Roseanne Barr (London Sunday Times Magazine, March 10, 2019)

Chrissy Iley & Roseanne Barr
Chrissy Iley & Roseanne Barr
The story of Roseanne Barr is one of epic rise and epic fall and possible redemption. She is a provocateur, fierce, funny, an outsider. Her television sitcom Roseanne ran from 1988–1997. It was a staple of American culture, won Emmy’s and Globes. It was revived by ABC and in 2018 it was the most watched show in America. Last May, in the middle of the night – 2 am she Tweeted. This Tweet was deemed innapropriate by her bosses at ABC, who immediately fired her and cancelled the show and within 48 hours had forced her to give up all rights to the show which was based on her own life.
  The Tweet was ‘Muslim brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby’ in reference to Valerie Jarrett, a former advisor in the Obama administration. At the time, the network said Barr’s tweet was “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” The following month, the network decided to bring back the show but without Barr, and title it The Conners.
  Going forward The Tweet is now usually described as a racist Tweet. That was not its intention as Barr didn’t know that Jarrett was black and no one seemed to know that Barr was Jewish and the Tweet was really about Iran/Israel. Racism was never her intention. 
  Her friend of 20 years, Rabbi Shmuley Botech tried to help. They did a Podcast together. He says, “she said that she wanted to engage in penance. She made a mistake. She took full responsibility. She shouldn’t have written that Tweet but she was judged very harshly. Her whole life dismantled, so I reached out to her. 
  We studied the Torah together for the last 20 years. Jewish values state three things when you make an error. No. 1 own up to it, No.2 apologise unconditionally and no. 3 make restitution in some form of tangible action. We did the podcast and she said ‘I absolutely want to engage in penance. It breaks my heart that people think I’m a racist. I’ve African American children in my family. I’m humiliated.’ She was sobbing.
  Since the Tweet that changed her life, Barr went to her mother’s in Utah to have what she describes as “a nervous breakdown. seeing herself so vulnerable was shocking.
  We meet her in her office/studio in El Segundo. On the way there, the Uber driver tells me he is a fan and points out that Bill Maher is applauded when he makes racist Tweets. It seems unfair. Is comedy about cruelty? Barr tells me it wasn’t like that. 
  She is first and foremost a Jewish woman who has fought Anti-Semitism for most of her life. Growing up in the Mormon Salt Lake City was harsh. She has said in the past “You weren’t supposed to think there. First of all it was frowned upon to be a girl, and second of all to be a fat, dark-haired girl who had no waist, and third to be a loudmouthed, short, fat, dark girl.”
  Of course, these days she’s not fat, she has a waist, looks trim and has long blonde hair. She’s young looking for 66. Various surgeries have been well documented but it’s not about that. There’s something vibrant in her spirit. She tells me about the Tweet.
  “I was dreaming and I woke up and I thought this is the really great thing that I’ll Tweet. I was appalled I was not allowed to explain it.”
  The Tweet stems from the Obama regime, foreign policy on Iran and Israel. Her explanation in grander terms has included visits with Rabbi Botech to Israel, meeting politicians from the left and right and talks about anti-Semitism. 
  “I signed the rights for my whole life’s work away,” she says gravely. “I thought I had to do that. I thought this is what it’s going to take so I did it. Just the other day the Hollywood Reporter changed the Tweet again. They are on a tear against me and have been for a long time. They got my ex-husband (Tom Arnold) to review one of my shows.” Arnold is one of 3 ex-husbands. She’s friendly with the others but not him. “They’ve tried to silence me and humiliate me since I came to Hollywood.”
  Her two sons Buck and Jake work with her at her studio. Jake makes me a perfect cup of coffee. Roseanne has started smoking and he doesn’t like the smell even though he smokes. He has special smoking clothes. She’s not doing any booze or pills. Let her smoke.
  We circle back to the Uber driver and his Bill Maher point. “Bill Maher doesn’t get a quarter of the ratings I got and because he’s an arm of the Democrat party he gets away with it and he gave more than a million dollars to the Democrats. There is sexism but I’m not sure that men can get away with a lot anymore because everyone’s got their #metoo issues nailed, but now they just send in women to say the same shit men say and they think it’s feminism. It’s ain’t. It’s disgusting.”
