Mr. Gere, you made your breakthrough in 1980 with American Gigolo. Do you ever think about just how long you’ve been working as an actor?
No, I just look around me and think: Oh, now I’m the oldest guy in the room. There was a time when I was almost always the youngest.
What is it like to watch your own movies?
I don’t do it very often. But I was at a film festival once where they did a retrospective of all my movies, and I had never seen such a compilation. I was not only seeing my career, I was also seeing me, and it was quite emotional. I felt very forgiving of my much younger self, as if of a younger brother. There was a certain sense of gentle nostalgia, affection and understanding – despite the problems or the silliness back then.
Do any of your films embarrass you today?
Not at all. I still chew on the past and dream about the future, but I think I more of a perspective on life than I had forty years ago.
What have you learned?
People tend to mature thinking they are separate entities. We are encapsulated in ourselves and there is an exclusivity of existence. But we are all just part of the same shifting story. When you break through that feeling of exclusion you can start to approach inclusion. It’s a huge shift of consciousness that changes the way we live in small parts of our lives but also the way the entire planet functions.
What we are currently seeing is political action in the other direction: fear, a retreat into nationalism and the erection of new barriers…
I think there is a trajectory, and we are evolving. But every movement has a moment of devolving, and we are in one of those right now. It is a corrective that will get people involved again. Reinvigorating people in the democratic process is what’s happening right now, but it won’t work unless everyone is involved. Otherwise you get demagogues and crazy people taking charge.
And how do you get rid of them?
They are voted out of office more quickly than they think, or their power is curtailed by congress. Dictatorships that do not become democracies are eventually destroyed by revolution.
Perhaps you should go into politics. In your current film The Dinner you play a U.S. congressman running for governor …
No, there’s no need for an artist leader to come forward right now. There are so many spontaneous demonstrations full of optimism, joy and love taking place against the dark visions of destruction, particularly in the women’s movement. This is more important than anything I could do.
So women are our future?
According to the ancient Greeks, yes. In the comedy Lysistrata the men are always fighting and the women say: No more sex until you stop. In my world, women rule. They are more caring and rational. Female energy is really important.
What has life taught you about women?
I don’t know what they think but I know what counts. A relationship in which
I give you this and you give me that is not love, it’s a business transaction. Real, spontaneous love is like that between parents and children, although it’s not always easy, that constant need to be there for someone.
Has Buddhism helped you find happiness in life?
Yes, certainly. It’s about developing compassion and understanding.
How do you achieve that?
Through constant practice. It’s like learning to play the piano. You don’t just wake up, buy a piano and think: Oh, I’d like to play some Mozart. You have to train the muscles in your fingers and learn to feel the music. All kinds of different senses have to be awakened. It’s the same with the spirit, there’s a spiritual muscle that has to be trained. Someone like me is crawling like a little baby at the beginning of being able to play a spiritual song.
Female energy is really important
What exactly do you do?
I try to practice selflessness and help other people, or at least make sure
I don’t harm them. One of my Buddhist teachers gave me this example: If you hear some noise when you are meditating because someone is pounding on the wall or talking and distracting you, you normally think: God, I wish they’d just shut up. My teacher says that’s a very Western response, and a person who is truly meditating would think to themselves: Wow, I sense a human being. Then their heart would open. It’s possible to live that way.
Considering your spiritual interests, do you really feel at home in Hollywood?
Bouncing up against other people shows me who I am. We humans are like light, something you cannot grab and only manifests itself when it hits something else. Of course I could envision quitting my job, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. It’s a passion. It’s also a job I do to pay the bills. You are responsible for the job you do, and if you put enough of yourself into it, the product of your labors will be of value to other people as well.