Tuesday, September 9, 2014

TIFF 2014 Mavericks: Conversation with Richard Gere

Moments before his highly-anticipated Mavericks interview last Saturday evening, Richard Gere surprised his adoring fans by not showing up in a big black Escalade, but by casually walking in from the street with a few companions. There was no grand, red carpet entrance. It was all very modest. Much like the man himself, who humbly expressed to the audience that he wasn't worthy of all the attention.

In the early 80's, I was very aware of Gere as an actor, which is interesting, considering that I hadn't seen any of his movies because I was much too young. In 1980, I remember staring at a poster of American Gigolo outside a theatre in Kitchener and being mesmerized by his cool, projected suaveness. In 1982, I was intrigued to see him in TV ads going toe to toe against Lou Gossett Jr.'s tough sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman. Finally, in 1983, Gere's undeniable machismo in the Breathless trailer made me a loyal fan. Again, at that time, I hadn't seen a single Richard Gere film yet, but when his movies finally made their way to network television and home video, I quickly rectified that little technicality and was not disappointed. Richard Gere will forever be one of my favourite childhood movie stars -- so when TIFF announced that his career would be spotlighted in their Mavericks program, it was a no-brainer to see the multi-talented actor in-person.
Before appearing on stage, the audience was treated to a short film retrospective of Gere's celebrated work, which included Days of Heaven, American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentlemen, Pretty Woman and Time Out of Mind. When asked how he felt seeing 40 years of his film work in such a montage, Gere compared it to a 'life flashing before your eyes' moment. The 65-year-old actor pleasantly joked that these retrospectives were happening now because people didn’t think that he would be around much longer.

As impressive as Gere's filmography is, it's surprising that he's never been nominated for an Oscar -- a fact that the interviewer made a point of mentioning, which elicited Gere to sarcastically respond, "it's not like I haven't been keeping a career for the last 40 years." Further inquiries about how he felt about his co-stars Debra Winger, Julia Roberts and Edward Norton earning Oscar nods in lieu of him finally prompted Gere to ask, "why are you obsessing about this?" Gere made it clear that he never bought into the whole Hollywood machine -- especially when it came to his appearance.
Earlier in his career, Gere was unaware of his leading man good looks. “No one ever thinks that they are particularly good looking,” he said. But seeing his younger self now in films like Gigolo, he admits that he was a pretty boy. Gere always approached his sex symbol roles as an actor first and that’s probably why he’s still around making movies today. Gere offered another theory as to why he’s getting meatier roles lately: “I’m older now and not as pretty as I used to be.”
Gere is at the Festival for his latest film, Time Out of Mind, a very personal project where he plays a homeless New Yorker forced to live in a shelter. Gere has been involved with the Coalition for the Homeless in New York and has visited many shelters over the years, so he was very familiar with the plight of the homeless prior to filming. “A homeless person is worse than invisible. He [or she] is a black hole,” Gere said. “When we see a panhandler, we don’t want to go near them.”

As research for the film, the actor dressed down and wandered the streets of New York, panhandling. It was a profound experience for Gere, who was unrecognizable to everyone. Everyone, except a Black couple in Grand Central Station. “I was getting really bold and getting into people’s faces and they said ‘Hello, Richard,’” he recounted. “I realized that us white people are really in our capsules. We don’t see the world around us at all. When we are going from here to there, we don’t want to know anything else in between. We don’t know the world. African-Americans are just more open. They’re more into their environment. They notice things.”

Gere is close friends with the Dalai Lama and has been politically active on behalf of Tibet for many years. The actor shared why he became a devout Buddhist. “I distrusted what everyone told me about the world and consciousness and why we are here,” he said. Buddhism helped the actor articulate all that on a deeper level and brought him more happiness in his personal life.

Interestingly, Gere wasn’t the first choice to play the lead in Days of Heaven, American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentlemen -- his most acclaimed films. John Travolta was initially offered the parts, but turned them down. The interviewer teased Gere by asking if he sends Travolta a Christmas card in gratitude every year. “No, but it’s something that he never fails to remind me of,” Gere answered. 

When the interview came to an end, Gere graciously autographed memorabilia from the audience -- including a DVD copy of Breathless from yours truly. As he was signing the cover, I asked if he had any good memories of making the movie. “I LOVED this film,” he said. “And she was just so wonderful,” referring to his co-star Valerie Kaprisky.

Later that evening, I purchased a ticket online for next Saturday’s screening of Time Out of Mind. It’s great to see that after 34 years, I’m still very excited to see a Richard Gere film.

Time Out of Mind is playing at the Elgin/Wintergarden Theatre on Saturday, September 13th at 6pm.

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