Stephen Colbert and Richard Gere Talk Concepts of Reality at Montclair Film Fest: "You Are Blowing My Mind"

Montclair Film Festival
Stephen Colbert and Richard Gere at Saturday's Montclair Film Festival Q&A

The discussion pinned to Gere playing a homeless man in his film, 'Time Out of Mind,' delved into the actor's belief that what people see is based on what's in their mind, leading Colbert to ask, "Is this the Matrix? Are you Neo? I know kung fu."

Before his Saturday Q&A with Stephen Colbert at the Montclair Film Festival, Richard Gere told The Hollywood Reporter that Colbert hadn't given him any indication of what to expect.

The same might also have been true of Colbert. For while the incoming Late Show host seemed to have thoroughly researched Gere's career, even joking at one point that he read all of the actor's People's "Sexiest Man Alive" cover story, he appeared baffled by Gere's belief that everything we see is based on our own experiences and what's in our own mind.

"There's nothing in mind that has a mechanism to reach out [and experience an objective reality]," Gere said at one point. "All the mind can do is see itself."

Colbert: "You are blowing my mind, Richard Gere."

The conversation delved into the concept of what's real and whether there's an objective reality (spoiler alert: Gere doesn't think there is) during the pair's discussion of Gere's experience playing a homeless man in New York City in his film, Time Out of Mind, which screened in Montclair later that afternoon as part of its ongoing festival run.

"I'm the same guy whether I put on a homeless haircut or homeless clothes, I'm the same guy. So I don't know how many thousands of people here are walking by [me] as that guy and pay no attention," Gere said. "If I had a tuxedo on and was on a red carpet it's a totally new experience. It's the nature of the surface of our experience anyhow that can't be trusted. The surface is not reliable for any of us. Our eyes are lying to us."

When Colbert asked what he meant by that, Gere went on to outline his belief that people can't view things in a fresh way and your perception of what you see is based on the past experiences that your brain has catalogued.

"We're only seeing our own mind. So all the prejudices, experiences, things in the catalog, we make the initial fresh event fit the category descriptions in our head," Gere said. "We don't have an experience of the world. We have an experience of our experiences. This is all a virtual world. The whole thing is virtual, based on our own brain."

Colbert, picking up on the Matrix-like concept, quickly asked, "Is this the Matrix? Are you Neo? I know kung fu."

But it turns out that Gere actually does believe something similar to that, saying that he and his son, who was also at Saturday's event, often talk about that.

"This is totally virtual Matrix experience," the actor said.

What is real, or at least seemed that way based on the experiences of the people in the audience at Montclair's Wellmont Theatre, is that moms love Richard Gere.

Gere having a large contingent of fans who were somebody's mother was a recurring theme throughout Saturday's conversation. Montclair Film Festival executive director Tom Hall got the ball rolling when he mentioned in his introduction, "My mother would be remiss if I didn't mention [Gere's] entire body of work…I'm not going to."

Colbert quickly picked up on that, joking in his opening remarks, "My grandmother would be remiss…."

The mom jokes continued to a chorus of laughs as Gere struggled with how to sit in the deep armchairs onstage. Colbert: "Is there a woman who wants to sit behind Richard? Does anyone's mother want to come up?" As Colbert began some of his biographical questions for Gere, he noted that the actor's middle name is "Tiffany." When Gere explained that was his mother's maiden name, he asked "Are there going to be a lot of questions like this?"

Later Colbert noted that while Gere is People's "Sexiest Man Alive emeritus," he was on the list in 2006. "We almost shouldn't be in the same room together," Colbert joked. "It's like the president and the vice president. One of us should be in a secure location, with someone's mother." The audience Q&A also involved a couple of fans who wanted Gere to acknowledge their mothers, who they said are big fans.

During that part of the event, Gere also said that he "would love to" do more musicals, like his role in Chicago, which he's said he had great fun doing.

Colbert, who recently shaved off the thick, white beard he had been sporting since The Colbert Report ended, showed off his interviewing technique for another film festival audience after talking to George Lucas about his career at the Tribeca Film Festival two weeks earlier.

In addition to concepts of reality and mothers, Colbert and Gere also talked about the actor's experience making Time Out of Mind and his views on homelessness, something Gere has discussed a few times over the past year as Time Out of Mind has screened at the Toronto, New York, Hamptons, Rome and Sarasota film festivals. The movie will finally be released by IFC Films on Sept. 11.

Gere told THR before his chat with Colbert that he was encouraged by the audience's response to Time Out of Mind at its many festival screenings.

"People have a strong experience of it. We're finding that people the next day have an even stronger experience, that it works on subliminal levels that I think resonate in dreams and the next day when you're not thinking about it," Gere said. "We've had a lot of people [who say] they'll never react to people on the street in the same way again, which is obviously very satisfying for us."