  Rabbi Botech says, “We now live in the divided States of America. Roseanne was perceived to be a pro Trump person and that automatically means she has to be a racist. Her show was ethnically diverse and politically diverse. Half the people like Trump, half the people hate Trump and that’s real America. Other sitcoms they’re all liberal or they’re all Conservative. This show had different political strands and they still cancelled it. My opinion is ABC should have said ‘you’ve done something that seems very offensive. We’re going to dock your pay for a month and donate it to an African American educational charity. Which she did anyway. She’s always donated to charities. Instead they moved to destroy her. Her show, it bears her name, it’s based on her life.”
  It’s true. Roseanne loves Trump. Her politics though have always been provocative, standing up for the minorities, whoever they may be. In 2012 she formed the Peace and Freedom party. Before that she was Green and before that she hated George Bush.
  As I’m talking to Roseanne in a pink fluffy sweater, she’s not what I expected – harsh and combative. She’s hypnotic, yes, but loveable. She’s still reeling from signing away the rights of her life. 
  “My life, my kids, but they (the network) told me if I do one more thing they don’t like they’ll remove my reruns for ever. And I said could you define what the one more thing is and they won’t. it could be that I say the word shit. It could be whatever they want. It’s a total Stalinist censorship. I’m known for free speech and also bringing free speech into a family context with the conversations had on my show. They don’t want none of that no more. They only want pliable servants. I’m not that. I’m not a slave.”
  We discuss stage one, the aftershock. “I had a complete nervous breakdown.” She couldn’t get out of bed. “Right.” She couldn’t speak. “Right. I couldn’t think either. They gave me 48 hours to sign away the rights to my show or I’d be sued because I ruined the season. They cancelled the show before one sponsor pulled out which is unheard of, unprecedented. They wanted to get rid of me. My boyfriend (Johnny Argent has been her partner since 2003. They met through a writing competition she hosted on her site) said it’s because I was bad for the hate business. Because I brought people together under one roof who disagreed about the President, but they moved past it and still got along. One thing changed in that game – it’s the philosophy based on the hatred of an outsider. It’s called anti- Semitism but it’s also anti-intellectualism and anti-free speech.
  My show had the most progressive storylines ever on television. If you say one positive thing about President Trump, the new progressives will destroy the most progressive show on TV. I knew it was going to happen. They tried to kill me the first day I went back to work.”
  Literally or metaphorically? “Everything. Physically, mentally and spiritually, in every way. It was a mistake to go back there. I’ve made mistakes many times in my life.”
  Part of Barr’s love for Trump is because he supports Israel but she also thinks he’s a “genius”. Now she feels the most opinionated woman on TV is not entitled to some opinions.
  “Americans know next to nothing about the Iran deal and the Obama administration and what they did with the Iran deal to put Israel and the Jewish people in an existential crisis around the world. The government in Iran was like the movie Planet of the Apes. We’d already said that for weeks.” 
  It has been reported that someone called ABC which resulted in Barr’s removal. Barr alleges that it was in fact Michelle Obama who called the President of ABC who fired her. She said, ‘this Tweet is unforgiveable’. That’s what I was told and I tend to believe it because the woman who fired me is now working with the Obama’s at Netflix.
  They wanted to take a Jew down. They wanted to take down a Zionist because they think that Zionists are the problem with everything in the world and a lot of people in this country think like them that’s why I was flattered when Schmuley called and said, ‘let’s teach Torah’. I have a lot of Rabbi friends because one of my passions in life is to talk about the Torah. When I sent that Tweet, I had this feeling in my head that God gave me this idea.” 
  But it was in the middle of the night. “Yes, and I was also in an inebriated condition. I’d gone to bed at 11.00, sent the Tweet at 2.00, was on Ambien. It was a very stupid thing.”
  I took Ambien and it made me sleep eat. “It did me – 2 pounds of cheese every morning.”
