Richard Gere stars in a tense new thriller called Arbitrage, which is released in cinemas on Friday, March 1. The Hollywood superstar talks about playing a billionaire, working with Susan Sarandon and his experience working on Pretty Woman.

By Susan Griffin

Tricky, earnest and difficult are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe Richard Gere in interviews over the years. The man's not a fan of media work, of that we know.

So it's a surprise when the star, notably on time, walks along the hotel corridor towards the group of journalists waiting to speak to him and greets us with a friendly wave.

"Hi, how are you doing?" he says, flashing a smile. It might not sound like much, but that small gesture is more than most actors of his stature deign to make.

Later, in a suite and talking about his latest movie Arbitrage, he's equally as charming.

He might be rather serious, but Gere actually listens to questions rather than ramble from pre-approved lines.

These days it takes a lot for the actor, 63, to leave his boutique hotel in upstate New York, the place he shares with former model and Bond girl Carey Lowell, his wife of 10 years, and their 13-year-old son Homer, but Arbitrage stood out.

"My agents were very clever," he explains. "They gave me the script and I said, 'Tell me more'. They said, 'No, just read the script'.

"I've obviously read a lot of scripts in my lifetime... I read it and it was really terrific," adds the white-haired actor who's looking great in a grey suit and light blue shirt from which a Buddhist chain (he's been a Buddhist for most of his adult life) can be seen peeping through.

The fact that Arbitrage was set in New York was another draw but, as it transpired, there was one area of concern.

"My agents said, 'The good news is the script, the bad news is he's never made a movie before'," says Gere, referring to burgeoning director and screenwriter Nicholas Jarecki.

A graduate from NYU Film School, Jarecki had written a book on how famous film directors started out, followed by a documentary.

"Directing a movie's not the easiest thing to do on the planet," says Gere, sipping his green tea. "I took a deep breath and went, 'Look, he wrote the script, so let's spend some time together'."

That they did, beginning with a three-hour meeting in a restaurant that concluded with them playing out one of the scenes: Gere as the billionaire protagonist Robert Miller and Jarecki as his mistress.

"We yelled at each other in character," recalls Jarecki. "Then he grabbed my arm and pushed me up against the wall, staring deeply into my eyes. I said, 'I would kiss you right now'."

Gere does indeed boast impenetrable dark brown eyes. It's little wonder his own sister (Gere is one of five siblings) once said he's been "a brooder since the age of two".

But what Jarecki lacked in movie experience, he made up for in knowledge of the film's subject matter. As the son of traders, he knows the "financial world very well", says Gere.

"We were connecting about how to do rewrites, and he was a good listener, so it was a very collaborative week or two while I was making a decision."

In the end the actor decided to jump in and the result is a taut, suspense thriller about hedge fund magnate Miller that begins on the eve of his 60th birthday.

On the surface he appears to be the epitome of success, but behind the gilded walls of his mansion he's in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading to a major bank before the depths of his fraud are revealed.

Gere says he wasn't interested in conveying Miller as an all-out villain. "It's the job of an actor to make any character human - any character.

"I chose to make this guy as multi-dimensional as I could because I've never met someone who was one thing. Especially guys like this who are very complex. To find the holes and the sensitivities and insecurities in a guy like this was a lot of fun."

Miller's decisions aren't always conventionally moral but, like many characters in the movie, he tells himself he's doing the wrong thing for the right reason.

"I don't think any of us are true all the time," says Gere. "There's an element of spin in almost everything we do as human beings and I didn't find him out of the realm of my knowledge of human behaviour or even myself.

"I've made very bad decisions in my life. Not to the degree this guy does," he adds, laughing.

Raised in a small town outside New York, the young Gere's mother would take him and his siblings to musical lessons, and it wasn't unknown for the Methodist family to gather around the piano for an old-fashioned sing-song.

Gaining a gymnastics scholarship, he studied philosophy at the University Of Massachusetts but dropped out to "get serious about acting".

He successfully auditioned for a rock opera before taking the lead in Grease when it opened in London. After a couple of small film parts, he landed his first substantial role in 1977's Looking For Mr Goodbar with Diane Keaton. "It was one of the first American movies that was meant to be sexual," says Gere.

He went on to play a male prostitute in American Gigolo, a movie famed for the character's immaculate Armani wardrobe even though the actor says he "didn't even own a suit then".

Then along came An Officer And A Gentleman (who doesn't remember those iconic final scenes of a uniformed Gere lifting Debra Winger into his arms?) followed by Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts.

He's since admitted he wasn't sure about doing the latter, but industry friends talked him into it.

"They're a lifetime ago," he says now. "I saw An Officer And A Gentleman in New York not that long ago and of course I recognise it but in many ways it was another person.

"Thank God I like the movies, I think they're good movies, so they're very easy to live with."

In the 23 years since Pretty Woman was released, Gere has appeared in a wide range of movies, from drama and action to romance and musicals, but not once has he been nominated for an Oscar.

This year he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Arbitrage but was ignored by Oscar once again.

Is he miffed? "You know, I thought more about the movie. If there were nominations it would help the film. We didn't have a big studio behind us, and we shot it very quickly on a small budget."

But he's not feeling jaded about the movie industry, explaining: "I love making films but I don't want to waste time, so I have to have some sort of strong connection to the material, and the people, to want to do it.

"But I still like making movies, yeah. It's fun and still play for me."

Extra time - Richard Gere :: Richard Gere was born on August 31, 1949, and his middle name is Tiffany.

:: Having first travelled to Tibet in 1978, he later founded Tibet House, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture.

:: He is an accomplished pianist and trumpet player.

:: He was married the supermodel Cindy Crawford in the early Nineties.

:: In 1994 he donated his £50,000 wage for opening the Harrods sale to Survival International, another charity he actively supports.