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Though 62-year-old Richard Gere has had a life of being both a sex symbol and controversial, he mixes the two with a steadfast wit and sincerity.
That spirit was sufficently displayed when he appeared this month for a special screening of An Officer and A Gentleman in celebration of Paramount Pictures’ 100th anniversary at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in New York City -- part of the Motion Picture Academy's monthly series that plays past Oscar winners.
Born in Philadelphia, Pa, on August 31, 1949, Richard Tiffany Gere began acting in the 1970s, and, after his breakout the 1977 thriller Looking for Mr. Goodbar, won a starring role in director Terrence Malick's well-reviewed 1978 film, Days of Heaven.
With his starring role in 1980's American Gigolo Gere was established as both a leading man and sex symbol. He went on to make such hits as the romantic drama An Officer and a Gentleman (which grossed an incredible $130+ million in '82), Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, and Chicago, for which he won a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the Best Cast.
Though Gere was raised by Methodists, an interest in Buddhism began when in his 20s (first studying Zen under Kyozan Joshu Sasaki) turned into a full-blown practice. After having studied Zen for five or six years, Gere traveled to Nepal in 1978 with the Brazilian painter, Sylvia Martins where he met many Tibetan monks and lamas. He then met the 14th Dalai Lama in India and became a practicing Buddhist of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism and an active supporter of the Dalai Lama. Gere visits Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, regularly.
Gere is also a persistent advocate for human rights in Tibet; he is a co-founder of the Tibet House, creator of The Gere Foundation, and he is Chairman of the Board of Directors for theInternational Campaign for Tibet. Because he strongly supports the Tibetan Independence Movement, he is permanently banned from entering the People's Republic of China.
Gere was banned as an Academy Award presenter in 1993 after he denounced the Chinese government in his capacity as presenter.
In September 2007, Gere called for the boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to put pressure on China to make Tibet independent. He starred in Free Tibet-themed Lancia commercial featuring the Lancia Delta. On June 27, 2011 Richard Gere meditated in Borobudur temple.
Gere campaigns for ecological causes and AIDS awareness. He currently serves on the Board of Directors forHealing the Divide, an organization that supports global initiatives to promote peace, justice and understanding.
Q: When is the last time you saw An Officer and a Gentleman?
RG: Every once and a while, I could be jet lagged somewhere all over the world and this movie is playing on MTV in the middle of the night and I’ll watch a scene or two. But I haven’t watched the whole movie since we made it.
I think there’s stuff in here that isn’t usually seen. Like stuff in the beginning in the Philippines and with the whores and the beginning with my father. A lot of that stuff I don’t think is ever shown. It certainly is not going to be on television. So, this has been a very emotional experience.
Q: Is this also the first time you watched it with your wife Carrie -- who is here as well?
RG: I am very happy to share that. Stand up, Carrie.
it’s funny, I’m at an age now… I’m in the dinosaur age where I get these awards for the career. They put together these clips of my career but it’s my life. You know, from when I was a kid to now, so these are really deep experiences for me to see these other times in my life but also to remember…
I remember everything about making this movie, everything. Everything you can’t see. When there wasn’t a movie I remember and what we went through to make the movie and the initial meetings we had to make the movie. And the time of my life it was when we did this. I mean it was all…I’m getting flooded with the whole thing. It’s very emotional for me.
Q: As you were about to make this film, you broke out in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. You worked with Terrence Malick in Days Of Heaven. You had just come off American Gigolo. Where was your head at -- were you thinking about what would be the next thing you were going to do? How obvious of a decision was it to do this movie, or was it something you had to think about?
RG: Well, I was trying to remember that today. I was doing some interviews. It was strange. I came to… this is the short version of my career. I left college started repertory theater and then I came to New York when I was about 20. I was very fortunate to be able to work very quickly.
I had very long hair then. I could play a lot of instruments and sing and I could move, which then we call it dancing. In a rock opera, that was dancing. So, I was very lucky to be working but I think I started making movies when I was 26 and it was with Terry, it was with Terrence Malick was the first movie I made.
Then a year after we made it we reshot and then he edited for another year. So it was actually not the first movie that came out but it was the first movie I made. It created enough attention that it led to other movies. I made like three movies. I think I was making the fourth one when I came back to New York. There were three movies playing at the cinemas on Third Avenue and 58th Street. The Baronet, Coronet. I was still feeling like a theater actor making a weekly pay.
I came back to New York after making this wonderful movie with John Schlesinger, Yanks.