  But it also made her sleep Tweet. “I wished I hadn’t done it and I don’t take Ambien no more. It made me think in an impaired way and I’d also had a couple of beers. I should have written it backwards. It came out dyslexic. It should have been ‘Valerie Jarrett’s ties to the Muslim brotherhood have now allowed Iran’s government to remain as in the movie Planet of the Apes’. That was the conversation. After a 30-year career of championing civil rights, it all ended. They hate powerful women and they hate powerful, deplorable women and I do consider myself deplorable. Deplorable is the greatest thing that Hillary ever called us because it empowered a revolution, we are deplorable to her kind. Of course, all working class people are deplorable to her because it was working class people that elected Trump.”
  According to Rabbi Botech, Barr is now in the second phase after the Tweet.
  “The first was extreme remorse and heartfelt apology. That podcast was listened to by hundreds of thousands of people, but regardless of the degree to which she apologised, people still didn’t forgive her, she started becoming more defiant. She said ‘Schmuley, I’ve apologised and it’s got me nowhere. People are not in the mood to forgive. My friends tell me you can’t apologise in this culture. It’s like confession.’”
  Can she forgive? “I’m not going to forgive.” Our mutual Rabbi friend might suggest that that’s hard to carry around. “It’s not hard to carry around it’s wonderful, it gives me great fuel. Schmuley and I disagree on that. If you forgive the unforgiveable, you’re not a moral person.”
  Reading the Torah is something Barr has done all her life. She and Botech met when he came on her talk show to promote his book Kosher Sex. She let him know that she wanted her daughters to marry Jews and he selected three Jewish boys for them to try out. “I found nice Jewish boys and we filmed it. It was like the Jewish Bachelor.”
  It didn’t work out for them.
  “They were nice guys but he didn’t go with the looks.”
  Her daughters are married now. One of them did end up with a Jewish guy. “The other two are Jewish now.” They converted? “No, they just by osmosis became Jews. When I first met Schmuley I thought he was very interesting. We did a debate on pornography with Larry Flint the three of us. We respect each other’s opinions and he’s one of the few men that listens to women.”
  Does her boyfriend listen to women? “He’s a good one. He’s a hippie. Vegetarian and all that. I am too mostly. He’s not crazy about me smoking,” she says, lighting up another but feeling somewhat self-conscious she opens the door and cool air wafts in.
  Her entire career has been built on provocation. In the early seventies she married Bill Pentland, a hotel clerk. They moved to Denver, lived in a trailer park and she had three kids. As a child she’d learnt that the only way to survive was to be fierce and funny. She started performing at local comedy clubs. Eventually she got her break on The Tonight Show where her humour offended the audience until they gasped with laughter.
  A few days after her divorce from Pentland in 1990, she married Tom Arnold, even took his name. she describes that period as the worst time of her life and “a horrible dysfunctional relationship.” They posed for Vanity Fair naked and mud wrestling. Perhaps a metaphor for that relationship.
  In 1995 she married Ben Thomas, had her youngest son Buck, divorced in 2002. 
  She is emphatic she has never been a racist, whatever she’s been.
  “Jew haters are calling Jews racist. Let’s be real. Does racist mean by silenced by the left? They want to throw it around so much. Of course, I’ve apologised because this was an insensitive comment, but really its damage was in the way it was perceived. I can’t be responsible for the way people perceive things. People have always done this to me. They don’t get me. I have a lot of fans. First of all, the only people who called me in Hollywood were black people. White people in Hollywood don’t know about racism. Let them say ‘Roseanne called black people monkeys’. Let them do it if that’s the spin they want. I had a nervous breakdown because of how I was mentally abused. It was really freaky. They lined up to abuse me and kick me in the teeth. They are not good people.”
  Another blow was when they decided to continue the series, calling it The Conners but without Roseanne. Roseanne had died of a drug overdose by using other people’s prescriptions to get drugs.
  Rabbi Botech says, “When The Conners came out, I was very upset about how they dealt with her death. A grim ending of a beloved character that has been a staple of the American culture for 20 years. It’s a blue-collar show. It’s an insult to the working class that they’re all trading prescription drugs.
  Barr continues, “They think because they killed me it’s OK for them to use me, use the memory of me. Still mention me. It’s still my show but they stole it. They are going to do it to other comics. I’m just the first.”
  Isn’t that the nature of the comic – to get a reaction? To make people laugh, you have to make people unsettled.
  “I don’t just like to make people laugh. I like to piss them off and make them think too. I like to provoke them. I’m a provocateur. I knew they were trying to censor comics ever since Obama signed the NDAA into law. I Tweeted the next day ‘he’s just killed comedy’. It’s like the PC police. A PC police state and they have no compunction about destroying innocent people every day. It’s about mind control. Everyone in America is under mind control from television except for my show, that’s why they got rid of it.”
  Does she think she’ll ever have another show? “No, I’m totally done. People have approached me. People say ‘go on this channel. They’re not about the ratings’ but I’m a champion of ratings.”
  Does she ever think she’ll be President Barr? “People are saying that too. Part of why I love Trump is that he took so many of my ideas from my 2012 campaign. I’m about to put out my speech to show it.”
  “He’s welcome to those ideas. Nobody owns good ideas. People are always stealing my ideas. Everything on television is some kind of theft from me. They don’t credit particularly women my age here. You know, if you’re not fuckable it’s no good. Not that I ever was. I’m one of the few women who’s made it on looks and talent in Hollywood.”
  “I tried to sleep my way to the top but there were no takers. I would have but that wasn’t open to me.”
  No one ever #metoo’d her. “My friend Mike Tyson the boxer called it #youtoo. It’s a witch hunt.”
  How does she feel about women who claim to be abused 20 years previously but didn’t say anything about it at the time?
  “That’s because they’re ho’s. if you didn’t say no and just stayed there to get along, you’re a ho. Men are ho’s too. There’s a total ho mentality. What am I going to get for trading sexual favours? Not that I’ve got anything against ho’s. Not real ho’s.”
  While she was having her nervous breakdown, Rabbi Botech called her. “He said, ‘we can’t let them destroy you because you’re the strongest voice for American Jews in Israel. It woke me up. I had my fight back. I just went with him to Israel. In Israel they can talk, talk out differences, talk to each other. I was invited to speak by the left-wing Labour party. No one is all good or all bad. I don’t like what the Obama administration did to Israel and Jews worldwide.”
  Did her love or Torah come from the idea that Torah was for the boys, not for the girls? Did she ever have a Yentl thing going on? 
  “Yeah, totally Yentl. I got that movie although I like calling it Lentil.” I really want to sing Papa Can You Hear Me but I’m bad at singing so I restrain myself. “That’s another joy of my life – singing. I’m doing it more and I’m loving it.”
  When I tell her I was recently thrown out of a restaurant for bad singing, she says, “singing badly is still hilarious.” She gives me her DVD Rockin’ With Roseanne (fun filled kid tunes with loads of singing and dancing). 
  Becoming a grandmother changed her, softened her. She loves singing. She loves kids. She loves the Torah. She loves growing things in her home in Hawaii, cooking soups and selling them in the shop (carrot and ginger is a favourite). “My life is so peaceful. I’m not angry anymore. I use my anger to write. It’s a good battery but I don’t live it and that’s a good switch. I don’t let it bleed into my real life.”
  Do blondes have more fun? “I love my blonde hair. I’m going to let it grow to my waist. I’m never cutting it again. It’s a whole new attitude. My friend said to me once when I was unhappily married…” To which husband? “oh, to all of them eventually. My friend said ‘time to dump the ape and go blonde’. We always called men apes in Utah. I’m in touch with the ex-husbands, all but one. I don’t speak to Tom Arnold.”
  She has children with these ex-husbands and now grandchildren. Often the grandchild/grandparent relationship is stronger. “Yes, we understand each other because we have a common enemy. I really do love children and young people. It opens up a whole new wrinkle in your brain and you have a longer view of the world. And they’re what you leave behind.”
  Does she ever think about that – dying? “No – I won’t be there. It don’t matter.”
  Not doing her sitcom doesn’t meant to say she’s not working. “I’ve got my own channel. I’m working on content for that. When I fell back into writing the show for a 10thseason it was just like riding a bike. I turned my back brain on. They didn’t take that away. They killed me off but that was just stage one. Stage two is over (her breakdown). I’m at stage three now – their pain. The karmic boomerang. I can’t allow them to win. I’m not that kind of a person. 
