“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.”
â€” Dalai Lama
Richard Gere is known as much for his professional successes as he is for the seemingly exotic elements of his personal life: his passion for Buddhism, Tibetan culture and progressive political causes. His film choices can be juxtaposed with images of Gere’s meetings with the Dalai Lama, his treks to Honduras and Nicaragua, his discussions of third-world injustice â€” OK, and maybe that relatively short-lived marriage with Cindy Crawford. Ask him when his journey toward self-awareness began and he’ll tell you about his rather humble beginnings, reveal a little about life pre-film, pre-stage, pre-fame.
Born in Philadelphia, Gere grew up in New York, the second of five children. His father Homer was an insurance salesman, his mother Doris, a housewife.
“My father was always really close to the Methodist Church and my mother was a Presbyterian,” Gere recalls. “We went to Methodist Churches growing up and there were certain rituals to be a Methodist. I remember the singing more than anything, the sense of joy and singing hymns in the atmosphere of people somehow trying to engage that mysterious energy.”
In his youth, Gere questioned the pillars of religion: its age-old foundations, its rules, barriers and restrictions.
“I knew instinctively there was something more. I wanted to know why: where did the universe come from? Where does evil come from? The kind of basic questions a kid looks around and goes, ‘What’s the deal?’ And in many ways, I wasn’t finding that within the religion that I grew up with and in many ways, an unwillingness to engage those questions. For them to say that it’s ‘mysterious,’ well, that wasn’t good enough for me.”
So, while his career took off, Gere spent his personal time exploring the unknown. In 1978, he met with Tibetans while in Nepal; in the 80s, he visited refugee camps abroad. Professionally, he starred in films that transformed him into a proverbial household name: his sultry turn as a hustling sexpot in American Gigolo, a likeable suit in Pretty Woman.
“Through my own exploration, I went East and explored the basis of those religions there,” he says. “It’s not enough to hear the answer from a Buddha or a teacher. It’s desperately important that you internalize these things and make them real for yourself. It’s ultimately about responsibility in all possible ways.”
With his newest film, Gere portrays Saul, a professor of Jewish tradition and mysticism and a father whose family is falling apart. He realizes his own dreams of transcendentalism in the limitless talent of his daughter Eliza, played by Flora Cross, who defies her own feelings of mediocrity when she wins spelling bee after spelling bee.
Eliza’s accomplishments send the Naumann family into a tailspin where secrets emerge.
“It’s about four people exploring this yearning for God and the larger universe, bumbling blindly, unskillfully in this voyage with their total inability to discuss their own personal journeys with each other. They’re a family that lives and eats with each other, but
can’t trust each other. I think it’s probably endemic of many of our families, the inability to discuss really private, important things.”
Ask him why he did the movie and Gere’s astute sense of self-awareness in the big scheme of things resurfaces.
“I’m 56 years-old now. I haven’t been anywhere on this planet that I didn’t find people who also didn’t have that urge, to have that yearning for transcendence and again, not to call it religion, but to call it, that yearning. The yearning is there in everybody and that common denominator makes us brothers and sisters.
“I’ve never met anyoneâ€¦ I don’t think I’ve met an animal that didn’t feel like I had that as well, a yearning for something larger. I’ve never met an animal that didn’t respond to love; it’s the same with people.”
Spoken like a true spiritualist.