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.”