Thirty-five years ago author Clifford Irving was convicted and sent to prison for creating and convincing a publisher to finance a fake "autobiography" of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Irving later revealed details of his fraud in a book which is now a feature film with Richard Gere as the author; and Alan Silverman spoke with the star for this look at The Hoax.
The Clifford Irving of the film is a man desperate for recognition, especially after his literary agent tells him the publisher rejected his latest novel.
Not someone to take such rejection sitting down, Irving concocts a plan to get the publisher to pay handsomely - a million dollars - for a book about industrialist Howard Hughes, one of the most mysterious personalities of 35 years ago.
Irving claims he has been granted a rare ...no, not rare, unheard of interview with Hughes. It is a big lie; so, naturally, the agent and publisher believe him.
That, as Irving explains to his collaborator Richard Susskind (played by Alfred Molina), is the beauty of his plan: there is no one to refute his story except Hughes ...and the billionaire is notoriously private.
"We all lie," says Gere. " Everyone does. Small, big ...we all lie. We lie to ourselves, we lie to other people. They're usually not big enough that it hurts anyone, but we all do. "
Richard Gere says the story of The Hoax interests him because Irving is - as the actor puts it - 'very human and easy to relate to.'
"I saw into this guy and saw what we all do," he says. "We kind of rally our forces and find a way to make how bad we are okay ...and then we put another spin on it that we feel comfortable with. This guy is very human.
"It was important to set up that this guy was underappreciated," adds Gere. "Certainly he felt he was and there was kind of a superior attitude from the literary world about him that he is really 'not cool' or of a stature that needs to be respected. I think we can all identify with that and the sense that there are authority figures and experts that really don't know so much. We would really like to prove to them that maybe we are better than they think we are."
Irving, who sold the filmmakers the rights to adapt his book, has praised Gere's performance, but complained about the creative liberties taken with the story. Gere says he did not attempt to meet or talk with Irving before making the film and he reminds the author - and the audience - that 'it's a movie.'
"This script is not a documentary about him," notes Gere. "This is a two-hour dramatic presentation of a time in history that is about him, Howard Hughes (and) a lot of things. It goes a gamut of possibilities from the minutiae of people in their lives and the lies of those live to these huge lies that have to do with nations and history and craziness."
Gere says his research convinces him Irving was surprised he almost got away with it and that it was never about the money.
"I thought that, genuinely, he was going to give the money back," says Gere. " At the point where he was finally caught he would just give the money back and say 'that's not why I did this. I think he saw it as somewhat of a 'happening.' It was an art object he was creating and it was definitely directed against authority figures and experts who had oppressed him in his life (saying) 'I fooled you.'
The author spent 14 months in federal prison and after his release went back to writing novels. The Hoax is directed by Lasse Hallstrom and co-stars Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden as Irving's wife Edith, also convicted for her role in the plot.