The renowned actor is a sex symbol, cultural icon and Hollywood superstar. He still continues his legacy after two decades of sweet success. Born in Philadelphia on August 31, 1949, Gere had a strict Methodist upbringing in upstate New York. Following his 1967 high school graduation, he studied philosophy and film at the University of Massachusetts -- only to leave school to pursue an acting career two years later. Gere became a professional actor and sometime musician, performing theatrically in Seattle and New York and attempting unsuccessfully to form a rock band. In 1973 the young actor landed in London, where he gained prominence playing Danny Zuko in Grease, a role he would later reprise on Broadway. While in London, Gere gained the privilege of becoming one of the few Americans ever to work with Britain's Young Vic Theater, with which he appeared in The Taming of the Shrew. Back in the U.S., Gere made his feature film debut in 1974 with a tiny part in Report to the Commissioner. He returned to the stage the following year as part of the cast of an off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard's Killer's Head; following Gere's turn in the 1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar, he and Shepard would again collaborate in Terrence Malick's breathtaking Days of Heaven (1978). In 1979, Gere won considerable theatrical acclaim for his performance in the Broadway production of Martin Sherman's Bent, and the next year enjoyed his first shot at screen stardom with the title role in Paul Schrader's American Gigolo. Though the film was not a major critical or box-office success, it did earn recognition for the actor, who had taken the role after John Travolta turned it down. Gere did not become a real star until he appeared opposite Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, but his bona fide celebrity status was jeopardized with roles in several poorly received films including King David (1985). A lead role in Francis Ford Coppola's 1984 The Cotton Club also failed to perk up the actor's career; despite a legendary director and stellar cast, the film received mixed reviews and poor box-office turnout.
With no recent major successes behind him by the end of the decade, it looked as if Gere's career was in a tailspin. Fortunately, he abruptly pulled out of the dive in 1990, first as a cop/crime lord in Mike Figgis' Internal Affairs and then as a ruthless businessman who finds true love in the arms of prostitute Julia Roberts in the smash romantic comedy Pretty Woman. Back in the saddle again, Gere continued to star in a number of films, including Sommersby (1993), Intersection (1994), and First Knight (1995). In 1996, he was highly praised for his portrayal of an arrogant hot-shot attorney in Primal Fear, and in 1999 found further financial, if not critical, success starring opposite Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride. The following year the actor enjoyed some of his best reviews to date as a gynecologist at once devoted to and bewildered by all of the women in his life in Robert Altman's aptly titled Dr. T & the Women; many critics noted that Gere seemed to have finally come into his own as an actor, having matured amiably with years and experience.
In 2002, Gere played the too-perfect-for-words husband to Diane Lane in Unfaithful. While the film was not a huge critical success, Gere was praised for a game performance, and Lane was nominated for an Oscar. Unfortunately for Gere, a starring role in The Mothman Prophecies didn't do too much for his resume -- while critics once again lauded the actor's intensity, the film itself was widely hailed as too slow-paced to properly showcase his talents. Luckily, the same couldn't be said for his performance in the multiple Oscar winning Chicago, which found Gere in the role of another hotshot lawyer, this time alongside a diverse and talented cast including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Queen Latifah. In 2004, Gere will star opposite Jennifer Lopez and Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran Susan Sarandon in Peter Chelsom's Shall We Dance?, and is also slated for a role in Disney's Emperor Zehnder, which is currently scheduled for a 2005 release.
On- and offscreen, Gere uses his acting clout to promote his various political ventures. A devout Buddhist, Gere has been deeply involved with the struggles surrounding the Dalai Lama and the worldwide struggle for human rights -- the documentaries Return to Tibet (2003) and Shadow Over Tibet: Stories in Exile (1994) featured Gere as a prime interviewee, while 1997's Red Corner starred the versatile actor as a victim of a grossly corrupt Chinese court system.
Richard Gere: Shall We Dance?
