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Richard Gere’s golden life

Richard Gere as Robert Miller in Arbitrage

For 30 years, Richard Gere has watched as his co-stars in five movies were nominated for Academy Awards while he went unnoticed.

Maybe that’s why it nowadays takes a lot to lure him away from his life in upstate New York where he and his wife ride horses and run the boutique hotel he has restored and rebuilt. “I like to stay close to home,” he says succinctly.

But the script for Arbitrage succeeded in drawing him out where others had failed; and even though his first movie role in four years hasn’t won him that elusive Oscar nomination, Gere acknowledges: “I think it’s one of the best I’ve done.”

Looking spry and lithe with an easy gait, a thick mane of silver hair, piercing blue eyes and a youthful face, Gere, 63, plays Robert Miller, a hedge-fund manager who uses other people’s money to finance his high-flying lifestyle but gets in over his head when he tries to cover up a bad investment and his mistress’s death.

Gere’s Wall Street power player, although duplicitous and morally suspect, isn’t entirely bad and he even generates some sympathy as he registers and regrets the pain he has caused.

“I had no interest in playing a really dark bad guy and no interest in playing him like Bernie Madoff either because Madoff is a sociopath and I thought it was more interesting to play someone we could recognise in ourselves and that’s why people want him to succeed although he’s made some really bad decisions,” he says.

“He’s not a monster and I think his characteristics and even his relationship with his family seem very Bill Clinton-esque.”

‘AN EDIFICE COMPLEX’

Gere speaks quietly and eloquently as he explains, on a rare trip to Los Angeles, the way in which movies are now taking a back seat in his life. The Bedford Post Inn, a derelict farmhouse which he converted into an eight-bedroom hotel, near the town of Bedford, and time with his second wife, actress Carey Lowell, and their 12-year-old son Homer is definitely on the front seat.

“My mother says I have an edifice complex because I like to build,” he says, with a smile. “The inn was one of the only original buildings left in the area where we live and it was just painful to watch it falling apart and falling down, so one thing led to another. We rebuilt it and made it beautiful. My only interest was in creating a centre in the community. I have no interest in it as a business whatsoever. I’m a terrible businessman.”

A long-standing devotee of Buddhism he is a persistent advocate for human rights in Tibet, he campaigns for ecological causes and AIDS awareness and supports Survival International, an organisation dedicated to protecting the rights and lands of tribal people throughout the world.

Unlike some celebrities who lend their names to causes they know little about, Richard Gere knows his subjects. “Bono and I were talking about this and how when we talk about a subject we have to know more than anyone else because there’s always scepticism: ‘What do they know?’

“So I won’t talk about anything that I don’t personally have an experience of. I have my own thoughts and enough experience in the bank and have studied enough that I can speak authoritatively, at least from my personal point of view. I don’t have any problems but the world is filled with problems and we need to care about them. We need to speak up and talk about them constantly.”

His activism, combined with his family life, is the reason he says: “It’s very difficult for me to commit to spend three months making a movie.”

When he was shown the script for Arbitrage he regarded it as “good news, bad news.” The good news was the quality of the writing but the bad news was the writer-director, Nick Jarecki, had never made a movie before.

Known for the in-depth research he insists on doing before every movie, he interviewed several Wall Street traders, not just about their professional lives but their personal ones. He went to the Stock Exchange and stood on the stage for the ringing of the opening bell.

This is not the level of dedication he used to exhibit when he lived his roles 24 hours a day. Famously, when he was doing a show on Broadway playing a Puerto Rican pimp he spent a month on New York’s Eighth Avenue with every lady of the night he could find. “I still do a lot of research but nowadays it’s less forced,” he says.

‘my life is golden’

Despite having been a star for more than 40 years, Gere still professes to be mystified about the roots of his appeal.

“I honestly don’t have a clue,” he says. “I’m amazed that at my age these kinds of parts are still coming to me. I was figuring out last night that this is the fifth decade I’ve been in films and my sixth decade altogether as an actor, so it’s crazy because I have no idea what people see in my performances.”

He began his show business career in musical theatre, appearing in repertory in the US before eventually starring on Broadway in 1973 and later in London as Danny Zuko in Grease.

His first major film roles were as Diane Keaton’s pickup in 1977’s Looking For Mr Goodbar and a migrant farm worker in Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven. His breakthrough was in 1980 with American Gigolo which led to roles as the aspiring Navy pilot in An Officer and a Gentleman, a rogue cop in Internal Affairs and a charmer in Pretty Woman, in which he showed a previously untapped comedic sensibility.

Since this peak of popularity, he has worked pretty regularly — winning a Golden Globe nomination for his part as the flamboyantly cynical lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago in 2002.

With Arbitrage behind him he insists he has absolutely no plans for any more movies in the near future unless an exceptional script comes his way which can be filmed near his home.

“My life is golden,” he says. “In a world that is full of problems and stresses, I’m very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. And I never take it for granted, believe me.”

John Hiscock
(The Daily Telegraph)
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