There were these three movies playing and I was kind of the flavor of that month. I remember having dinner with some friends and Taylor Hackford was there. I didn’t know Taylor well. I think at that point he had made one film. He’d made some documentary films, which were highly thought of. I think he made one film that was in the can. I don’t think it had been released yet.
And he was talking about this movie. It sounded interested. I always looked younger than I was. I was probably like 30 or 32-ish when I made the movie. But he started to get an obsession about me playing this part. So, I read it and admired it but didn’t really connect with it. I thought it was a little too sentimental for my taste at that time.
One thing led to another and we decided to jump in. But I said, “Look, we’ve got to rewrite this. We’ve got to really get into it.” Doug Day Stewart who wrote this, this was kind of his life. He was a Navy guy. In fact, the picture of her father that she shows me, that’s Doug Day Stewart, the writer of the movie. So, we really buckled down. And I was a very punkie, New York guy, and I was going to make it as real and as tough as we could. So, we improvised a lot and rewrote, just pushing each other to make it as real and as honest as we could.
When we started making the movie we had a real drill instructor from Pensacola who was in this. We just mined everything we could from this guy, what the real deal was. A lot of this stuff came directly from him. He said, “Look, I could never tell you that I did this but this is what we did.” So, you can’t burn me on this.
A lot of this stuff was directly what he did with his candidates. We were in this very small town, Port Townsend. None of us were making any money. It was a very small budget. It was Paramount. I don’t think they cared that much about this movie, to tell you the truth. It was hard. It was just a hard shoot.
I was amazed at how well-directed this was. I hadn’t seen this in such a long time. He did such a wonderful job with this and the reality that was created. I think it was one of Don Thorin's first pictures that he was DP(ing). It had a really great documentary look to it. The grain he was using on the film, longer lenses…and we were all beginning.
All of us were just trying to figure out how to do this and make movies. I think you feel the energy of that in the film, of people who were just desperate to make something real and important and not just a movie.
Q: The early scenes with Robert Loggia and the young actor who plays Zack inform the story and the character so much. Was the film shot in a way that you were able to even see a little bit of those dallies of the younger actor?
RG: No. That was shot afterwards. They didn’t have enough money to even get me there. I wanted to go to the Philippines but there was no money. But it was an interesting thing. When we setup the shot, first of all, the footage of my dad and me with the hookers was actually a scene. It took us two days to shoot that thing.
I don’t know who has that footage but I think it should be destroyed. The reality that we were getting in that footage was too much and we couldn’t use it.
But the one shot with me waking up, going to the window, thinking and going to my father into the bathroom was one long shot. It was a beautiful shot. The stuff in the Philippines was originally a prologue. I didn’t think it made any sense. It just didn’t feel visceral.
So I said, “Look, this is such a beautiful way… it’s a beautiful shot out the window to start this movie. And I stop enough times to think in this shot. I’m sure that we can make those flashbacks work there instead of as a prologue. It worked really well. I was so pleased to see it.
Q: Some directors would say, "How dare you tell me!"
RG: I don’t dictate. I have ideas. You know, I’m very lucky in my career for the most part to work with directors who like a good idea and are not afraid to say if it’s a good idea sure, great, let’s run with it. My always tend to be very collaborative that way.
Q: In thinking about the character name, Sergeant Foley, that sounded like an Irish guy. Sure enough, watching the DVD they released five years ago for the 25th anniversary they noted that Louis Gossett, Jr.’s character was written originally for a white man. Was he already onboard?
RG: No. There was nobody onboard. I remember I had just remembered seeing… Robert Loggia. I’d seen a play at the Beaumont Theater, In the Boom-Boom Room. Anyone remember that? He was terrific. I said that’s it. I remember this performance. Let’s get him to play my dad.
So, he was onboard. Debra [Winger] had just done Urban Cowboy at that time, another Paramount picture so they wanted her for this. And I was delighted, she was perfect for the part.
All the other kids was kind of casting. You know, finding the right types, the right mix. Another interesting thing is I remember the Navy wanted nothing to do with this movie. One of the reasons I hesitated in making this movie is this is a recruiting movie for the Navy. I was always astonished that the Navy didn’t want anything to do with it. But we’d be okay with it if you made the father not a drunk but he works with retarded kids. We said, “No. That’s really not what we had in mind.”
Q: They also kept Louis Gossett, Jr. in separate quarters from you and in a different place during the filming so that there would be no bonding between all of you and him.
