Age and fatherhood have mellowed Richard Gere, but don’t ask him what it’s like to look in the mirror. Retiresavvy presents an exclusive interview with the man himself
For over 30 years, Richard Gere has been one of Hollywood’s leading men. Following his star-making turn in 1980’s American Gigolo, roles in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman and 1990’s Pretty Woman cemented his status as a major movie star and a bona fide sex symbol in the hearts of many viewers.
Fast forward to 2016 and Gere, 66, is still a movie star, but one who would rather make smaller, more personal films – like 2012’s financial crisis drama Arbitrage, 2015’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and his latest film, The Benefactor – than big-budget glossy studio movies.
"I've never planned anything in my career - I've always chosen films according to instinct and what I feel like doing at the time," he says.
"The most important thing for me now is to be authentic and take comfort in the experience of making a film. The more you can be yourself in whatever you do, the better your life will be and I think that is what makes you even more successful."
Richard Gere lives in New York where he remains deeply involved in raising his 15-year-old son, Homer. One of the world’s most high-profile Buddhists, Gere is lively, passionate, and constantly smiling. He greets you with a boisterous "Hello!" and is eloquent and enthusiastic in discussing his life and work.
Richard, you're working more than ever it seems these days?
I love the experience of working with other actors, getting to know them, enjoying moments on the set where you learn about their lives and develop a bond during that time. I've just done four movies in a row and never thought that I would still be working as much at this point in my life and keep finding interesting stories. I consider myself lucky that I can still feel alive and curious.
How does it feel to be 66?
I feel like I'm 26 years old, except whenever I look in the mirror I see a man who's in his sixties with white hair and wrinkles! (Laughs) But it doesn't feel that strange. You have to accept all phases of life and appreciate that you improve with age spiritually and on so many other levels even though your body may be wearing down. But so far I haven't fallen apart! (Laughs)
In 1980, American Gigolo turned you into a major movie star. Yet you've often said that your early success in Hollywood was a difficult time for you. How have you changed since then?
The biggest change is that over the years I have learned to look inside myself more deeply, to worry less and less about the opinions of others and to share the pain and the joy of other human beings. The thing that makes me most proud is that I am much better able to master anger and not take things personally.
I used to have a bad temper and now I rarely get angry and when I do I get very upset with myself afterwards. It's hard for me to forgive myself being angry or rude to anyone.
I feel like I'm 26 years old except whenever I look in the mirror I see a man who's in his sixties with white hair and wrinkles!
In the latter part of your career you've tended to opt for smaller, more personal films?
I prefer making low-budget films because you can work in a more intense and concentrated way. These kinds of films also tend to revolve around the characters more and there's less emphasis on the plot mechanics. You also work faster because there aren't these huge sets and hundreds of people running around.
Also you usually spend more time talking to the director and the other actors and feeling that you're a lot closer to everyone involved in making the film, which enhances your enjoyment and satisfaction of the experience.
Your celebrity has always been something of a thorny or uncomfortable issue for you?
It bothered me much more when I began gaining more recognition and I should have been able to enjoy my success more rather than feeling so angry and disturbed by it. I enjoyed the creative process of acting but I was never someone who wanted to be the centre of attention. I can be very happy when I'm alone at home or taking a walk in the woods by myself.
I have no need for the kind of attention and exposure that comes with success as an actor. I would rather just do the work and not be part of everything else that comes with that.
Why does the attention make you feel uncomfortable?
Celebrity is an illusion. It has nothing to do with who we are or the work we do. Reality is already a form of hallucination and celebrity is an extension of that primary hallucination. It's all smoke, none of it is real.
Being successful and popular is important in my work, but as a human being it's much more important to connect with people, to show your empathy, and find those beautiful little moments that are meaningful and go beyond the superficial side of things.
I try to meet and speak to as many of the people as I can and share something real with them even for only a minute. That's what I enjoy most about the recognition I have - it just gives me more opportunities to meet people and find the harmony in that.
Do you actively try to break down the whole sex symbol aura that surrounds you?
At no time in my life have I ever felt like a sex symbol. (Laughs) But the work you do and the spirit that you give to it does have an impact on people and that I can take pride in.
You're very active in the life of your son, Homer. Does he show any interest in acting?
Thankfully Homer has no interest in my job! (Smiles) Right now he's showing an overwhelming interest in science. He's starting to wonder about the universe, quantum theory, matter. It's ironic but those are the same questions that led me as a young man to study Buddhism.
What does your son Homer mean to you?
Homer has been one of the most purely beautiful events in my life. What you see in a child and his way of approaching the world is that life should be very playful and joyous. We should try to retain the incredible spirit that children bring to their world because their little world is free of all the petty and selfish and corrupting influences that warp our adult perspective.
A child's smile is so powerful and being able to play with him and watch him play has been a revelation to me. That's not to say that I haven't had to learn patience - lots and lots of patience - but coming from where I was, that of a very impatient man, to where I am now - it's a major transformation.
How has fatherhood changed you?
You learn patience and openness and generosity, but mainly I've understood the feeling of joy. Life itself is joy and it's all around us. You usually don't pay any attention to it because we're so busy doing our lives, but joy is everywhere and the core of that joy is love.
You've often discussed your Buddhist faith and how its teachings have helped you so much in enabling you to find greater joy in life. Are you happy now?
The truth is that I'm never happy with myself! (Laughs)
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