“ It was horrible and it was horrible for a long time... ”
Ever since his breakout role in American Gigolo, Richard Gere has been cast for his inimitable brand of suave - from Pretty Woman to Chicago. More recently, he's been exploring the psyche of the middle-aged everyman, most notably in 2002's Unfaithful opposite Diane Lane. In Shall We Dance - a remake of the Japanese film by Masayuki Suo - he takes a much more light-hearted approach, rediscovering his passion for life with fancy-footed co-star Jennifer Lopez.
You've played a dancing lawyer twice now. What about going for the hat-trick?
Oh, in Chicago? Well, what's another dance I could do? I've done tap dancing and ballroom dancing. I suppose I could do jazz dancing, or something like that. Or Highland dancing. OK, I'm soliciting now for a Highland script. If a script comes my way, I'll do it! Ballet though, I don't think I could fake ballet.
You trained very hard, once again, to get the steps right for this...
It's fear. Fear does that. It's the realisation that whatever you do on film is going to be there for a while. It's a good motivator to actually get you to be as good as you can get and I was so bad... Peter [Chelsom, director] was there at the very first lesson I had and I think he was really worried, thinking, "Can he pull this off, or not?" It was horrible and it was horrible for a long time, I must tell you. It was really embarrassing and humiliating and all of that. But it actually ended being quite good because we ended up taking quite a few things from the early rehearsals I had and put them into the movie.
What kinds of things?
You know that bit about the stick? Actually there was a moment when my teacher, in the first lesson, was trying to tell me how to keep my arms up in this peculiar way. She found this two-by-four in the corner and she put it over my shoulders and of course this led to my total humiliation in this first meeting. Also, ironically, my very first rehearsal was in a studio, but there was this glass wall and there was this extraordinarily beautiful Argentine girl who was doing the tango on the other side of that. She was beautiful. Anyhow I'm dancing so badly I can't believe it and I wanted to look good in front of this Argentine girl but it was so much like the movie that we ended up actually designing the room in the film to make it look like this very first rehearsal that I had.
How daunting was it to pair up with Jennifer Lopez, since she is an accomplished dancer?
She's a great dancer, no question about that. I am not a great dancer. I'm an actor who can fake a lot of things and I worked really hard on this.
But you didn't get much time to practise together, because Jennifer was off shooting another film at the time. Did that make it more difficult for you?
The only dance we had was the Argentine tango and I learned that with several other dancers - not with her - and she also learned it with other dancers. I don't think we ever had a full rehearsal before we shot it and we shot it quickly. But it came together very quickly, thank God, because the choreography was right and she and I had a good chemistry. But believe me, she was incredibly generous and forgiving. She's a ten and I am somewhat below ten.
Why do you think your character in the film is so dissatisfied, even though he's living the American dream?
He has everything but still there is this yearning for something else, something more. I think this is very relevant to our problems in the west. It's that we do have it all and still there's this itch and it's not about a traditional mid-life crisis. It's not about changing your hairstyle and getting flying glasses and a red sports car and a trophy wife. I think we took great pains to make it not about that, but about some mysterious yearning that became manifest in seeing this melancholy girl [Jennifer Lopez] in an Edward Hopper-esque setting - in the window. That sets it off for him [his character] and gets him ofF the train. The poetry of that, of getting a guy off the train, I thought that was really beautiful.
So, like your character, have you discovered a new passion in ballroom dancing?
It had one pay-off and it was after we had finished shooting. My wife and I had been married for at least a year and we never got around to having a wedding party. In the meantime my wife had been taking lessons from one of the dance teachers on the movie and I knew she'd been taking a couple, but I didn't know that she'd been taking a lot. Anyhow we had the party and there was a band there and at one point my wife grabbed me and said, "Let's dance for the people." And we had one of those spotlight dances and I said, "Are you sure? Okay." And we just started dancing and there was spinning and dipping and the whole deal! I mean it was like I was doing routines from the movie and she knew them all and followed beautifully. It was one of those magic moments. It really was out of a film.
Richard Gere: Chicago
Almost 20 years after starring in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club", Richard Gere returns to the Jazz Age for the musical "Chicago"...
