June 2000 By Philip Berk
Richard Gere has to be the sexiest man over fifty.
Although his shock of gray hair ages him slightly, at his press conference in Toronto for Dr. T and the Women, his boyhood charm remains undiminished.
In the film, in which he plays a gynecologist, Robert Altman is his director, and he has virtually transformed him. As Variety put it, “Gone is the cocky preening arrogance of his most off putting performances. In its place he shows a tender vulnerability and a concern for others.”
Could we be witnessing the emergence of a new Cary Grant?
Having once called him the next John Travolta, I didnt dare ask him.
His defiant response at the time was, “I’m the next Richard Gere!”
Call him what you like, you have to agree: there has never been a moviestar able to combine asceticism and celebrity, they way Gere does.
But lately he’s exchanged his role as Buddhist-Tibetan spokesman for full time father.
Last February he and actress Carey Lowell became the proud parents of a strapping boy they named Homer James Jigne Gere.
Are they or are they not married?
“We’re not technically married, but we call each other husband and wife. Girlfriend and boyfriend seems so reductive of what our relationship is.”
Any plans to have a traditional wedding?
“We probably will. We just haven’t found the time to even think about it.”
“It is truly the most extraordinary thing that can happen to a human being. There’s no question about that. When my son arrived and I looked into his eyes, the universe was complete.”
Because he waited until he was fifty to start a family, has that enabled him to be a better father than his father was?
“My father was a great father. And we’re still very close. But my father also had to work two jobs when we were growing up. We were five kids. I don’t think he was around as much as he would have wanted, like most working families where the mother and father had to work to put the kids through college. Certainly he never complained.
“I’m in a different situation. I’ve had the luxury the first seven months of my son’s life of being there with him most of the time. I made two films back to back before he as born, so I’ve been able to spend a lot time with him, which my father maybe wasn’t able to. There have been a few days here and there when I’ve been away, but at night I’m there with him, and in the mornings I’m there with him. I see that as a a gift I want to give my son and in the process to me as well.”
So fatherhood at fifty can be a bonus?
“I think so. I certainly have a different personality than when I was twenty-one, but of course in my father’s time people had kids very young. How could they be the same parents they would be later on? They couldn’t be as sensitive or as patient and to a certain degree as wise.”
Is that how he sees himself?
“Levels of wisdom take time to emerge. I certainly have more to offer on that level then when I was twenty-two. But that doesn’t mean I have a lot. It just means I have more, that’s all. And I’m aware of that. At this point I have the patience to focus on a child which I didn’t have at twenty two. Certainly the state of mind we have as parents imprints on him. The fact that we meditated a lot when he was conceived and all the way through the gestation period had a huge effect on him.”
Does it bother him that’s he thought of as a sex symbol?
“I don’t even consider it.”
Does it conflict with his spiritualism?
“We are all spiritual creatures. That’s essentially who we are, not what you see on the surface. It’s what’s in our hearts. Whatever one wants to call that, whatever your religious background or inclination, we all have that in common.”
There have been complaints that women are not treated fairly in Dr. T?
Does he agree?
“When Bob (Altman) and I heard that, we were kind of amused because we both adore women. We think the film is a love letter to women.”
In what way?
“Upper class American women have a difficult row to hoe. The film is about what happens to them emotionally. We were telling the story our our mothers, our sisters, our lovers, our girlfriends, our secretaries, our assistants. I mean all the women in our lives are there in the movie.”
What would be his ideal woman?
“All the women in this movie, if you put them together would be the ideal woman.”
No specific qualities he looks for?
“I like honesty, I like sensitivity, their willingness to let go, that men don’t quite have. I would rather be around women than men. And not surprisingly the men I do like tend to be more like women in that they’re sensitive, they cry easily.”
In the movie his character is having a midlife crisis.
Does Buddhism enable him to deal with that sort of thing?
“Anyone who knows anything about Buddhism knows that it empowers every situation whether it’s positive or negative. You take responsibility and in doing so you can see a wider vision of why it is happening, and what the innate meaning of it is.”
Without Buddhism would he be able to deal with it?
“I started practicing Buddhism in my early twenties so it’s hard for me to answer that. But before then I was like everyone else, aware of the dissonance between the way things were supposed to be and the way they really are. That dissonance creates alienation, unhappiness and stuff like that. I didn’t have the tools to deal with it. That’s when I started searching and it led me where I am now.”
Was it a stretch playing Dr. Travis?
“He was a character that was very new to me. He seemed someone who was kind of normal. I use the word normal because he had gone to the right schools, he was respected in his community, he had married young, had two wonderful daughters a reputable job. I usually don’t play characters like that. I even had to learn to play golf. I’ve never been in a country club before.”
And yet, in the movie, his marriage is a shambles. So when he meets Bree (played by Helen Hunt) he wants to run off with her. But when he tells her he wants to take care of everything for her, he is surprised when she answers, “Why would I want that!”
Is that what the film is telling us: women don’t want romance; they want to be treated as equals?
“Absolutely. Part of his problem in the film is his idealization of women. From his point of view, he’s offering them the best he can, when he tells them, ‘I’ll take care of everything. I’ll treat you like a child.’ Unfortunately that’s not what they want. When he realizes how suffocating that can be, he wants out of his marriage so he goes to Helen Hunt and says “You’re different. These other women are crazy.’ But he’s really telling her, ‘I’m gonna turn you into exactly what they are.’ So when she says No to him, it’s like God saying , ‘Why would I want that? ‘ And that leads him into the storm at the end of the film, in which maybe he’s dead or maybe he’s dreaming. But I’m kind of jabbering on, aren’t I?”
Was there ever a time in his life when his religion and his work were in conflict?
“I’ve never had a problem with that because I don’t do violent movies. I’ve never done movies that weren’t oriented towards character and human flaws that we all have. All the films I’ve done explore the nature of that. And all drama, all good drama is about finding, isolating human flaws and seeing how that destroys lives. It’s the nature of tragedy. And, at this point I actually write that into my contract.”
What does the Dalai Lama, his spiritual leader, think of the movies he makes?
“The truth is we’ve never discussed it. The day to day workings of my career are really very small and unimportant; the issues that we deal with are much larger.”
As a Buddhist doesn’t he look for approval?
“As a student of Buddhism, as a student of life, I look to my teachers, yeah, but I make no claim to being very spiritual. I make no claims at all.”
Has he changed over the years?
“In the truest human sense, I don’t think I’ve changed that much. You’re always leaning towards people you can trust, people that allow you to trust yourself, people that allow me to be myself. We’re all drawn to that, to be with people who encourage you to achieve the most that you can in terms of your personal life, your spiritual growth, your job. Any situation that helps me expand my heart and my mind, is a good one. Any one that shrinks me, that keeps me down, is a bad one.”