He once played a sexy gigolo and now still turns heads as a ‘silver fox’ – Richard Gere is all that and so much more.

Richard Gere may be a famous movie star, but according to him it’s the “least interesting thing” about his life. Not that he doesn’t appreciate the privileges that come with having earned an estimated net worth of $250 million thanks to his highly successful acting career, but he has never flaunted his wealth and prefers to travel the world with a simply orange Tibetan backpack rather than with a personal entourage. Arriving in Taormina, where he was honoured with a life achievement award by the prestigious Sicilian Film Festival, Gere was in high spirits as he chatted amiably with fans and other well-wishers during his stay in the historic city. He admits to enjoying life “more than ever” and insists that his son Homer is the guiding light of his life.

Following up on last year’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the 65-yearold Gere has two new films in the pipeline, both of which are expected to be released later this year in Australia. First up is The Benefactor (formerly entitled Franny), a drama which sees him playing a multimillionaire philanthropist who inserts himself into the lives of newly-married couples as a way of helping them as well as enabling him to relive his past. Dakota Fanning and Theo James co-star. Later audiences can find Gere starring in Oppenheimer Strategies as a low-level fixer who befriends a politician at a low point in his career only to watch him become an influential world leader – and in the process sees his own life transformed radically.

During his Italian sojourn, Gere was in the constant company of his new girlfriend, Spanish socialite Alejandra Silva, 32, and was also accompanied by his son Homer. Gere has recently divorced Carey Lowell, whom he married in 2002 before separating in 2013.

Sitting down with Richard Gere is always an illuminating experience:

Richard, you’ve been greeted by huge crowds here in Taormina. How does it make you feel?

GERE: I love Italy and I feel very Italian. I feel blessed by the love that I’ve been shown here. I try to meet and speak to as many of the people as I can. Being successful and popular is important in my work, but as a human being it’s much more important to connect with people, to show your empathy, and find those beautiful little moments that are meaningful and go beyond the superficial side of things.

Do you actively try to break down the whole sex symbol aura that surrounds you?

GERE: At no time in my life have I ever felt like a sex symbol. (Laughs) It’s an illusion. But the work you do and the spirit that you give to it does have an impact on people, and that I can take pride in.

A few years ago, when I was shooting in Bosnia on the movie The Hunting Party, a young journalist told me: “I thank you, because my mother and my grandmother and I have always enjoyed your work. You’re the idol of three generations.” It was the sweetest compliment I’ve ever received.

How has fatherhood changed you?

GERE: You learn patience and openness and generosity, but mainly I’ve understood the feeling of joy. Life itself is joy and it’s all around us. You usually don’t pay any attention to it because we’re so busy doing our lives, but joy is everywhere and the core of that joy is love.

Buddhism continues to remain a very important aspect of your life?

GERE: Yes. Buddhism has taught me and continues to teach me to look inside myself more deeply, to worry less and less about the opinions of others and to share the pain and the joy of other human beings. It’s also been helpful in enabling me to dominate the anger I carried with me as a young man.

I once had a bad temper and I’ve learnt not to take things personally. It’s so much better to be able to subdue anger. I still get upset if I don’t react in a good way to certain situations. If I get angry I run the risk of hurting someone’s feelings and I can’t forgive myself on the rare occasions when I allow that to happen.

You’re working as much as ever. Is it still satisfying to make movies after more than 30 years in the business?

GERE: I love the experience of working with other actors, getting to know them, enjoying moments on the set where you learn about their lives and develop a bond during that time.

I’ve just done four movies in a row and never thought that I would still be working as much at this point in my life and would keep finding interesting stories. I consider myself lucky.

How does it feel to be 65?

GERE: I feel like I’m 26 years old except whenever I look in the mirror I see a man who’s in his 60s with white hair and wrinkles! (Laughs) But it doesn’t feel that strange. You have to accept all phases of life and appreciate that you improve with age spiritually and on so many other levels even though your body may be wearing down. But so far I haven’t fallen apart!