You last strutted your stuff in the 70s as Danny in the London stage production of "Grease". Did you feel you were a bit rusty?
Rob [Marshall, the director] and I had our first meeting in a restaurant in New York. I'd read the script and really liked it. I thought it had a lot more going for it than the stage production.
I told him I could sing and I understood the character, and I'd have fun with that. But I don't tap dance, so that was the issue. Thankfully I had a wonderful tap teacher. Rob took such good care of us. And you don't get to see the bad stuff!
Were you warned that this might be a bad career move?
No. Actually, it was my agent who was pushing for it much more than I was. I was a little resistant because I wasn't that taken with the stage production. But my agent just really kept pushing.
I had just done a very intense movie, "Unfaithful", and I thought, At the very least I'm going to have fun doing this.
I started my career doing musicals in New York. So it was very easy for me to work within that medium. In New York I did five or six rock musicals, folk operas, and rock operas. Then I came over here [London] and did "Grease". I was a young man and that was a huge experience for me, both as a person and a performer.
There's a sequence where you're portrayed as ventriloquist with Renée sitting in your lap. Was it more difficult to play certain scenes, given the complicated set-up?
It was great fun trying to figure out how to do it. We didn't know, and I don't think Rob knew, which lines would be done naturalistically and which would be done on stage. A lot of it was just playing around to see what would work. I realised there were going to be 26 guys doing circus routines behind us and pyrotechnics going off everywhere. I also realised that no one was going to be watching me anyway.
Richard Gere Interview - "Unfaithful"
Director Adrian Lyne describes "Unfaithful" as "an erotic thriller about the body language of guilt." In the film, Richard Gere stars as Edward Sumner, husband to Connie (Diane Lane) and father of Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan). The Sumners are happily married but that spark of passion is dimming. One fateful day, Connie literally bumps into Paul (Olivier Martinez) and sets off a chain of events that will dramatically change all of their lives forever.
In casting the part of Edward Sumner, Lyne was looking for an 'everyman' quality - not necessarily the first quality that springs to mind in reference to Richard Gere. Lyne explains, "When I saw Richard in the Robert Altman film, 'Dr. T and the Women,' it seemed then that he'd reached a plateau; he had a kind of serenity and niceness that I hadn't seen before. I thought it was interesting how he was used in that film. If you look at him in this one, I think you'll be surprised."
RICHARD GERE (Edward Sumner)
"Unfaithful" deals with marriage issues, including the failure of a marriage due to familiarity. Do you think there's a way for people to overcome falling into that trap and losing that passion?
I don't know that the movie is so much about a failed marriage. It's about a mixture of the absolute and the relative. The absolute is the wind blowing; it's just the fact that there was a storm that day. Whatever symbolically that might mean to you, that's kind of the absolute, existential quality of the film. The other side is that they haven't taken the time with each other as much, to keep working at each other and on themselves, to keep having special moments where they break through to more levels of truth and self-revelation and revelation with the other. I think we've all got to do that.
Relationships, I realize at this point, are like sharks, they've got to keep in motion. They've got to keep going into deeper, colder water, sometimes scarier, darker territories and break through, for relationships to stay alive.
Do you think it will be hard for audiences to accept the fact that there is nothing actually wrong with the relationship between your character and Diane Lane's character in the movie?
There is something wrong. They do have a lack of intimacy but it's not just that that sets this thing in motion. There is also kind of this cosmic reality of the wind, whatever that is. Karma, in a larger sense.
It could also be considered a communication issue. The husband never confronts his wife.
That's an important point. His way of doing it is saying, "Do you love me?" which is hard for him to say that. It's a very sensitive moment for him. "Do you love me?" - he's feeling something is going on but he doesn't know what it is. It's easier for him - it is for all of us - to go to the private detective and have her followed than to actually say, "Look, I feel like you are having an affair. Are you having an affair right now? You've got to talk to me." What is it that is incomplete in him that he can't do that, and incomplete in their relationship, that they've set up expectations about themselves and the other that they can't do that? In that sense, there is something wrong - personally and with the relationship. I don't know any of us who are in relationships that are totally honest, it doesn't exist. Maybe the Dalai Lama is the only person who is totally honest and even with him, he's skillful not to hurt anybody. He's skillful.
