harold Pinter screenplay and it was the same kind of terror that Mothman deals with; it calls into question the nature of identity. I think that's scary to everyone."
Gere's much publicised four-year marriage to ex-model Cindy Crawford ended in 1995, but today, Gere is happy in love again, with actress Carey Lowell. They have a one-year-old son, Homer James Jigme Gere (Homer after Richard's father; Jigme means "fearless" in Tibetan).
His career is as buoyant as ever - but when he was a teenager, did he ever think that, at 52, he would be a major Hollywood star?
"Oh, I never saw past probably 25, " he laughs. "How can you project that far ahead? I mean, it's like asking a rock star if they think they'll still be prancing around at 55. It's like no, you think you're going to be dead at 26."
Having started out performing in stage musicals like Grease, Gere finds it particularly satisfying that he is currently making the film version of Chicago, alongside Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellwegger.
"It's a total delight and it's something I haven't done since I was a kid, " says Gere. "I get to sing and dance with beautiful girls and I have a big tapdancing number at the end."
Premonitions THE release of The Mothman Prophecies will clearly revive much interest in the true-life premonitions of the Silver Bridge disaster - but the two most famous disasters of which people had premonitions remain the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the Aberfan mining disaster in 1966.
After a coal tip collapsed on the Mid Glamorgan school causing the deaths of 144 people, the majority of them schoolchildren, it was found that many people across the world had dreamt premonitions of the disaster, generally during the two weeks prior to the event.
This led to the creation of the British Premonitions Bureau in 1967 and the Central Premonitions Registry in America the following year, where people could record dreams they thought might be precognitive.
Info The Mothman Prophecies opens next Friday, March 1st
STARS: Laura Linney, as Sgt Connie Parker and Richard Gere, as John Klein CHILLING: Richard Gere in the film The Mothman Prophecies