Gere still travels with the perks of movie stardom - the private plane, the limo from the airport, the hotel manager waiting to greet him, and the butler assigned to his suite. Young and attractive women still wait for a glimpse of him in hotel lobbies and seem to gasp when he walks by, some of them voicing disappointment at the ­presence of his wife, actress Carey Lowell. But he is more likely to be dealing with global health issues or a political impasse than with matters related to his film career.

Sometimes Gere pushes his celebrity too far, as happened earlier this year when his efforts to increase voter turnout in the Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip seemed to fall flat. But he is undaunted, expanding the work of his two nonprofit organizations (the Gere Foundation and Healing the Divide) to address a variety of problems. His strategy usually revolves around an effort to get politicians, creatives, and business titans to work together for a common educational goal that relies on access to the media to get the message across. And he knows this media exposure depends, to a large degree, on his own celebrity status.

He admits that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At first, he thought charisma alone might be enough to galvanize the fight against AIDS in India, but he found that much more hard work was needed to get programs started.

"I've been involved in the AIDS fight since the very earliest days, right in the beginning, when friends of mine were dying," he says. "This is clearly the worst pandemic ever to hit the human race, and our grandchildren will be asking, 'What did you do? Who did something and who didn't?' And I insist on being someone who did something. Through my constant trips to India, it became clear that India was the place it would go next. So I dove into that, kind of naively, thinking if I just brought my movie-star thing to it - do some events, do some interviews - it would create a tipping point for action, and the people who do these kinds of things would do their job. It was foolish and naive on my part because there was no mechanism in place for people to do anything; it had to be started from ground zero. That's what we've been doing the last five years. We needed to expand, we needed more money, and Bill Gates funded us. He's got serious energy and serious money."

Helped by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a comprehensive anti-AIDS project in India, Gere met with the prime minister and brought together the hugely influential Indian film community to raise awareness about the way HIV is spreading throughout the country. This is in addition to his lobbying work on behalf of Tibet and other projects in the Middle East and elsewhere.

With Gere maintaining so many commitments in various parts of the world, it is not surprising that Gere's wife is reluctant to see him take on additional save-the-world projects. He says that he is also reluctant to shoulder new responsibilities in various trouble spots because he already spends so much time away from his family.

"I've stayed away from a lot of places because my wife will kill me if I get involved with anything else," Gere says, as Lowell relaxes out of earshot in the next room. "Of course, she wants me to slow down and be home more. I ask her, 'Look, are you okay with this?' when I'm starting something new. And sometimes she says, 'No, I can't let you do any more, it's gonna hurt us.' And usually I listen."