Think of Richard Gere, and it's invariably not long before the theme to either 'An Officer and a Gentleman' or ' Pretty Woman' turns up in your head. But it turns out these were the two films in his 40-year career that he struggled the most to like – initially.
“I wasn't innately drawn to them as projects,” he explains to me in London. “I agreed to them because I needed the money or some other reason, and then I did the work to make it something I cared about. And they turned out to be two of my most successful movies, and ones I liked the most.
“I was only ambivalent from that point in the beginning. By the time I make anything, I'm enthusiastic. I can't do it otherwise. I don't walk through anything. I never have done, and I never will.”
Richard Gere with Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman'
At this point, something miraculous occurs. Beneath the silver mane of hair which makes Richard Gere now look like a twinkly grandfather, or an elegant ambassador to Europe, no longer the hot, hustling, brooding presence sent down from the big screen to make woman of a certain age still sigh, this passionate statement has brought on... the twitch. You know the one. That thing he does. The clenchy jaw thing, often accompanied by a significant sniff with one nostril. It evokes a hundred cinema-going memories from three decades of undisputed superstardom and, frankly, I just feel like clapping.
But, to business. We are here to talk about 'Arbitrage', his first film in four years, where he plays Robert Miller, a self-made entrepeneur who seems to have it all - an elegant wife (Susan Sarandon), happy family and New York mansion, as well as the obligatory mistress - but whose walls start closing in when circumstances force him into a rabbit hole of his own making. Gere was drawn to “the script, how it spoke to today, our lives, the newspapers, our fears, our aspirations...” AND he got to stay at home with his family while he worked on the 31-day shoot.
With Louis Gossett Jr in 'An Officer and a Gentleman'... go on, sniff, you know you want to...
Gere was Golden Globe-nominated for the role. He bats this off, of course. “I’m surprised the film didn’t, because of the script,” he’s quick to say, but the truth is Gere is the film's backbone and emotional pulse, with its success depending on how much we want the naughty Robert Miller to get away with it. So how much of the character was his?
“I added to the character and put a spin on him,” he explains. “He was originally written as an older guy, at the end of a career, he was tapping out now, and I thought that would enervate the movie.
“This needs to be a movie in motion, so we made him a self-made man, a bit of a Gatsby with other schemes, other things he wants to do, I don't think this guy ever has a thought of putting himself out to pasture. I think he still sees himself a boy,” he muses.
Like many entrepeneurs, in that sense? “Absolutely. There's something not quite finished about them,” he has a chuckle.
With Susan Sarandon in 'Arbitrage'
There’s no doubt, though, that when cinema-goers see the name Gere come up during the opening titles, they expect a certain kind of person to emerge, a pre-conception he’s not immune to himself...
“You have to factor in, not because I want to but because it's a reality, that there is already a grab-bag of memories and projections associated with me,” he acknowledges.
“Now that can either help you playing a part, or can hurt you, in storytelling. So I do consider that. Does the baggage of me help the situation? Should I do this? Can I help this? I’m not someone no one's ever seen before - there's an enormous amount of projection that goes on, sense memories, emotional memories. Sometimes it helps because the expectation is there, and then you present something totally opposite, so it becomes fresh. It's a way of using that reality.”
Despite admitting to making some films for cash when the occasion required, Gere claims NEVER to have bought into the mythical glamour of Hollywood, obviously not now, but not even then, apparently...
“I was always sceptical of everything, I wasn't soaking up, I was pushing back, I was never seduced into any of it. There was nothing attractive about it.
Richard Gere - "my life is very simple"
“It's nice to have money, but the first thing I did with money was buy my father a snow-blower, because my job was to shovel snow and I wasn't there to do it any more, so I was able to buy him a blower. It's quite simple. And my life is still very simple. Money has never been a factor.”
This would seem a bit unproven coming from say, Shia LaBoeuf, but I am, after all, speaking to the second most famous Buddhist in the world. Gere has been tireless in his efforts over the last 30 years to speak out for the independence of the people of Tibet, and can count the Dalai Lama as one of his close friends. The beads around his right wrist aren't some Kabbalah accessory, they are hard and long-earned.
So instead, I ask why? When he could be enjoying laps in his pool, toying with scripts, and "phoning it in", what propels him to take on that level of responsibility?
“One's a job. It's hard for people to understand because it's so glamorous, but it's a job,” he explains. “It's a great job, one I feel privileged to have, and have had some degree of success in, I don't take it for granted, but it’s not my life.
“My relationships, my moment to moment realities, that's my life. And responsibility... how can you live in the world without a sense of responsibility?”
Many people manage it...
“I don't know how it's possible.”'Arbitrage' is in UK cinemas from Friday 1 March. Watch the trailer here…