Richard Gere is a dedicated social activist and committed philanthropist. For many years, he’s been very clear on his views, making his career in Hollywood undoubtedly tougher than it otherwise might have been.
However, for Gere, money and huge movies aren’t everything. Instead, he gives people in need plenty of his time, trying to help them in any way possible – though can sometimes be very hard, legally speaking.
As per reports, Gere is set to appear as a witness in a trial in Italy after the actor helped deliver food to people onboard a vessel refused entry to an Italian port by then former interior minister Matteo Salvini.
For the first time, in an interview with The Guardian, Richard Gere has explained what really happened.
Gere might just be one of the most popular actors ever. The Pretty Woman star has featured in some of the most influential films we’ve seen. Yet, at the same time, he’s always walked his own path, not caring too much about money or fame.
One would think that with the career Gere has had – having spent an eternity under the sear of the Hollywood spotlight – he must have tunnel vision for all things film.
Yet, as the man himself says, one night in 1993 would change his career forever.
Richard Gere – Buddhism
Richard Gere has lived a life as a Buddhist. Since he was young, he’s been interested in Tibetan Buddhism and has remained devoted to the Dalai Lama for a long, long time.
“I remember when I was just starting to practice meditation – 24 years old, trying to come to grips with my life,” Gere said. “I was holed up in my sh*tty little apartment for months at a time, just doing tai chi and doing my best to do sitting practice.
He added: “I had a very clear feeling that I’d always been in meditation, that I’d never left meditation. That it was a much more substantial reality than what we normally take to be reality. That was very clear to me even then, but it’s taken me this long in my life to bring it out into the world more, through more time practicing, watching my mind, trying to generate bodhicitta [awakened mind and heart].”
When Gere met the Dalai Lama for the first time in India, it was a special occasion, even if it didn’t go quite as he expected.
“We started out with a little small talk, and then he said, ‘Oh, so you’re an actor?’” he recalled.
“He thought about that a second, and then he said, ‘So when you do this acting, and you’re angry, are you really angry? When you’re acting sad, are you really sad? When you cry, are you crying?’
Criticism against China
“I gave him some kind of actor answer like it was more effective if you really believed in the emotion that you were portraying. He looked very deeply into my eyes and just started laughing. Hysterically. He was laughing at the idea that I would believe emotions are real, that I would work very hard to believe in anger and hatred and sadness and pain and suffering.”
Thus, Gere became a Buddhist and a great friend of the Dalai Lama.
Then, at the Academy Awards in 1993 – where Gere was to present the award for Best Art Director – he didn’t read from his pre-agreed upon the script. Instead, Gere used his platform to protest China’s occupation of Tibet and its “horrendous, horrendous human rights situation.”
Academy Award’s producer Gil Cates was furious and vowed to ban Gere from future Oscars broadcasts.
But Gere wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way regarding what he thought and believed in. In 2008, he called on a boycott of the summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Unfortunately, due to his two different foundations – International Campaign for Tibet and The Gere Foundation – he was banned for life from China by Chinese authorities.
Perhaps you can see where this is going …
Richard Gere and China became the worst of enemies, only for China to soon after become the world’s second-biggest box office market.
Wouldn’t finance film with Gere in it
As a result, Gere says he’s been dropped several times by the most prominent studios simply because the Chinese people and its authorities don’t want anything to do with him in their films.
“There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him,’” Gere explained.
“I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese.”
In 1997, the much-praised Hollywood star was made fully aware just how much the big film studios care about their relationship with the Chinese market. After filming for his role in the film Red Corner – where he played the role of an American businessman being wrongfully accused in China – studio MGM made a staggering decision.
“Everyone was happy with the film,” Richard Gere said.
“I get calls from the heads of the studio. Went on Oprah. Then, out of nowhere, I get calls saying, ‘We don’t want you doing press.’ MGM wanted to make an overall deal with the Chinese. China told them, ‘If you release this film, we’re not buying it.’ And so, they dumped it.”
