Actor Richard Gere Discusses Homelessness, New Film

You may know Richard Gere as the actor who appeared in "Pretty Woman," maybe even as the close personal friend of the Dalai Lama, but did you know he’s also a longtime advocate for human rights?

He’s taking that spirit of advocacy to the big screen in his new film “Time Out of Mind.” The film, which will be released in September, documents the struggles of a homeless man (played by Gere) living on the streets of New York City. Last month Gere stopped by our 2015 National Conference on Ending Homelessness to discuss his experience making it.

“We made what I consider one of those things I’m most proud of…” Gere told an audience of homeless advocates.

Gere has been developing the project for more than 10 years. His take on the original script, which he received 12 years ago, was inspired by the unsentimental recollections and observations in the book, “Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets,” written by a homeless writer living in Queens, New York City (the author’s no longer homeless).

“This was the way to make our movie,” Gere said, recalling his reaction to the book. “It’s not a movie about backstories. It’s about…the mysteries of yearning, displacement, trying to find our place in the universe. How do I fit into this world? How can I become part of the reality structure that somehow I’ve become untethered from?”

He handed the project over to filmmaker Oren Moverman, who revised the script and ultimately directed the film. Shot for 21 days on the streets of New York with a tiny budget, the film aims to present one man’s experience with chronic homelessness. The cameras were hidden during filming as Gere wandered Grand Central Station and panhandled in Astor Place, dressed as a homeless man.

“The concept was that I would be on the streets and no one would pay any attention,” Gere said. “Of course, we thought, is that possible?”

The first day of shooting, filmmakers set up up production in the busy New York City village of Astor place with Gere in costume. For 45 minutes, Gere shook a cup and asked passersby for spare change. He attempted to make eye contact, but no one returned his gaze. Hardly anyone on the street payed him any attention. He made $1.50.

“The cliché is that (as a homeless person) you’re invisible, but I came to understand that I was a black hole that people were afraid of being sucked into.”

Gere said he found the experience profound and terrifying. Of course, he had a great deal more to say about his experience with the film and why he chose to make it. Check out video embedded at the top of this post of the full conversation with Gere and Maria Cuomo Cole from the second day of our conference, July 16.

You can also watch a trailer of the “Time out of Mind” on Youtube.