Have you noticed that Richard Gere hasn’t been in any big movies in more than a decade? Well, the 67-year-old Golden Globe-winning actor believes that he has China to thank for that.
Gere is a long-time follower and friend of the Dalai Lama, China’s least favorite exiled spiritual leader. At the 1993 Academy Awards, Gere famously made an impromptu speech that got him banned for life from both the awards show and China:
To my friends, I want to say hello up in Vancouver—right now we are doing Intersection up there. Hi, guys. I’ll see you later tonight. I had a thought about something, actually, before I came out. I want to share it with you. It’s going to be short. I was really struck by this idea that there were one billion people watching this thing. It’s astonishing—one billion people watching. And I was curious about what countries this was actually going to. And it is in fact being seen in China right now. And the first thought that came to me was, I wondered if Deng Xiaoping is actually watching this right now, with his children and his grandchildren, and with the knowledge that—that—that—what a horrendous, horrendous human rights situation there is in China, not only towards their own people but to Tibet as well. And when it was this kind of…if something miraculous, really kind of movie-like, could happen here, where we could all kind of send love and truth and a kind of sanity to Deng Xiaoping right now in Beijing, that he will take his troops and take the Chinese away from Tibet and allow people to live as free independent people again. So, thought… We send this thought—we send this thought out. Send this thought. Anyhow… art direction demands taste…
He didn’t know it at the time, but that speech was the beginning of the end for Gere’s career as a big-name actor. He says that Hollywood studios gradually became more and more afraid of upsetting the government in control of the world’s second-biggest box office by casting him in a film.
“There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him,'” Gere told the Hollywood Reporter in recent interview. “I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese.”
The first time that Gere encountered problems was with the 1997 thriller Red Corner (also starring Bai Ling) in which Gere played an American businessman in China who had been wrongfully accused of murder. In the middle of promoting the movie, he was told to stop doing press by MGM who wanted to make a deal with China.
More recently, Gere said that he had been ousted from an independent film project that was going to be shot by a Chinese director who feared that his association with Gere would ruin his career. “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 said.
Gere starred in the 1990 blockbuster Pretty Women, was twice named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” and won a Golden Globe Award for his performance in Chicago, but the last full-fledged studio movie he made was 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe. Since then, he has to stick to indie flicks that have no chance of a China release, which Gere says suits him just fine.
Of course, Gere has also spent his spare time criticizing the Chinese government. “No one wants to live in hypocrisy, and China is the largest hypocrisy in the world right now,” he told an Indian news channel in 2012. At a Czech film festival in 2015, Gere also predicted that there would be a Tibetan Spring, “eventually.”
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat