Richard Gere. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Richard Gere is on roll.
Since January, when the 63-year-old actor's Wall Street-set drama "Arbitrage" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a string of glowing reviews, buzz surrounding his star turn as a morally compromised billionaire financier has turned into a veritable din of impending awards season accolades. None of the gurus of gold, however, predicted Gere's current Hollywood hat trick.
The preternaturally well-preserved performer's accomplishment: Nabbing a trifecta of lifetime achievement awards — from the Hollywood Film Awards, the Zurich Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival — in what must be record time: just under two months flat.
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"That should qualify me for another one, for getting three so fast," said Gere, breaking into a cat-who-ate-the-canary grin, apparently unaware that a retrospective of his films is set to screen at the American Cinematheque next month. The actor grew serious, though, adding with the kind of aplomb that has become intrinsic to his status as the A-list's most high-profile Tibetan Buddhist: "I am, with humility, accepting the generosity. I don't take it particularly personally."
Of course, such career backslaps usually carry codified meaning during awards season. They tend to augur either impending death, senility or an Oscar nomination.
The spry actor who regularly turns down movie roles to focus on non-Hollywood concerns — such as receiving teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom Gere had met up with in Connecticut just prior to arriving in Los Angeles for his latest career accolade — the guy People magazine dubbed 1999 Sexiest Man Alive shows no sign of nearing life's end zone. But he finds himself at a milestone with "Arbitrage," winning praise for a performance that has been hailed by more than a few movie critics as Gere's finest — a standout among standout performances in such diverse fare as "An Officer and a Gentleman," "American Gigolo," "Internal Affairs," "Primal Fear" and "Chicago."
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In "Arbitrage," written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki, Gere portrays Robert Miller, a Bernie Madoff-esque oracle of Wall Street with a silver mane of hair and an even more sterling reputation. The walls of the character's privileged world start closing in after a $400-million all-in investment starts going south and Miller's mistress is killed. He must resort to more and more elaborate subterfuge to intellectually outpace his wife (Susan Sarandon), his Ivanka Trump-like executive daughter (Brit Marling) and a New York police detective (Tim Roth) who's dead set on pinning Miller with a murder rap.
But as despicable as Miller may be, Gere's performances has audiences rooting for him. The actor humanized the part by taking the Madoff-inspired character in a different direction than the script dictated, basing his performance on character traits cribbed from America's 42nd president.
"The Bill Clinton thing came out of how different people express their alpha-ness," said Gere, from a leafy spot on a patio at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "You can be a tough guy, a Mussolini, a Madoff, a Bill Clinton. He's still bullish, but he's not a bully. His stock in trade is he's going to charm his way out of every situation. He understands people really well. You don't win from confrontation. It's a softer energy."
The last time Gere was this deep in the awards scrum, things didn't turn out so well. Portraying the fast-talking, tap-dancing defense lawyer Billy Flynn in 2002's adaptation of the musical "Chicago," many movie pundits considered Gere a lock for a lead actor Academy Award nod. But come nomination morning, he recalled his dismay at discovering that castmates John C. Reilly, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Queen Latifah, as well as director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon, were all in the running for an Oscar while Gere was not. (The movie went on to win best picture.)
"It was like, 'They got nominated and they got nominated. And they got nominated … and they got nominated. Awww,'" Gere said trailing off in mock disappointment at not hearing his name. "It was kind of like not getting picked on the baseball team when you're a kid."
It all begged a question specific to Gere's predicament: Isn't one of Tibetan Buddhism's central tenets to "realize emptiness"? To set aside all of one's worldly desires like, say, landing an Oscar?
The actor laid out the hypotheticals of how a snub might actually lead to death and dismemberment. "There's infinite numbers of things that come up," the actor said. "You go, 'Awww.' Which could then turn into, 'Well, … them!' Right? And then the anger, it's always escalating, becomes thoughts of revenge. And I go, 'Well, I'll get back at them!' But if you stop it, catch it right in the beginning, it's fine. Not a big deal."
Another question sat there begging. If Gere doesn't get nominated for "Arbitrage," will he try to blow up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?
"It'll blow itself up," he said, smiling again.
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