Richard Gere is the quintessential movie star. The man who gets the Pretty Woman. The American Gigolo. An Officer and a Gentleman. But now for the first time he has a lead role in a TV series, BBC2’s eight-part MotherFatherSon. He’s obviously older now. At 69, he’s the father of the piece.
He plays Max, a global media tycoon – a man who’s had a difficult past, is well liked and a little feared, an influencer who takes tea with the prime minister. A man who has a difficult relationship with his son Caden, which unravels as the series progresses.
His role as a paternal figure on television coincides with him becoming a new father himself, with the arrival last month of a son with third wife Alejandra Silva.
What drew him at this stage in his career to a TV series? “The selling point was the script. I thought it’s really good. But to start, I only had one episode. I said, ‘I can’t possibly make a decision based on one.’ Apparently, people do that in TV, but I can’t. After five or six episodes were written, I felt I could commit.”
They must have wanted him pretty badly to write almost the whole thing for him to see… He shrugs. “Well, they had to write it anyhow. And once I read it, I thought it was great and would work on so many different levels. It’s a family drama, a mother, father, son, albeit a divorced family but that’s our world, isn’t it? It’s about politics, media, big stuff in our lives. It’s honest and smart. Billy [Howle, who plays his son] is astonishing. I was so impressed with him both personally and as an actor – the same with Helen [McCrory, his screen ex-wife]. She comes to work and she works hard.”
I wonder if he’d seen her in BBC2’s Peaky Blinders? He looks at me as if I’m talking in tongues. “I don’t really watch much television except the news.” When pressed, he admits to liking The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. “I have a very full life and, honestly, TV is not high on my priority list.”
How did TV compare with making a movie? “It was six months’ shooting, like doing four indie movies back to back but playing the same character. It’s too long. I don’t think I’ll do it again.”
I wonder, perhaps, if it was because he didn’t like his character that he didn’t enjoy spending six months with him. Max is a little… harsh. Gere leaps to his defence, as only a man who truly knows him could. “I don’t think he’s harsh. He’s clear about what he wants and what he’s doing.
“Max is fair. He cares about people. The people who work for him like him. He knows who they are, their names, what they do. He’s not a typical guy. He grew up in his father’s steel factories in Pennsylvania. He was a rather sensitive soul who his father wanted to make tougher. He’d spend time and eat his lunch with the workers, so there’s this side to him that’s very proletarian, even though his father owned the factory. That part he carries with him.”
Max (Richard Gere), Angela (Sarah Lancashire) in MotherFatherSon (BBC)
In the first episode he clashes with his son’s sensibilities. “I know… I think men don’t get executive control of their minds and their hearts until they’re in their late 20s and it’s hard for Caden to be the boss of people who are much more experienced – and he’s the boss’s son.”
Caden is the editor of the British newspaper his father owns. It comes across as a scary place. “It’s a deep, honest exploration of journalism, publicity and the potentially dark mix of bad politics. I don’t think journalism has to be dark but it’s certainly competitive. I’m old enough to remember when news was not expected to make money. It was a service and people who worked in that area felt they were doing something that was profound, like telling the truth… And also the press in the UK is particularly difficult.”
Gere has experienced how difficult the British press can be. His UK clippings are a bizarre mix of cruel and toxic stories, littered with urban myths. He shrugs. “I don’t care. The thing is, why worry about things I have no control over? If I have control over something, I’ll care about it. So let’s just talk about MotherFatherSon.”
Clarity features big in Gere’s life. He’s a fan of being calm and clear, which may come across as brusque but makes him a magnetic presence. Back to the drama then. Was his father/son relationship similar to the one he portrays? “To tell you the truth, the only similarity was probably the location. My parents grew up not far away from where my character grew up. Beyond that I had a very different mother and father.” His father worked for an insurance company and his mother was a housewife. “Max is driven by the idea that you have a limited number of years on this planet, make something of them. I think all of us feel that way, especially when we have kids.”
He slips effortlessly into an excited smile about his own – the new baby, as well as his six-year-old stepson from his wife’s previous marriage and his eldest with actress/model Carey Lowell. Homer (named after Gere’s father) lives with him in upstate New York and is on a gap year before starting college. “He’s everything better than me. I love him.” Despite his glittering Hollywood career, it seems the best role Gere will ever play is that of the father – whether he’ll reprise it on British TV, however, is doubtful.
This article was originally published in the 2-8 March 2019 issue of Radio Times magazine