Gere still leading material
Good genes, says Richard Gere dismissively, when asked why at 63 years old he's still getting the headline roles.
It's true that he strides through the Wall St morality tale Arbitrage like a male model: sharply cut suits, severe spectacles, chiselled cheekbones and crinkled mane (his hairdresser is name-checked in the end credits).
Not that the man who wore the white sailor suit in An Officer and a Gentleman will allow himself to be called a sex symbol. "I never paid any attention to that, to tell you the truth, at 33, so I don't pay attention to that now," says Gere, down a crackly cellphone line from Los Angeles, where he's been "for some awards thing".
Actually, he reveals, he was never convinced that some of the sentimental guff in An Officer and a Gentleman would work. "I was reluctant," he confirms. "So we dove in and we did a lot of working with the script, rethinking, doing some rewriting in the end and a lot of what I thought was sentimental was playable, if you filled it out enough." He saw it for the first time in years at a recent screening. "And I was amazed how well it held up."
This talk of "filling out" suggests an unusual level of involvement for a leading man, even one with four decades' experience, to take in script and direction. "For whatever reasons, I have always been involved and always invited to be involved; it's nothing I've ever had to fight to do," says Gere. "I guess I've been lucky enough to work with some very collaborative people who never saw it as anything negative, only as a positive, and I assumed that was the way it was always done."
And so it was with Arbitrage and the film's rookie director Nicholas Jarecki. "This script came out of nowhere," says Gere, who read it on a flight home to New York, where he lives with his former model wife Carey Lowell and his 12-year-old son. "It was a terrific script, and a terrific character, it had a great structure to it, it dealt with our world today and it was a part I thought I could bring something to, so that was all good. The bad news was the writer-director had never done a film before, so it was a bit of a leap to get it. We got there after a couple of meetings and I felt confidence we could do it. I basically looked him in the eye and felt he wouldn't fail."
And is he happy? "It's even better than I had hoped."
This is a tad superlative. In its tale of a fallen master of the universe, it seems derivative of Bonfire of the Vanities, and the characterisation beyond Gere's is somewhat thin. But, in the role of financier Robert Miller, Gere does get something to work with. Miller, a deeply dislikeable egotist, is tussling with personal and business upheaval, both of his own making - he's deep into a rather dodgy business deal when he accidentally kills his lover.
"Bernie Madoff was always the elephant in the room; it wasn't a good fit because Bernie Madoff was such a sociopath it was hard to identify with him," says Gere. "That was really not the character in the script - he was a guy with some moral failings, not a sociopath. It was closer in terms of style to the kind of emotional immaturity, to Bill Clinton . . . this kind of personality is based on intelligence and charm."
This suggests he actually liked Miller. "I don't make value judgments on characters," he says primly. "What's good is I got a lot of interesting feedback from friends; they know this guy is a scoundrel, but they identified with him and wanted him to successfully get out of trouble."
Gere does have one theory why he has been around so long - that he's "still interested, still curious about the world, the nature of human emotions and how we continually try to achieve happiness and do everything we can to create the opposite".
A practising Buddhist, he's a longstanding campaigner for an independent Tibet. He tells that me a day before we spoke there was a self-immolation by a protester in Tibet. He says he will always be involved in the campaign and believes that, despite China's long intransigence on the issue, change looms. "With non-violence, you need patience, it doesn't happen quickly . . . but when you achieve something through non-violence, it means then it is lasting," he says. "It's a true course. Change will come from within China. It will probably be quite rapid now and will absolutely resonate through the entire Chinese empire."
Oh, and the American election? He says Obama is "the only choice". He doesn't trust Romney.
Gere has promoted Arbitrage heavily - he's just back from its launch in Abu Dhabi, where he was also scouting a potential project. He's on message, so this he won't talk about. He is willing to deny online chatter that he's about to direct a film about the New York Yankees; "totally untrue" he says, and I resist the temptation to ask if it's as untrue as the debunked 1980s urban myth about him and a hamster.
Actually, he says he has nothing lined up. "I have no expectations one way or another," he replies, when I ask what he wants to do. "I take it project by project, whatever interests me and comes up, is what I do. I wasn't particularly looking for this character or this story [Arbitrage], it was the quality of it was so superior to everything else I had been reading." He grants "a few" scripts await his attention. "And at 63 years old," he says, "I am still surprised that there are scripts that interest me and people want me to do."
Arbitrage, in cinemas now
Sunday Star Times