How do you think that having worked with Diane Lane prior to this film affected the portrayal of the marriage in the film?
I think the fact that we did know each other [and] trusted each other certainly helped, but I think that even more so, the fact that she's been married and has a kid. I've been married now a couple of times and I have a kid. I think that bringing that, knowing what life is in the morning when you are getting kids off to school, and everyone is going off their ways, and how people exist in a house like that where you very rarely have that kind of communication in passing, you know? That's the way households are. It doesn't mean it's not loving, it's just the way time is. It ends up being what you can grab as it's going by. I think that was easy for us to create that kind of environment, which was important to have at the beginning of the film - the normalcy of that, the recognizable households with kids and jobs and responsibilities.
Diane Lane mentioned that it's been 18-19 years since you worked together and that coming back together was like shelter from the storm.
When you do work like this - when you do any work as an actor - you've got to feel safe even in what appears to be the simplest things. Even in comedies, you've got to feel safe for things to just happen in a way that is natural and free, and recognizable as human - alive and real. You don't want to be watching your back or thinking that you are being judged. I'm crazy about Diane and always have been, her talent and her as a person. I think that both of us felt okay, and that we don't have to watch our backs here.
You hadn't seen each other much in 18 years. Did it just rekindle, just like that?
Yeah, and differently too. She told me that she's the age now that I was when we did "Cotton Club." Now she understands where I was coming from a lot more. That was another level of understanding. I think she was able to process who I was and what she and I were at that time now, much better than she was able to then.
Diane has had a long, steady career and she's well respected. Why do you think a bigger stardom has eluded her?
I don't know. Those things are so in the stars. Certainly there have been better actors than me who have had no careers. Why? I don't know. I do think, just to follow-up on that, I think honestly this is one of the best performances I've seen from anyone in years - what she does in this film. If there ever was a moment for her to reach whatever level you are talking about, it would be now, with this. I think she shows extraordinary courage, emotional depth, and technical ability - it's all there.
Is one of the reasons you wanted to do "Unfaithful" because of how your character changes/reacts to his wife's infidelity?
Yes, there's a certain point the character is pushed to his limits and he finds himself feeling and doing things he never would have imagined. And how does he deal with it? Not only doing the actions but taking responsibility for it? The film on one level is necessarily moral in that all actions have consequences. They acknowledge that they're going to have to pay the consequences.
Erik Per Sullivan ("Malcolm in the Middle") plays your son in the film. You two have some great moments together.
He's wonderful. That's the kind of thing where you read a script like this and go, "Oh boy." You get a kid playing that part who is obnoxious, who is not real, or is too cloying, too cute, whatever, and… This kid came in and he's a better actor than any of us. Upfront, he's better than any of us.
Adrian [Lyne] and he had a great relationship. That had been established before I got on the film, and he and I had a great relationship. It was really comfortable, really easy. A lot of scenes - unfortunately, you're not going to see in the film - we shot had to do with him and me, and more family stuff. We didn't need that in the end; you get things quickly. You got that he and I got along and had this nice relationship. You didn't need these other scenes. It was great working with him. He worked hard. He understood what is important on film. He had a really good kind of 'bullsh*t barometer' for what is false and what isn't. He and Adrian worked really well on that movie together. He and Diane worked very well on that level, as well.
He has some great comic and emotional moments in the film.
He always found a way of doing it that wasn't the obvious, that wasn't cloying. He does this thing spinning when he wants to get my attention - someone's attention - but the adults are talking about something. I have kids, I know moments like that. It happens all the time. He did it in such a fresh, truthful way, it wasn't cloying. That's my kid.
The director, Adrian Lyne, said he thought you were brave doing certain scenes - the bathtub scene in which you are naked, in particular. Do you consider yourself to be brave doing scenes like that?
