Richard Gere has always been more than his movies. From the time he began his career, and even through his many hits such as Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, An Officer and a Gentleman and Chicago, Gere has carried on a rich, varied life outside of the movie industry.
Privately, he’s been on a decades-long spiritual journey, travelling to secluded corners of the earth to learn more about both the world and himself. Publicly, he’s been a human rights crusader, backing causes he holds dear across multiple continents.
So it’s no surprise that, when asked if he ever looks back on his storied film career, he shrugs it off.
“I honestly don’t look back. The only time I do is when I do an interview and people ask me that kind of a question, otherwise I don’t even think about it.””
Gere would much rather look forward. “I’m always happy to engage the next possibility. I have a very full and interesting and complex life. Movies are not the center of it. Creativity is the center of it, but not movies.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t love the craft. Gere is just not the kind of actor you will see pop up with a super power or a lightsaber in the summer’s biggest blockbuster. He has never felt bound to taking a project for a paycheck—a project has to excite him creatively.
“If you’re not going to be greedy, you can be very free. If it’s not about the money, you can be very free to explore anything that you want to explore.”
But just because he’s spurned blockbusters doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. “I was delighted to find, in this last year, that there were three films that I wanted to do. There’s Norman, The Dinner, and another one called Three Christs. All of them small, really interesting films. Will this happen again? Probably not. Three in one year that I really get interested in is rare. But I’m thankful that they come up once and a while and I’m still surprised that they do.”
Major studios don’t make the types of films that Richard Gere makes nearly as much as they used to. Today, these sorts of thoughtful character dramas have moved more and more to the world of independent cinema. But has something been lost in that transition?
“No, just money. The films themselves are no different. I think the last five or six films I’ve done have been very low budget independent films, but they’re basically the same films that I began my career with, they’re just smaller budgets. I like working this way. I’m perfectly fine working the rest of my career making films like this.”
The Dinner, Gere’s latest film, tells the story of two brothers—one a politician and one a teacher, out to dinner with their wives, trying to figure out as a group what to do after discovering their sons committed a horrific act. The movie is written and directed by Oren Moverman, who Gere has grown close to through their previous collaborations, and is the reason he took the part.
“We’ve made now four films together, two of which he wrote and directed, and it was something that he felt strongly about. I thought certainly in this world today that it was a worthy and valuable exploration of human nature.”
Gere plays the politician—a role that he helped develop in his discussions with Moverman. “I said to Oren, I’m interested in presenting this congressman as if he is the cliché of that kind of a guy—a slick guy who, when we see from his brother’s point of view, we don’t have high expectations for him. And then, when we deconstruct the character, and deconstruct our expectations of him, and we find that he is probably the most substantial one there. I thought it was interesting to deconstruct our politicians and leaders.”
To Gere, the part, and the film, are all about exploring the question of social responsibility.
“We have varying degrees of how out into the world our responsibility goes. Is it just to our immediate family? Is it to our communities? Is it to those we don’t even know? In the film there’s homeless woman in an ATM—we don’t know her, we don’t even see her face ever. But do we still have responsibilities to the faceless people? Certainly we can look into this world we’re in today—do we have responsibilities to the refugees and migrants we don’t know? How far away from our center and the knowable lives that we have do we still have a human reasonability?”
Gere may not see his life as just his films, but it’s clear, if I’m to speculate, that he always brings his full mind to the project he dedicates himself to.