RG: That’s true. I spoke to Lou actually before I came. He was really sorry he couldn’t be here. I run into Lou every once and a while and we always embrace. We have good memories of this shoot. He’s really sorry he couldn’t be here. I have to tell one story. Lou’s brilliant in this. I always have to tell him how brilliant he is in this film. I was at that stage of my life that really I was just working so hard on this. It was all I was doing was this.
Shooting the movie and then every hour I had outside of the actual shooting of the movie I was working with a karate master to learn karate stuff. I was learning the routines of what I had to do and I was getting very good at that. I was proud of that. That’s all I could do but I was learning the routines. But Lou was also learning karate as he was in this. But for some reason he wasn’t able to get the routines. It just wasn’t happening.
When we came to shoot the scene I was so filled with the routines and I had it down and everything. We started shooting the scene and he was struggling with it. I was getting pissed off. We didn’t have much time to shoot it and I kicked him. I hit him in the gut. He said, “Okay. That’s it. I’m out of here,” and he left. And rightly so.
I had no right doing that to him. And he left and he was serious, he wasn’t coming back. Taylor and I looked at each other and went, okay, what do we do now? He made a phone call. Taylor got on the phone. He called some casting people. He said, “We need a 6’6” black karate master by tomorrow morning.”
And we found this guy in New Orleans and they flew him up and we shot a lot of that sequence with a double. We didn’t have any time. We had to do it very quickly. But you can’t tell. Shot by shot you can’t tell.
Q: When did he come back to set?
RG: Two days later.
Q: Any explanation?
RG: No. That was it. It was my fault. I take full credit for having messed up.
Q: Was that a dynamic that happened a lot? I mean There's the scene where you’re doing the pushups and you were in the mud. Was there any kind of posturing going on?
RG: No. Believe me, I’m a trained actor. He’s a trained actor. We were helping each other. We came up with the rhythms of that ourselves. A lot of that was improvised, a lot of it. So, no. We were very much on the same wavelength.
Q: Logistically speaking, when you’re doing the scene where your character is doing pushups, maybe you can do hundreds of pushups. I don’t know if many people can. But how do you kind save yourself just physically if you’re doing take after take?
RG: We were in great shape, by the way. So the first time, 80 pushups, no problem. Take two, 70. Take three, 40. And then it was gone. You can’t do anymore. So, we started 98, 99, 100. Those were the take that actually that were used, 99, 99, 100.
Q: If you look at yourself in the first few scenes where you do have longer hair and then when you’re enlisted, you do look like a different person. It’s kind of shocking. You were talking about how you used to have long hair. Had you ever had a shaved head like that before? What did it feel like when you saw yourself like that for the first time?
RG: I don’t think I ever had it shaved like that before. I don’t know. It was a character. It’s not a big deal.
Q: There’s this lore surrounding Debra Winger. There's a whole documentary that Roseanna Arquette made about searching for Debra Winger and where is she. She seems to be one of the more unique people. In the 25th anniversary DVD you said that she’s a really interesting character to be around. What is so unique about the way she works and her process that’s kind of made her gain this reputation for being so singular?
RG: We just saw her actually. We just saw her in Rome at the Rome Film Festival, which was last September. I hadn’t seen her in a long, long time. It was nice to see her there. She presented me with an award there. She looked great. She looked terrific and was ready to work and pick up her career.
Q: Now she’s coming back to the New York stage doing a play on Broadway this fall which is very exciting.
RG: She has a really interesting quality. Again, I haven’t seen this film in 30 years. But she is, she's really a kind of true heart in the camera. It’s very hard to be as kind of open and unguarded and nice. You know, a nice person and kind of a genuine person and true heart on camera. That’s not an easy thing to do. She’s able to pull that off. I could never be that way. I was too complicated. There were too many things going on. Just the straightforward presence is an extremely difficult thing to do.
Q: When you think about this cast, Tony Plana, David Caruso, Grace Zabriskie or David Keith, all these amazing people were in this film, did you have a sense that... even though you were so focused on what you were doing, were you thinking... that Caruso guy, he’s pretty good. He might have a future here.
RG: They were all good. Believe me, all these guys were terrific. I was very pleased and honored and thankful to have that group of wonderful actors. They were all terrific, top to bottom.
Q: This is a movie that did not explode at the box office when it first came out but it was this gradual build. Did you sense that happening? When did you get an idea that it was taking off?
RG: I don’t remember but I remember there was an interesting thing. Frank Mancuso was the marketing guy, I think, at Paramount at that point and later took over Paramount. And he did something odd. He did counterprograming with this film.