  Did you ever read that book about circus freaks? The parents shot the kids up with drugs when they were in the uterus so that they would be born with two heads. I’ve also thought about a movie called Sitcom and everything would be based on real things that I lived through. They’re hilarious now a million years have passed. They weren’t funny at the time. I was talking to Mel Gibson about a movie based on the Torah. I would love to write that with Mel. He’s a very good director.”
  So much for him being a Jew hater. “He’s a very layered structure of a human being. He’s unstoppable. Been there, done that. Here’s my talent motherfuckers.”
  She thinks President Trump is a very layered man.
  “He’s a real deep thinker.” That’s now how he comes across. “Well that’s his Trump puppet. He’s got a Trump puppet and he’s somewhere else. Like here’s a shiny object. It’s too complicated. I’ve met him several times. And don’t forget you can’t judge anyone for how they Tweet on Twitter.”
  We agree that Prozac makes one quiet. She has taken anti-depressants of course. There isn’t anything she hasn’t done. “They dull your rage. Most people don’t like angry women. And Prozac makes you just numb but sometimes you need that, get through the trauma. This trauma I’ve faced it head on and I haven’t done that before. I didn’t face it alone. I let people in to help me like my boyfriend and my mom. My mom took really good care of me for 3 months until I got back on my feet. We’ve been on good terms for about 20 years now but this time she was just wonderful and I felt a lot of love from people I hadn’t let in, so more now than ever before I let the love in.”
  Does she think because of that people want to help her? “I don’t know. I think they might have identified with getting screwed.”
  She really has found a kind of strength from being vulnerable, from letting people in. It’s magnetic. She’s allowing herself to be empathic whereas before she closed walls like armour. She’s already spent almost a year in purdour. The last time she radically offended, it took years. I called it the star mangled banner incident. It’s when she grabbed her crotch and spat ata nationally aired baseball game in July 1990 at the playing of The Star Spangled Banner. She was called disgraceful by then President Bush.
  “That’s when I pissed off the right and now I’ve pissed off the left. It took about fifteen years but they got over it.”
  Did she ever want to be liked? A really long pause. “Well yeah. I’m human but I didn’t want to be liked by the wrong people. I wanted to be liked by the right people and noticed by the wrong people.”
  Why was it so different when you allowed your mother to support you? “I realise that’s what I wanted my whole life but I never felt I got it.”
  Did she push people away? “Yeah. I left men unless I needed them and I needed to change that. I’d already kind of changed that since becoming a grandmother. That was fading. Life can change.”
  Do you mean this is the final metamorphosis? “I hope not my final. I think now I’m gonna figure out what God wants for me. But I never do anything unless I think God wants me to do it.”
  Does she think God wanted her to shut people out? “No. he wanted me to expand my radius of love. That’s what he wants for everybody.”

Richard Gere (London Sunday Times Magazine, February 10, 2019)

I’d flown to New York from LA to meet Richard Gere. He is in his first ever TV series – the BBC’s Mother, Father, Son – a complicated tale of families and how to survive them set with Gere as a self-made man, a billionaire newspaper owner and influencer – by that I don’t mean he’s got a lot of followers on Instagram – I mean shortbread with the Prime Minister.
  Gere himself lives in upstate New York but has chosen to meet me at a simple but chic Italian eaterie in Chelsea in the city. It’s booked under my name to preserve his anonymity.
  It’s pouring with rain. I’m in a sopping Fedora and distinctive golden brocade coat. There had been a lot of weather which had resulted in hefty delays and a diversion to Minneapolis so the 16 hours of travel and then the Nat West Bank calling me at 4am east coast time, had all resulted in extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation so when I turned ap 45 seconds early for our table it was because I needed caffeine. The chic but simple restaurant said I could sit at the bar- not the table till noon that was their policy. I said I didn’t want to sit at the bar for 15 seconds. I wanted a large espresso before my guest arrives – but too late he’s here. 
  Dressed for the rain. Collar up, cap on looking as inconspicuous as a still sexy 69 year old A-Lister can manage. I didn’t want him to know I was the hysterical caffeine deprived woman. It was noon. They showed me to my table. I took off my conspicuous coat and pretended that I hadn’t been that woman. He sits down and looks at me quizzically. He’s got a great quizzical look that looks right through you.
