63 Minutes with Richard Gere

Our intrepid reporter spends an hour with the movies' silver fox and manages to get him to talk about everything from working with Sharon Stone and marriage to Cindy Crawford to why people gossip and, yes, a word or two on behalf of Buddhism.

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On the whole, Richard Gere would rather be in India. Or maybe anywhere else than in this elegantly spare photography studio in Culver City, perhaps Southern California's unloveliest patch of real estate. Gere, fresh from And the Band Played On, HBO's well-received journal of the early AIDS years, and Mr. Jones, in which he plays a charismatic nutcase, is about to be seen in Intersection, in which he's married to Sharon Stone but living with Lolita Davidovich. Today he has allotted one-and-a-half hours, tops, to be interviewed, during and/or after his go-round with a photographer for the cover shoot. Which is to underscore what everyone knows: after jumping from the sizzle of American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman into the permafrost of The Cotton Club, King David and Power, Gere has pulled off a rather impressive career resurrection that began with Internal Affairs and Pretty Woman.

But just over an hour with Gere for an interview? I've been at this interview stuff long enough to have a couple of reactions when luminaries impose such tight time restrictions. Namely: What is this person trying to conceal? Is it, perhaps, a power play? Or is he just bone weary of talking about himself? Not that Gere ever says much about his private self, but he has been granting interviews ever since the days when he used to meet the press at the New York storefront where he lived while still a struggling actor.

Gere has, after all, been with us for longer than you may recall. After causing a sensation as a psycho pickup in underwear in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, he was the guy Paramount promoted, neck and neck with John Travolta, as a working-class sex god. He was the "bad boy." the street-smart heart-melter playing pool in denim who, over the course of a decade, worked himself up to acting in sought-after roles for such directors as Bruce Beresford. Sidney Lumet and John Schlesinger. As time wore on, and Gere tried more and more to stretch his repertoire, he not only stumbled but found himself dogged by some of the nastier press and gossip any career has ever survived. Through it all, he has always outspokenly advocated Buddhism, ecological concerns and, in the past few years, human rights--in America as well as around the globe. Then, during a career upswing that began with Internal Affairs and continued through Sommersby with Jodie Foster, he dated and later married model Cindy Crawford and, today, if his appearance and demeanor are any indication, the actor appears to have struck a successful balance in his private life.

For all my attitude toward his interview demands, a funny thing happens once the cameras stop clicking. Gere and I are alone in a quiet room only for 63 minutes, but there isn't anything he isn't willing to discuss--to a point. I find that he is perfectly centered, focused, and, probably, as honest as he can possibly be.

STEPHEN REBELLO: Pretty Woman brought you back strongly, almost out of nowhere, and you've stayed back. Few people have been able to pull that off.

RICHARD GERE: Since Pretty Woman was a monster success [laughing], way beyond what anyone had the right to expect, that put me on the list of the 10 obvious people who get asked to do things. Every actor kind of has their niche, you know? Some people are more in the drama mode, the relationship mode, the comedy mode. Sometimes, those modes kind of swirl around.

Q: But you don't seem to get swirled into the Lethal Weapon, Die Hard mode.

A: I've been asked to do that stuff and it never particularly appeals to me. Not that I think less of anyone else that does that, but I just never thought I could learn anything from doing it. That's the "pure entertainment" mode, which is great, but it never really was my idea of doing the work. I came from the theater, where there was a whole thing about spiritual communication, psychological communication, exploration. If you can get in touch with it, then you can give it out as a gift. Usually, the kinds of scripts you mentioned are not based on a very deep exploration.

Q: How would you classify Pretty Woman, if not "pure entertainment"?

A: Pretty Woman is something I never would have done. Neither is An Officer and a Gentleman. I had no interest in these scripts whatsoever. It was the same person knocking my door down on both of them, Jeffrey Katzenberg, first at Paramount, then at Disney, who was one of my first friends out here and still is. At the point of Pretty Woman, I had been kind of out of things for a while. I consciously [had] just said, "Going off to do other things" and I fucked up my career to the point where [people weren't saying], "Well, let's get Gere to do that." I had to crawl a little bit to get scripts. Doing Internal Affairs, for instance, was a very difficult decision for me to make because, potentially, that could have been such a piece of shit.

Q: It's one of the things I've thought you were really strong in: unapologetically amoral, vicious.

A: It turns out to be one of my favorite movies and best experiences, too. [Director] Mike Figgis and I are very close. When you read that script, you had to make many leaps of faith because it could have been a major piece of shit. I didn't know if it was really going to do for me, career-wise, what had to be done to get myself back in the business. My agent was having problems getting quality things for me, the big things that I had been used to doing. As I said, I didn't like the Internal Affairs script at all, but my agent was telling me, "Oh, they want you desperately for this." I went along with the idea of having dinner with Mike Figgis and [producer] Frank Mancuso Jr. at the Imperial Gardens, and got there to find that they weren't sold on me either. None of us wanted to be there! [Laughing] So, let's say it was a very peculiar, open kind of meeting because of that. I just told 'em what I thought the possibilities were for the script and Mike and I were totally on the same wavelength. The movie turned out okay, I was feeling pretty good about it, but it was a small picture.

Q: And along came Pretty Woman ...

A: It came up and it was very frivolous and silly. There was no part for the guy. It had nothing going for it. It was very easy for me to say to Jeffrey Katzenberg, "You're crazy." And he kept on me and on me. Finally, I met Garry Marshall and loved him. In the kitchen of my house, we didn't talk about the script, we talked about Dostoevsky. One thing lead to another and I started to see something I could bring to this. But it was a fairly mercantile decision, not a soul decision. Made the movie, had a great time making the movie and, probably because of the lack of pressure to do something important, I was able to explore other things in myself and as a man, too. I think I found a much freer way of working in that film, which I've used ever since.

Q: One nice thing I can say about that one is how effortlessly you hold the screen, you're really present, yet you let Julia Roberts shine. Not as easy as it looks.

A: I told Garry I couldn't have done that 10 years before. There was just too much intensity. [Laughing] I couldn't have been that still. It takes age and a little maturity to be able to play like that and still have weight. You don't disappear because you're not doing anything. Any actor knows that the easiest thing in the world is a part where you're climbing the walls and the scenery. An actor is built to do that, to be a maniac. They have the emotional and the psychic stuff to do that. We're not equipped to be normal. Normal people don't become actors.

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