Richard Gere has enjoyed — and is still enjoying — the sort of hugely successful, long, eclectic career that nearly every actor would kill for. Gere started gathering serious attention in Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” in 1978, but it was his role as the titular “American Gigolo” in Paul Schrader’s now-iconic 1980 film that vaulted him to Hollywood stardom. He went on to sweep Debra Winger off her feet in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and saved Julia Roberts from a life of prostitution in “Pretty Woman” (reteaming later with Roberts on “Runaway Bride”). Gere tackled song and dance with “The Cotton Club” and “Chicago,” danced around the law as a corrupt cop in “Internal Affairs” and donned armor as Lancelot in “First Knight.” More recently, he’s walked on the seamier side of Wall Street (“Arbitrage”) and stayed over at “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
The Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival is honoring Gere with its Crystal Globe for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema. Now 65, he’s at that age when receiving lifetime achievement awards has become “almost a regular gig,” he notes wryly. “The first time was at San Sebastian six years ago, and they ran all these clips of my movies, and for me it was like seeing my whole life. A lot of water’s gone down the river, and there’s been a lot of crossings, a lot of missteps — and you certainly see most of them when you see your own films.”
With nearly 60 films under his belt, Gere attributes his longevity to a winning combination of “picking good material, good timing and luck. And I’ve never done anything just for the money. The most important thing was to just keep working, with the best people and situations I could find, right from the start.”
Starting with “Days of Heaven” (“we were all beginners, trying to figure it out”) he has fond memories of working with such iconoclastic directors as Francis Ford Coppola on “The Cotton Club” (“he’s a big opera fan, so it’s all about opera, really”) and Robert Altman on “Dr. T and the Women” — “(Altman was) a close friend and a sweetheart.”
As for the monster hit “Pretty Woman,” he says Garry Marshall’s idea “to turn a very dark story into this frothy Cinderella romantic comedy was a stroke of genius — and Julia was the wild exotic flower in the middle. But you can’t go back and capture that same magic ever again, or there’d be a 100 of them.”
Instead, Gere has kept driving forward and pushing himself to play new, interesting characters, he says. In the haunting “Time Out of Mind,” Oren Moverman’s drama due out in September, Gere stars as a mentally ill, homeless man adrift in New York. With his tired, worn face now a million miles away from that of his sex symbol youth, the star gives a deeply felt performance that feels entirely devoid of actorly tics and vanity.
“I bought the script and worked on it for 12 years,” he says. “It took that long to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it, and to really understand the character.”
And in the upcoming “Franny,” Gere plays another character struggling with his inner demons — but this time he’s an eccentric, wealthy philanthropist tortured by his role in the accidental death of his two best friends.
“He’s a very complex man — very guilt-ridden, yes, but also full of joy and generosity,” explains the actor. “He’s annoying, but entertaining, and ultimately someone who can make it and transform himself.”
Gere, who has “no intention” of slowing down, has already completed a third film due for release this year, the thriller “Oppenheimer Strategies,” directed by Joseph Cedar.
“He’s probably the best Israeli director out there, and it’s his first international film,” he notes. “It’s a brilliant script, so I have high hopes for it.”
Gere’s Top Pix
“I just saw Jean Renoir’s masterpiece again recently, and I’d forgotten just how funny it is. It’s a very charming movie, smart and timeless.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “It Happened One Night” (pictured)
“I love all of the Capra films — they’re always a delight.”
“Like Capra, I love everything Preston Sturges did, the screwball comedy, the great writing, the energy, and if any of his films come up on Turner Classic Movies, it’s very hard to turn it down. I tell you, I spend most of my time on TCM.”
“The Bicycle Thief”
(Vittorio De Sica)
“Another favorite from De Sica. You can watch that over and over and never tire of it.”
Other favorites: “I love almost everything (Ingmar) Bergman did. I came out of that era, the ’60s and ’70s …, so all that and (Michelangelo) Antonioni and (Federico) Fellini are just great. (Rainer Werner) Fassbinder was a friend of mine, and I loved all his films too, and Werner Herzog. That whole time was when I was trying to figure out who I was, and stretching myself, and those are all the films and filmmakers that meant a lot to me.”