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 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 11:13 GMT
Richard Gere: On guard
Private pacifist

As the film of the musical "Chicago" opens in the UK, many people will be surprised to see a singing, tap-dancing Richard Gere. But then contradiction seems to have been the only constant in his life.
The movie that made him a star illustrated the ambiguity of the actor. In contrast to the full frontal nudity of his American Gigolo in 1980, Gere maintained that he was hopelessly shy.

He still does. And whether it's shyness or rudeness that sometimes make him appear rather hostile, few seem to penetrate his defensive shield.

Diane Lane, who worked with Gere in The Cotton Club, said: "I feel I don't know him at all, and I imagine he would like that."

Gere says his Chicago song and dance routines are simply a return to his roots, which lie in Syracuse, in upstate New York, where he grew up after being born in Philadelphia.

Gere playing trumpet in The Cotton Club
Richard Gere, music man
The second of five children of an insurance salesman and a housewife, his parents were musical Methodists.

Their skills didn't extend to dance, and Gere says the Chicago tap routines were "extremely painful".

But although he's now 53, at least he possessed the athletic legacy for the challenge, having once won a gymnastics scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, where he read philosophy before dropping out.

We have to learn how to forgive

Richard Gere on 9/11

Singing he took in his somewhat swaggering stride, since Gere's CV includes stints with several rock bands before he arrived in New York City to play Danny Zuko in Grease, a role he reprised in London's West End in 1973.

In the cinema, he first attracted attention as Diane Keaton's menacing pick-up in Looking for Mr Goodbar, but it was American Gigolo that had women simmering.

Rumours about marriage

It's a tribute to Gere that although he was called upon only as a replacement for John Travolta, it's difficult to imagine anyone more effective in the role of the tortured, narcissistic predator.

Travolta apparently got cold feet, but the film's director, Paul Schrader, said: "In one day, Richard Gere asked all the questions that Travolta hadn't asked in six months."

He didn't care for the celebrity which accompanied the film's success. "I was confused and insulted by it," he says.

"There's something inherent in the job that doesn't foster maturation. You've got to have your emotions on the surface."

A smiling Richard Gere
Gere turns on the charm
When the world's second most famous Buddhist married supermodel Cindy Crawford, it seemed another contradiction. But it wasn't a clash of lifestyles but rumours about the couple's sexual orientation that entertained the gossip-mongers.

The couple responded with a full-page advertisement in the Times, announcing: "We are heterosexual and monogamous and take our commitment to each other very seriously." They separated within six months.

Richard Gere claims that making movies is about communicating feelings rather than a pursuit of fame and money, but his two best-known films were probably less successful in his primary ambition.

Still sexy

While Gere excels at sexual tension, some critics found him less accomplished in the more romantic love scenes of An Officer and a Gentleman, in 1982.

In 1990, the tart-with-a-heart story of Pretty Woman proved a big box-office hit, but Gere called Julia Roberts' role "a Disney prostitute".

Richard Gere with his wife, Carey Lowell
Richard Gere with wife, Carey Lowell
"I don't think you have to read much into it," he says, but he's amazed how the movie "has touched everyone, every culture, all over the world".

Pretty Woman re-established Gere as a star, after a series of 80s films such as King David, Power and Miles from Home, which garnered neither critical nor commercial success.

As recently as 1999, Gere was still being voted the World's Sexiest Man and, despite his bifocals and greying hair, can by all accounts still arouse the odd frisson of excitement in the female breast.

He is generally interesting when doing less.

Film critic David Thomson
That appears to be of little importance to Gere, however, whose chief motivation is his family. Only one day after denying that he and his partner of six years, Carey Lowell, planned to marry, they did.

His marriage to Cindy Crawford is said to have foundered upon his reluctance to have children. Now he says his son of nearly three, Homer, is "the joy of my life".

Seeking Nirvana

With Carey Lowell, a former star of the American TV series, Law and Order, her daughter, and Homer, Gere says he has discovered "levels of patience I never knew I had".

Though, in another contradiction, some interviewers have found him as guarded and uncooperative as ever.

Gere with the Dalai Lama
Gere with the Dalai Lama

As a practising Buddhist, who meditates daily and campaigns for Tibet, Gere believes we are all looking for healing. "I could live with that as a description of a lot of my films," he says.

His search for healing off screen has provoked anger.

He was booed and accused of being un-American at a benefit concert for the victims of the 11 September attacks when he said: "We have to learn how to forgive."

Richard Gere views an assumption that someone knows about themselves as "pretty ludicrous".

But he has "total confidence" that his search for Nirvana through non-violence, forgiveness and compassion is "the right path".

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