By Ben Hoyle, Los Angeles, April 20, 2017, The Times
Richard Gere has spent decades criticising China’s occupation of Tibet in interviews, at street protests and even from the Oscar podium — and now he suspects that he is paying the price.
Whereas his call for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 fell flat, Gere believes that China has been rather more effective at persuading Hollywood to boycott him.
“There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him’,” he 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.”
On another occasion, he was two weeks away from starting shooting on a small production with a Chinese director that had no plans for a Chinese release. At that point “he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it’,” Gere said. “We had a secret phone call on a protected line. 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.”
From American Gigolo in 1980 to Chicago in 2002, Gere rode the fortunes of the film business but remained, mostly, one of Hollywood’s favoured leading men.
Then the picture changed. Since Nights in Rodanthe in 2008, he has not made a mainstream studio film and has instead had to carve out a niche in lower-budget independent fare. He is convinced that China’s clout in Hollywood is to blame.
When Gere veered off script while presenting an Oscar in 1993 and denounced the “horrendous, horrendous human rights situation” in Tibet, China’s importance to Hollywood was negligible. Today it has more cinemas than any other country and is adding screens at the rate of more than 25 a day. Last weekend The Fate of the Furious, an action thriller, took $192 million, the biggest global opening weekend receipts ever, despite a slightly disappointing performance in the domestic market.
Chinese ticket receipts have more than tripled since 2011 but in the US they have remained relatively flat.
“We never thought of China ten years ago,” said Adam Goodman, a former production chief at Paramount Pictures who now runs a production company backed by Beijing. “Now we’re at a point where Hollywood can’t exist without China,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
As well as providing a vast audience for Hollywood films, China has sunk billions of dollars of state and private money into the US film business and its biggest companies are hunting for new investments. Wanda, a conglomerate that recently built a giant studio complex in the coastal city of Qingdao, has assembled the biggest cinema company in the world through acquisitions. It came close to spending $1 billion on Dick Clark Productions, which stages the Golden Globe Awards and aspired to buy a major studio.
That influence brings power and Hollywood filmmakers are increasingly tailoring their products to meet the demands of Chinese censors.
Gere himself, a Buddhist and long-time friend of the Dalai Lama, says that he is untroubled by the turn of events.
His most recent film has earned him some of the best reviews of his career. Playing a Jewish political fixer in Norman he had “never been better”, wrote The New York Times last week. The Los Angeles Times called him “exceptional”.
Gere says that he does not want the lucrative bit parts in blockbuster franchises that so many of his peers have grabbed.
“I’m not interested in playing the wizened Jedi in your tent pole,” he said. “I was successful enough in the last three decades that I can afford to do these [smaller films] now.”