I don't think that bravery is about skin. Bravery is about a willingness to show emotional need. Ultimately that's why that scene is good is because of that - not because of the more obvious things.
Lyne also said he wanted you to eat more and be more physically flawed.
Yeah, like a 50 year-old guy. I'm a 50 year-old guy and I'm not in shape like I was when I was 30. I agreed with that. Adrian wanted me to put like 30 lbs on and I said, "No one is going to want to see that." It doesn't really help the movie because then it becomes about a push - she's choosing this young, hot guy instead of this old, fat guy, which is way off the point of what the movie was.
You filmed "The Mothman Prophecies" right before you filmed this. Which of the two was the most draining?
I don't know if they were draining in that way. To tell you the truth, if the work is going well and it's something that has value with some meaning to it, it gives back a lot. I think we were all well motivated in that we were doing this to explore territories that might be useful to us and to others. Motivation is really important on any of this stuff, but the work was going well. We felt that we were on solid ground in terms of achieving what we had set out to achieve. In terms of that, it really does feed you back energy. It's the ones where you just - it's like digging ditches - you're just working so hard but it's not giving you anything back. It could be not even on an emotional level, but it's just not happening. Those are draining. Those are horrible.
Have the challenges of being a leading man changed for you?
The challenges? I never thought of it in terms of the 'leading man' or 'not leading man,' or whatever. I don't think it changes. Certainly when I was 20, I wouldn't be playing this part, for obvious reasons. I would have been Olivier's part and probably happy to do that. I wasn't 52 then. You work from where you are. I do think that good actors can do any part. It doesn't mean that they are the best ones to do it. In the sense of being in a repertoire company, most actors are skilled enough, there's a level of expertise where they can play old men, young men, girls, fat, skinny, whatever. There's a way of doing it all. It doesn't mean that ultimately it's taking advantage of whatever is uniquely important and meaningful in a project. [I believe] there's really one character for every actor. The voyage is to find that one character.
Have you found yours?
I think at the end of [your] career, you've got to find out what was it that really leapt out? In a variety of things that were all good, again I say a minimum level of technical expertise in being able to do stuff, but some things jump out there, maybe cut deeper into the skin - that have meaning beyond what might be there on the page.
Your next project is "Chicago: The Musical." Did you have to do any particular preparation for that role?
When I met Rob Marshall, the choreographer/director of the piece - and wonderful, wonderful - I said, "Look, I like the script." It was a really interesting way to approach that material and smart. It's a Dennis Potter ("Pennies from Heaven") approach. It was just really smart. I said, "Look, I know I've got to sing in this, that's not going to be a problem. I get the character as an actor, but there's this thing at the very end where I do this tap dance, and I've never tapped." I said, "I'll try but we'll see when we get to the part where we have to shoot that." So I started it, and it was brutal in the beginning to try and get my nervous system [working] from my brain down to my feet. I worked hard and I had a great teacher. By the end, I felt comfortable with it and I think I did a good job - you'll see.
Are you as passionate an actor now as you were when you were younger?
I'm less needy about needing to express myself through acting, through movies, or theatre or whatever. I have many different lives outside of this that are extremely fulfilling. When I started acting, it was really the way for me to get of myself, to be able to communicate. I think most actors start that way. It's healthy for that to transform your career but that's not the only reason you are doing it. That becomes crippling after a time. The motivation is probably less egocentric now in terms of my need to do it, but certainly the motivation for working now is to work with great people on projects that are a gift. Not that it wasn't that way before, but I would say that's probably the only motivation I have now. I have the resources to live.
I like doing it, don't misunderstand me. I really enjoy doing it and do realize that I'm an actor - that is really who I am, but if it were to go away tomorrow I'd be okay.
What do you like about acting?
Working with people, exploring territories, exploring what we explore in the film. In doing that, I'm actually acting it out. I lived three operas this last year, completely different things, different experiences. If I bring myself fully to it, that's a whole lifetime, three lifetimes, I've done this year. Whatever I've learned in the process certainly feeds who I am as a man, the people around me and my family.