Paramount liked it and it tested well. But none of us were very big stars. So, it wasn’t like the expectation was they could buy an opening weekend. So, they started giving free screenings around the country, two weeks, a week before, whatever. They believed in the film so if people saw it they would be talking well about it and recommending it. But he opened it in the middle of summer, which was not the way this kind of a movie was usually opened. It was the beginning of that what they call counterprogramming. And it worked out.
But movies of this sort, low budget films are all about word of mouth. There’s no question about it. If people like it they’ll tell other people and there’ll be an audience. Otherwise, you can buy a weekend. You could buy a week or two weeks with heavy advertising. But the way a film really works is that people see it, they like it, they tell other people that it’s good and to go see it, and then it has legs.
Q: One famous story about this movie involves the ending and the fact that there was debate on the set over whether the ending was too sentimental.
RG: That was me. That was me. I went to Taylor and we were going to shoot this really tough movie. No, come on. He said, “Yeah. I know. But why don’t we just shoot it. We’ll just shoot it.”
Q: Did you think it would be in the movie?
RG: After we shot it I still didn’t think it would work. Ironically, the early cuts of the film had different music and it didn’t work. For me it didn’t work. Then it was this music but a different tempo and it didn’t work. And I came in to see one cut that had this tempo and I got chills on the back of my neck seeing it because everything was right all of a sudden. Something about the tempo of the music brought everything together.
Q: As an actor, how do you get to a place where you feel like you can give your best, most authentic performance in a scene that you’re not entirely onboard with? Or is that just part of training and part of professionalism?
RG: You do it. Of course you do it. How do you begin if you don’t commit yourself to it? You can’t do it. You start laughing to yourself. This is not easy doing this stuff. If you don’t commit to it, it doesn’t work out.
Q: In your experience with your other films, were there any others that came together in this way with as many young actors or new actors or something similar? Or was there a contrasting experience you can talk about?
RG: Days of Heaven was all kids. We were kids. Sam was a little older than me but not by much. He hadn’t done much acting. It was my first movie. Brooke Adams, I think it was her first movie. Everybody else I think was kind of new to it all.
Terry Malick had done one movie before but nothing of that scale. In a way, he was new to the whole process too. So, we were all kind of virgins on that one. I’m trying to think of another one that might have been all beginners like that. There probably is one but I can’t think of one.
Q: He encouraged the same collaborative experience?
RG: Oh, Terry was a different soul altogether. I mean Terry wrote a script that was kind of a traditional, very well-written, dramaturgical movie and had the rhythms of kind of normal storytelling. His idea of acting was a little…he didn’t want operatic scenes, but that also is ironic because he wanted in a sense silent movie acting but not quite as archaic as that. Do you know what I mean? It’s a peculiar thing. He couldn’t quite explain what he wanted. He said, “Look, I’ll know when you do it right.”
After 20 takes of trying to find it we’d often say, “Terry, you’ve got to tell us what you want.” Terry wasn’t trained to do that. That’s not where he came from.
I remember once I got frustrated with him and I said, “Come, Terry, help me out. I’ve trying it all these different ways.” I remember this very clearly. We were in this house we built on a prairie in Canada in Alberta. And we were on the second floor and there was a window there and the prairie’s out there. There were these kind of linen shades and curtains. The wind was blowing the curtains. He said, “Kind of like that is what I want.”
The curtains. And I knew exactly what he wanted. It was the best communication of what he was looking for. It actually made my life a lot easier because it did speak to me.
Q: Did you realize how big a movie Pretty Woman was and are you stunned by how big it is even now?
RG: I’m stunned I’m sitting here and I have a career that’s actually made some things that touched people. You know, I came from a very simple place. So, the fact that my life has had this arc to it amazes me. But that movie, look, you can’t make that movie. A movie like that has to happen.
And it’s…you guys are not fools.
There’s 400 people working on the movie. And if any one of them screws up the movie doesn’t work. For whatever reason that all came together. The magic potion, the mix of that story with Gary Marshall and Julia and me and everyone else, it just came together. It had the right tone and the quality. We all got along in a certain way. It just found its place.
Probably of all the movies I’ve made that’s the one that wherever I am in the world, in whatever culture, believe me. Any culture, whether it’s Deep Asia or it’s Borneo, it’s Europe, it’s South America, it’s Antarctica, wherever it is, that movie has spoken to people.
Again, why? I don’t know. There’s no magic formula you can follow to make that happen. The piece is pure magic.
Q: If that’s number one, what would you say is second and third place as far as movies that people come up and stop you and want to talk about it?