  He’s wearing his trademark rimless glasses. His platinum hair flattened by the rain and the cap but it’s still full. He’s still the man from the poster of An Officer and A Gentleman except he’s not wearing the tight, white trousers. He’s still the man from Pretty Woman but without the expensive looking suit. He’s more pared down, relaxed, grey pants. Simple as he would say, but not ordinary. 
  Of course, he knew it was me. Why was I so upset? Now I was embarrassed. He told me not to be as he ordered a jasmine tea.
  “The American Indians bred horses which were essentially quarter horses. They had great stamina great speed, great agility but their greatest attribute is that they calm down quickly. They bred this horse so that you could ride him hard, work him hard but then calm him down because thoroughbreds stay hyper all the time so maybe you’re a little too thoroughbred.
  Oh my God. Smooth or what?
  He lives with his 17 year old dog, his son Homer (19) from his ex-wife Carey Lowell and new wife Alejandra Silva (35), an activist and her son Albert (6). They’re going to have their first baby any minute. 
  When I asked Jeff Goldblum recently how he felt about having babies after the age of 60, he told me that he went to therapy to work out those issues. Did Gere worry about being an older parent? He looks at me like I’m mad.
  “Not at all.” Some people might be worried though. “No…” he shakes his head. If he was ever a worrier he’s not now. Nothing seems to bother him including what people think of him. I tell him I’m surprised that he even turned up for an interview at all. In the past the press have savaged him. I read a lot of celebrity press cuttings constantly – for research -I’ve never seen any as bizarre as his. And cruel. Around 30 years ago there was an urban myth about his sexual proclivities. It ran and ran until about ten years ago . The rumours were so ridiculous I’m not sure how they ever made it legally to print. Then there were other rumours about his unstable and unloving marriage to Cindy Crawford in the early 90s
  He must have felt pushed into a corner. He took out an ad in the New York Times stating that the marriage to Crawford was a happy one and they were both heterosexual only to divorce 6 months later in 1995. Once again, something that met with criticism. Allegations that could not have happened in the me too / diversity era of now.
  A few years ago, he said, “If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake I’d think no, I’m actually a giraffe. Those kinds of things hurt people around you more than they hurt you because they hurt for you.”
  Soon after this he stopped making Hollywood studio movies, favouring independent movies and some of the most acclaimed work of his career like 2016’s Norman and his Globe nominated Arbitrage. Mother, Father, Son is his first ever TV series. How did that compare to working on a movie?
  “It was like doing 4 indie movies back to back, but the same one.” Was it not interesting and challenging for him to develop the character over 8 episodes? “No, I don’t think I’ll do this again to tell you the truth. It’s 6 months of shooting (in the UK). It’s too long.”
  Is that because his character Max is quite harsh? He didn’t want to be around him. He jumps to Max’s defence.
  “I don’t think he’s harsh. He’s a man who’s clear about what he wants and what he’s doing. People who work for him like him. He’s fair and he cares about them. He’s just not a typical guy. The cast is great. As good as any I’ve worked with. Billy Howle (who plays his son) is a superstar. I was so impressed with him as a person and an actor.”
  Helen McRory plays his ex-wife and he found her “terrific” although he’s never seen her in her much-loved role in Peaky Blinders. He continues to tell me that Max is not hard but he had a hard life, grew up in his father’s steel factory in Pennsylvania and his father wanted to make him a tougher character.
  “This series is a deep and honest exploration of journalism, publicity, the potentially dark mix of bad politics.”
  Does he think journalism is dark? “It doesn’t have to be. It’s certainly very competitive. I’m old enough to remember when news was not expected to make money. It was a service and people who worked in that area felt that they were doing something that was profound, telling the truth. Now they’re all rivals and the press in the UK is particularly difficult. As I said I don’t care. I’ve been around this a long time.”
  Was he always like this? Not caring. “The things I have control over I care about but things I don’t have control over, why bother?” I tell him that reading the toxicity in his press clippings gave me chills. “Honey, I don’t care.” It was a nice, warm ‘honey’, not a patronising ‘honey’. What about your mother/father?
  Did his mother and father inform his character Max?
