Richard Gere says he’s become untouchable among Hollywood’s big studio projects, because his pro-Tibet views threaten a film’s success in the ever-lucrative Chinese market.
The actor, 67, was one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men through the ’80s and ’90s, starring in box office hits including American Gigolo (1980), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Pretty Woman (1990).
But, despite a Golden Globe win for Best Actor (Comedy/Musical) for his work in 2002’s Chicago, his career has shifted towards indie fare in the past decade, including two new films currently earning him stellar reviews: the political thriller Norman, and family drama The Dinner.
The trajectory, says Gere, wasn’t exactly planned.
“There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him’,” Gere told The Hollywood Reporter.
“I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese.”
A prominent advocate for a free Tibet and friend to exiled leader the Dalai Lama, Gere’s criticism of Chinese human rights abuses in the disputed region – famously articulated during an impromptu speech at the 1993 Academy Awards – have seen him banned for life from China.
In 2008, the actor – who chairs two foundations in support of Tibetan independence – also earned the ire of Chinese authorities after calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
His outspoken comments, long brushed aside by the industry as the casual ramblings of another righteous celebrity, have since clashed with Hollywood’s attempts to endear itself to the lucrative Chinese market, now the second-biggest box office in the world.
Those attempts have included controversial edits made to appeal to Chinese censors, such as 2010’s The Karate Kid, which saw 10 minutes of footage of Chinese children bullying Jaden Smith’s American hero cut from the film’s release, and 2013’s World War Z, which shifted the book’s zombie virus origins from China to South Korea and turned the superpower’s space industry into the film’s ultimate heroes.
Despite the missed opportunities, Gere says he’s become comfortable with the unofficial blacklist.
“I’m not interested in being the wizened Jedi in your tentpole,” he said, about not getting the obligatory Hollywood statesman role in the latest Marvel or Lucasfilm blockbuster.
“I was successful enough in the last three decades that I can afford to do these [smaller films] now.”