RG: Right now it’s this movie Hachiko that I made, which for peculiar reasons never had a theatrical release in the US. It was ahuge hit all over the world. And it was only released here on DVD. Everyday someone talks to me about this movie. This is the greatest weeper. If you want to just release and cry, go see Hachiko.
Q: It got amazing reviews. In the US it’s just Hachi for those inclined to find it on Netflix. Was An Officer... shot in sequence, vis-à-vis, the length of your hair. Or was it done backwards?
RG: No. It was out of sequence because I was noticing there was one, and I was remembering, I had a shaved head and we had to shoot a sequence when I had slightly longer hair. It’s the hardest thing to do to have a wig that’s that short. It had to be like half-an-inch long. I noticed it was the last sequence with the obstacle course. I had this little short, short wig on to cover a bald head. But it was all out of sequence, it was all over the place.
Q: Do you wish that more films were shot in sequence or does it not matter to you?
RG: Oh, it’s always easier on everybody. Because you hope that happy accidents happen when you’re shooting. Something that was unforeseen, there’s a line, there’s something, whatever it is, something unforeseen, unexpected happens. You want to take advantage of that possibly in later scenes and build on it. If you’re shooting in sequence you can do that, very difficult if it’s out of sequence.
Q: Do you know why Looking for Mr. Goodbar is unavailable?
RG: I don’t know. It’s a Paramount picture. Richard Brooks probably owns that on some level. Maybe it’s the Brooks estate.
Q: You have not been able to see it either, have you?
RG: I don’t look at my own movies. So you tried? I don’t know. maybe we should look into that.
Q: Which of your professional experiences as an actor challenged you the most or caused you to grow the most in your career.
RG: They all do. Honestly, they all do. The ones that look the easiest are often the hardest ones to do. Being normal, a normal character, to make that normal guy interesting for two hours is really hard. Sometimes the ones that are the most operatic and dramatic those are the easy ones.
Q: Chicago is so happy with the dancing and singing.
RG: That was the most fun, for sure. Chicago was without a doubt the most fun I ever had making a movie, without a doubt. It was just at the right time too. My son was just born. We were getting along so great. It was recalling a time in my early career when I started acting in New York and I was doing musicals. Rob Marshall was such a skilled and generous director. He created an atmosphere that was so loving and open and creative and fun. Just pure fun, beginning to end.
Q: Would you consider going back to the stage?
RG: I would consider it but I like reading stories to my kid at night. I wouldn’t give that up. So, maybe when he’s away and doesn’t want me reading stories to him.
Q: How did Buddhism came into your life and how did it affect your job as an actor?
RG: It came into my life at the right time. I was in my early 20s and searching. What I call the dissonance was very clear. The dissonance between what the world appears to be and what the world really is. You know in your heart what it is, what your senses tell you it is are radically different things.
Buddhism was a path that immediately struck me as true and honest and has never let me down. Has it affected my work? I suppose it affects everything, ultimately. I don’t know that it makes you a better actor. Is that the kind of question?
Q: Because we’re talking about Buddhism, talking about how things appear and seeing a dissonance between surface reality and the truth of reality -- are movies yet another play on that?
RG: Yeah. But I instinctively do that anyhow. I always kind of understood that conceptual framework of reality. I always knew that there was something about film that has always attracted me that way. That you can pull time and space apart with film. You can do anything. I’ve been through enough movies. You can tell radically different stories from exactly the same material. We do that continually in our lives.
We choose the story we want to make from the raw materials in front of us. We can choose to make a much better story, frankly, if you work at it. But I think just living life and being open is probably the best teaching. And having a life and having emotions that may be more useful in this job. I don’t know that it has any direct effect on it.
Q: Is there any one of your films that wasn’t as successful for any particular reason, it didn’t resonate with the public consciousness that you wish it had? That you were disappointed that it didn’t do as well.
RG: Sure. There were a couple. I thought The Hoax was a really terrific film. It was some of my best work personally. It was a really terrific film and maybe Lasse Hallstrom’s best movie outside of My Life as a Dog. But really terrific work, terrific script, terrific cast. We had a terrific time making that film. I was very proud of that film. For whatever reason, whether there wasn’t an audience for it or the studio that was releasing it didn’t care enough to do it right, I don’t know. But I’m sorry that that didn’t happen.
Q: Though you don’t love to watch yourself now that you’ve had what seems to be a pretty emotional, rewarding experience watching this film tonight, is there another film from the past that you now are kind of itching to see?
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