  “Tell the truth, it was probably the location. My parents grew up not far from where the character grew up. beyond that I had a very different mother and father (Gere was born in Philadelphia. His mother Doris was a housewife. His father Homer (97) was in insurance agent. Gere was the second child of five. 
  Did he have the kind of father who wanted to instil discipline – make him tough?
  “Not at all. I don’t know if Max is about discipline. It’s about you have a number of years on this planet, make something of it. I think all of us feel that way about our kids, not you’ve got to do it this way or that way.” 
  The conversation circles back to his new baby. Gere doesn’t really show emotions like excitement, anger. He pares it all down but you can tell he is excited about it. It’s a boy, right? “Nobody knows because we haven’t told anybody.”
  Homer, named after his grandfather is in a gap year between high school and college. Is he artistic or science biased? “He’s very sweet, very sensitive, very smart. He’s smarter than me, stronger than me, faster than me, taller than me, better than me. He’s great. I love him.”
  Soon there will be a family of five. At the moment they are four. How is that family dynamic. Who rules? “Who do you think rules?” Probably your wife. “Probably.” Is that because he doesn’t have arguments? “No, it’s because she’s smarter than us.”
  One thing they’re not arguing about is what to watch on TV. “I don’t watch much television. I like the Sopranos and Game of Thrones. I like to watch the news. I like to know what’s going on.” Doesn’t that depend on what news channel he is watching? American TV news comes with a bias depending on what channel it’s on.
  “It’s not really that hard. First of all, don’t believe anything Trump says. The opposite of what he says is going to be the truth. It’s pretty easy. I have a very full life and honestly, TV is not high on my priority list.”
  Would he do more TV if it didn’t take 6 months out of his life? “It depends on the script. The selling point on this for me was the script and this script is fabulous. They had to send me 6 episodes before I would commit to it. I don’t think there are bad guys here. They are all living and breathing and working through their issues. It’s very well written like that. It gives you a dream space. I’ve never met a person who is simple so the more time you spend with someone the more levels you’re going to find and certainly having 8 hours with these people you’re going to know layers of their being and their dreams.”
  How was it working for the BBC? Were they cheap? “I never experienced them as a corporation, just as a production. It was the same as making an independent movie.”
  It’s been 11 years since Nights in Rodante (2008), his last studio movie which was huge box office ($84 million) but critically panned. These das he’s not been attracted to studio movies at all. 
  “I make the same kind of movies I’ve always made but the studios don’t make them anymore but they make them independently.”
  By this I think he means the studios make movies ruled by CGI aimed at the teenage male market. I read at one point that the studios had been asked not to use Gere because their money-making Chinese counterparts didn’t want him in China because of his pro Dalai Lama, anti-China politics?
  “No, it’s more complex than that. China has a system for foreign films that can play in China. Chinese distributors want to have the big blockbuster CGI movies. Successful box office movies. That’s the highest priority. I don’t make those kind of movies so whatever their issues are with me politically – and they have issues with me – it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t change the kind of movies I make and has no effect on me whatsoever because I don’t make movies they would be buying.”
  He’s putting lots of black pepper and rock salt into the olive oil and we’re dipping our bread in. We order ravioli with butternut squash and walnuts. I ask for extra cheese. Gere advises I won’t need it. He’s of the ‘less is more, simple is best’ school of thought and I’m ‘bring me more cheese’. He is of course right. Our pasta is good. “Delicate but filling.”
  Gere tells me, “I’m not in the city that much. Mostly I’m in the country.” He has a hotel in Bedford, upstate New York.
  “It was fun to take a building that was falling apart and that’s been various inns and rooming houses. It was built in the 1760s when the British burnt down most of Bedford but not that. There are 8 rooms and a yoga loft.” 
  He’s not intending to branch out to a chain of hotels or being a hotelier as a back up career. Not that he knows what he’s got coming up work wise.
  “I went through a period of making back to back difficult films which I loved. I’m reading things. I’ll see what touches me.”
  Perhaps the arrival of the new baby means it’s a good time not to be working? “Life is work so one is always working but maybe not working with a camera in your face. The pressure of having a camera in your face every day it’s not natural and it takes a bit of getting used to. It takes a lot out of anybody.” 
  And now he wants to be a hands-on daddy? “Oh yes. I’m there.”
