ROME –Richard Gere discovered long ago that he was happier making smaller, more personal films than working within the confines of the Hollywood studio system. Though the paychecks are far smaller, he’s done some of his finest work over the last five years in films such as Arbitrage, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and last year’s The Benefactor. What drives him at this stage in his career?
“I like doing this, strangely enough,” Gere says. “Maybe when I grow up I might finally decide that I’m going to “be” an actor. (Laughs) I still keep finding things that I want to do and people want to do with me.”
Walking into his hotel suite Gere looks energetic and still impossibly handsome at age 68, his flowing white hair a perfect match for his neon smile. Dressed casually chic in a black jacket, white shirt open at the collar, and jeans, he radiates his familiar aura of positive energy buoyed by over three decades of devotion to Buddhist teachings. He’s currently enjoying his romance with stunning Spanish socialite/publicist Alejandra Silva and spends much of his free time hanging out with his 17-year-old son, Homer.
His new film, THE DINNER, sees him play Stan Lohman, a charismatic New York congressman whose gubernatorial campaign is jeopardised by a potential scandal involving his son and nephew who have committed a serious crime. Trying to figure out how to handle the situation – either engage in a cover-up or go to the police – Stan sits down for an extended and tortuous meal at a pricey restaurant with his history teacher brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and their respective wives (Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall). Complicating matters for Stan is Paul’s lifelong struggle with mental illness and distorted view of reality that constantly threatens to derail the proceedings.
The result is a tour-de-force acting display by Gere & co. and precisely the kind of intense indie drama gives him the most pleasure at this stage of his career. The film is also notable in reuniting him with Linney, his co-star from Primal Fear (1996) and The Mothman Prophecies (2002).
Richard Gere has spent the last three years in a relationship with the 34-year-old Alejandra Silva and they divide their time between New York and Spain. In addition to The Dinner, Gere will soon be seen starring in Three Christs, a true-life story in which he plays a psychiatrist treating three schizophrenics (Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage plays one such patient) all of whom believe they are Jesus Christ.
Q: Richard, your politician character in The Dinner is both a skilled manipulator yet also a caring father and sibling. How did you approach the role?
GERE: I play in this film a politician whose son has committed a crime that will change his career and the life of the whole family when the case is resolved. The two couples who sit down for dinner all know the facts and everyone is trying to imagine how each of their lives will be affected by how things play out. And if the facts don’t fit the way they see things, they change the facts to suit their own wishes.
Q: Is this a basic flaw of the human personality?
GERE: I think so. We tend to continually reinvent reality in order to be able to cope with life better. That’s how it’s always been – it’s part of human nature. The only difference in this setting is that this particular alternative reality takes the form of a political strategy. It’s the result of very deliberate professional planning.
Q: How do you avoid the usual clichés that come with playing a slick politician like Stan?
GERE: You try to subvert it. I wanted to take the stereotyped image of the slippery politician and turn it upside down. He’s a very influential and successful figure, he’s a womanizer, he’s used to getting his way in every aspect of life. I wanted people to look at him at the beginning and think they’ve already figured him out as this typically narcissistic, arrogant guy.
But then as the story evolves it was exciting for me to show how he was a much more complex and thoughtful character than you were expecting. He is thinking very deeply about what the best thing would be for the kids’ future. He knows how hard the road might be for them. He understands the consequences.
Q: The politician you play in The Dinner desperately tries to help his brother and his son. Have you always felt that sense of loyalty and closeness to your own family?
GERE: Family is very important to me. My mother died last year, but I still have my 94-year-old father, three sisters and a brother, and we all have a very close relationship. We talk constantly, everyone supports everyone. When I hear horror stories about other families where siblings don’t speak to each other for a year or where children are disinherited, I realize how lucky I am that I can rely on so much emotional support from my family.
Q: What is your father like?
GERE: My father is a very compassionate and sociable man. When people meet him, they’re surprised that he’s my father because they’re expecting a much older man than he appears to be. But he’s still full of youthful curiosity and he’s been like that for as long as I can remember.
He grew up on a farm and milked cows. And as a very young man, he went into the navy to fight in WWII. He’s a typical American and has always been a farmer at heart. He’s a very down-to-earth man and his spirit has been a great influence on me. He still inspires me to this very day.
Q: You have a teenage son. Did The Dinner make you think about how you would handle a similar situation and how far you would go to protect him?
GERE: Of course! My son Homer has is now 17 and I was constantly thinking about how I would have reacted had he been involved in something similar. There probably wasn’t one day while we were shooting the movie that I didn’t consider that question. And I think anyone who sees it will also be forced to ask themselves what they would do under those circumstances.
My inner voice tells me that I would do anything to protect him. But if I think carefully and ask myself would I do something that would involve hurting other people. I don’t think so. That’s a line I wouldn’t be able to cross.
Q: Teenagers often experience moments where they are testing their limits and figuring out their way in the world. What kind of approach have you taken with your own son and the kinds of guidelines you’ve given him?
GERE: With Homer, I’ve always tried to encourage him to trust his instincts and be adventurous in life. I remember how difficult my own teenage years were and I want to help him enjoy his life and maybe not suffer as many doubts as I had when I was his age. I have also tried to give him a sense of how far he can go in discovering things about himself and the world and knowing what those limits should be.
Q: Are there any particular Buddhist teachings that you have tried to impart to your son?
GERE: The Dalai Lama once said that if you want your children to appreciate certain values that you want to teach them, teach them to respect the life of an insect. An insect is not a creature we tend to like – we’re usually afraid that it’s going to bite or sting us.
But it’s also a living thing. It feels pain and joy, it has brothers and sisters, a mother and father. We’re not so different. And the Dalai Lama’s advice works! My son is always very conscious of trying not to step on insects whenever possible. He’s a good boy and I’m very proud of him.
Q: You vacationed with your son in Italy this summer. Do you like taking trips with him as often as you can?
GERE: I decided many years ago that I would never to be more than an hour away from my son. That’s why I’ve only played in films lately that were filmed in and around New York. The only exception to that rule was “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2” – but I made sure I was only going to be in India for two weeks.
Q: You were once the biggest movie star in the business and you’re still portrayed in the media as a sex symbol. How has that public perception of you affected you in your personal life?
GERE: I’ve never for a moment believed in the sexiest-man-life kind of nonsense and that superficial way of looking at me. I was never comfortable with that image and being a so-called movie star meant nothing to me.
I’ve always felt that it was much more important to be a good man, to be a useful member of society, and to have compassion and empathy for other people and especially those who are less fortunate.
Q: How do you feel when you see yourself in some of your early classic films like Pretty Woman or An Officer and a Gentleman?
GERE: I almost never watch my own movies and whenever I do I usually feel very dissatisfied with my performances – there’s always this or that scene where I wish I had done it better.
I also don’t like looking at myself at that much and I have very few mirrors in my home! (Laughs) Sometimes I might be lying in bed in my hotel room when I’m making a movie and I’ll turn on the TV and one of my old films will be playing. Then it still takes me a few seconds to realise that it’s me on the screen! (Laughs)
Q: Your other new film coming out is Three Christs. This marks your third film of 2017 and it seems you’re busier than ever these days as an actor?
GERE: Did I think that was going to happen? Unlikely? But maybe this is a run where I keep finding interesting things. There is something inherently fascinating about the story of Three Christs, and mysterious, and a little scary. I was thinking, ‘Can you pull this off? Where is the movie?’
I started to realize this was really about community. It is about how you create community. And how can we find a way that we can all live in a universe where we’re trusting and free enough that we can communicate with each other? You listen. That’s how you do it: by listening; by just listening.
Q: Is it important for audiences to see films and interesting stories like The Dinner and Three Christs?
GERE: You don’t “need” this story. You don’t “need” any of this. But we do it anyway. We like stories. We were built for stories. Why did God create men and women? Because He liked stories. We all like stories.
by Harold von Kursk in Italy