Richard Gere drew on father’s death for role in Cannes entry ‘Oh, Canada’

May 21, 2024 - 4:12 PM
Cast member Richard Gere leaves following the screening of the film "Oh Canada" in competition at the 77th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 17, 2024. (Reuters/Sarah Meyssonnier)

Richard Gere, once a Hollywood leading man, said he drew on his feelings following his father’s death to bring emotional depth to his role in “Oh, Canada,” for which he returned, after decades, to the Cannes Film Festival red carpet on Friday.

“It so resonated with my own emotional voyage with my dad, who was almost 101 when he passed away,” Gere told Reuters.

“Paul (Schrader, the director,) wrote such a terrific script, moving script, filled with wonderful character stuff that it was very easy for me to say ‘yes,'” he added.

Gere, 74, is almost unrecognisable as Leonard Fife, a man at the end of his life, intent on sharing the secrets of his youth with his wife of 30 years, played by Uma Thurman, on camera, using a technique he perfected as a celebrated documentary maker.

The film, which is competing for the film festival’s top Palme d’Or prize, is told through flashbacks, with Jacob Elordi of “Euphoria” fame playing the younger version of Leonard.

Critics were lukewarm after the film’s premiere, with The Guardian calling it “muddled, anticlimactic and often diffidently performed,” while giving it two out of five stars.

“Oh, Canada” brings Gere back together with Schrader some four decades after the 1980 crime drama “American Gigolo.”

“We’re like old dogs now, you know? It’s like, I was going to say old hookers, but I can’t say that,” Gere said.

“But there’s a shorthand there. I mean, we didn’t talk much during this, we just kind of figured out,” he added.

The film is based on the novel “Foregone” by Russell Banks, a friend of Schrader’s after he adapted “Affliction,” with Nick Nolte, into the 1997 Oscar-nominated film of the same title.

The reason Schrader did “Oh, Canada”?

“Russell got sick. That simple,” said Schrader, who recalled how hard-hit he was after Banks asked him not to visit because he was feeling bad due to cancer. Banks died last year.

“I knew he had written a book about dying when he was healthy, so I better read that book,” said Schrader, 77. “And I read that book and I thought ‘yep, that’s what I should do’.”

The director said he also had to confront his own mortality after a few hospital visits for long COVID and a broken bone.

“I was thinking, you know, maybe, maybe this is it,” he said. “At that point, you start thinking about, well, if I’ve got one more film left, what should it be about?” he said.

“And, fortunately, my health has improved,” Schrader said, adding that he still might have a few films in him yet.

— Reporting by Hanna Rantala, Writing by Miranda Murray, Editing by Sandra Maler