  In an interview he gave many years ago he said, “I reacted to fame like an animal, I ran and hid from it.” Does he remember that?
  “Sure. I don’t think many people are built to be scrutinised over and over again all day long, except maybe Trump. I think what maybe problematic with him is the extreme narcissism. He’s a train wreck so you want to watch a train wreck. That’s what he trades in.”
  Why does he think people were so compelled to watch him to make him want to run like an animal? He was never visibly a train wreck. Maybe the idea was to goad him into causing one to happen? 
  “It doesn’t matter. These are small things now. I see them in a different perspective to how I saw them then. Then it was with a young man’s energy. I’ve been around for a long time so I’ve seen a lot and these things don’t throw me anymore. My reaction was to have the animal response of fleeing. Now I just work. People don’t realise that but what an actor does is work, not play. It is creative but the concentration is hard, the hours are hard, it’s taxing emotionally and psychologically. You have to be continually breaking through stupid stuff to find the honesty. It’s not easy work and I love it because it uses every bit of me. My heart, my soul, whatever I’ve got.”
  I’m relaxed enough to mop up my sauce with my bread while I just feel happy to admire the man sitting opposite me. However much he downplays it, he’s still a striking presence. Was he pleased or horrified to be trapped in the sexiest man alive peg? 
  “I’m not trapped, not pegged. Other people may be, but not me. I just work, that’s what I do.”
  Nothing I’ve said or done seems to irritate him even though I have been irritating. Did he work on being so calm? “I was fortunate early on. I was searching, a natural human process to make sense of it all. I had the instinct to search for an answer and I was very fortunate that I was able to find Buddhism and find great teachers. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to devote my life to these daily teachings. If you do the practise you get the results.”
  He is the living proof. “No, I’m not. The Dalai Lama is. But I’m doing good. It’s not a magic trick. It’s doing the work. There is no other thing for us to do in this lifetime than work on ourselves.”
  His life affirming audience with the Dalai Lama was “maybe 35 years ago”. How was it? “Everyone’s expectation is you’re meeting the Dalai Lama. He’s going to go ‘everything’s going to be alright.’ It doesn’t work that way. I was so impressed by his utter simplicity and skill in dealing with me. He got into the deep layers of who I was but not in a Shamanistic or magical way, just simply. One can feel the hard-won wisdom, the way you would with a great college professor. They’ve worked on themselves. And the other side is about open-hearted compassion and empathy. It’s not just about feeling altruistic.”
  Empathy is a skill set. “Empathy can be primitive. Babies have it. If one starts crying, they all start crying. One laughs, they all do that. But that doesn’t take you very far. Wisdom starts to kick in and you start to feel ‘my emotions aren’t much different than the emotions of this person’. What am I going to do with that? I’m going to make a commitment that I’m going to remove the suffering from that person and develop myself to the point where my ego is quite small. Then I really know how to help someone else. It becomes spontaneous.”
  For instance, when I arrived in this restaurant exasperated, panicking, angry, embarrassed, anxious, he became like the therapy dog I met in Minneapolis airport. Bella the golden retriever was on hand to calm stressed, delayed passengers. He’s taken my anxiousness away and I’m left feeling something mystical.
  How did an interview over lunch with Richard Gere become neo nirvana? “It makes it easier, doesn’t it? Just let it go.” I’m seeing him now with a sign above his head. ‘Pet Me’. “How nice…The Dalai Llama gets up at 3.30 every day and works his mind.
  I get up at 4.30/5.00 to work on my mind.”
  Shall we have dessert? “I am a dessert person but I don’t usually have any for lunch.” Nonetheless, I order a Tiramisu to share. “I have to pick up my wife so I can’t be late.”
  He met Alejandra four and a half years ago in Italy. Was it one of those instant love at first sights? “Instant from my side. I instantly became happy just looking at her. It was one of those powerful things.” Has this ever happened to him before? “Yes – I’ve been married three times – but it didn’t happen with the kind of power this one was. But I do remember the first time I met each of my wives. I’m very lucky.”
  And even though things may not have ended well with Crawford and Lowell, he doesn’t hold onto any toxicity. He simply says, “I’m very lucky.”