Then, another time, Gere had another damning experience when he was set to do an independently financed film outside the big studios. It was never intended to be released in China – but the director was Chinese.
Richard Gere – indie films
“Two weeks before we were going to shoot, he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,’” Gere recalled.
“We had a secret phone call on a protected line. If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work.”
Gere might no longer be in the biggest and most lucrative Hollywood productions, but the most important thing is always to follow your passion, and that’s precisely what he’s doing.
These days, Gere has dedicated his time to smaller films and indie projects – something he loves. So even though the Hollywood studios don’t want to work with him, it hasn’t negatively affected him.
“The studios are interested in the possibility of making huge profits,” he explained.
“But I’m still making the same films that I was making when I started. Small, interesting, character-driven, and narrative-driven stories. It hasn’t impacted my life at all.”
“I’m not interested in playing the wizened Jedi in your tentpole,” he added. “I was successful enough in the last three decades that I can afford to do these [smaller films] now.”
Richard Gere helped migrants at sea
Richard Gere has been a social activist and committed philanthropist for many years, thus being involved in projects worldwide. In 2019, he decided to stop his vacation with his family in Italy after seeing the news of an NGO vessel with people on board not having food.
He’s now due to appear in court because of his actions.
In August of 2019, Gere was on holiday with his family in Tuscany, Italy. While visiting a friend, he learned that a ship – owned by the Humanitarian, Non-Governmental, Non-Profit organization NGO – with more than 100 migrants on board had been left stranded at sea.
The leader of Italy’s right-leaning Lega party, Matteo Salvini, denied the ship permission to disembark, and so placed the lives of the migrants at risk.
Gere decided he had to do something about it, and so canceled his vacation and traveled with his son to the island of Sicily.
Via a tiny boat, Gere and his son boarded the ship with supplies such as food and water. However, they encountered a problem, as the authorities wouldn’t allow Gere’s boat – or any other – to get close to the vessel.
Fortunately, Gere made it onboard. As he recalled in a recent interview with The Guardian, what he saw was pure desperation.
The actor to appear in court
“We saw more than a hundred people on board,” Gere said. “I felt ashamed that we have so much and are not able to embrace these fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters who were starving, traumatized.
“If they were told the boat was going back to Libya, they would jump in the water and drown themselves, and I felt it was our responsibility to bring as much light as we could.”
After 19 days at sea, the migrants were allowed to disembark on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
And for Salvini, things didn’t end well. He’s now standing trial for using his position as the interior minister to detain the migrants at sea – one of the key witnesses in the trial is Richard Gere.
Salvini could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Gere is, according to the Guardian, most likely to appear via video link in court. For the well-respected Hollywood star, it isn’t an overly stressful situation.
“It’s very simple, I’ll just tell the truth; I’ll just tell what I experienced. I’m only here to speak for people who don’t have a voice. It’s not about me. I’m completely irrelevant here. I’m honest with you. I can be invisible. All I am is a witness.”
Gere has agreed to testify on behalf of the Open Arms organization. Reports say that Salvini isn’t happy with the idea of the actor appearing in court.
“I’m no better or worse than anyone”
He accused Gere of grandstanding. Giorgia Meloni, meanwhile, the nationalist Brothers of Italy party leader, further said that Gere is an “actor seeking visibility.”
For his part, Gere insists he is not interested in visibility. In fact, the actor said that he wants to be anonymous.
“First of all, I don’t know these people. I’ve never met them, but I highly doubt they’ve taken the time to go on a boat and have a human experience and understand the real people they have their influence over,” he said.
“If they did that, then I think there’s probably another conversation to have. You see, I don’t see myself as a movie star. I’m one of 7 billion human beings on the planet, that’s it, no more. I’m no better or worse than anyone.”
“But in terms of the politics of it, I’m not advocating one way or another, of what the Italian people should do,” Gere added. “That’s completely up to the Italians.”
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