An Officer and a Gentleman is a much-loved movie and an ‘80s classic. It came out in 1982 and was a massive hit with lasting appeal. It became not only a critical success but also a commercial one too. Despite a budget of around $6 million, the film went to gross over $190 million.
Being just 30 years old, it was also the movie that helped launch Richard Gere into superstardom. The film also saw Louis Gossett Jr. become the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Sgt. Emil Foley.
An Officer and a Gentleman
The film was directed by Taylor Hackford and written by Douglas Day Stewart. It follows the story of Zack Mayo, played by Gere, who is a Navy Aviation Officer Candidate. He begins his training and immediately gets on the wrong side of Sergeant Foley.
Throughout the film, we see Mayo overcome adversity and change his personality as he faces challenges in both his professional and personal life. It’s a simple story but one that takes you on an emotional ride with one of the most iconic endings of all time.
Richard Gere as Zack Mayo
Going into the ‘80s, Gere wasn’t that much of a star and had only appeared in a handful of movies. This first started to change in 1980 with the release of American Gigolo. It started Gere on a course to becoming a Hollywood heartthrob.
This status would be cemented in 1982 with the release of An Officer and a Gentleman. He was 30 years old at the time, and the film still holds a special place in his heart, but he’s admitted to never watching it back since it was made.
A great career followed
As we all know, that was only the start of the journey for Gere, and he’s gone on to star in many other great films, most famously Pretty Woman in 1990. A year after that, he went on to marry Cindy Crawford. It, unfortunately, wouldn’t last, and he’s been married twice since.
Of course, pretty woman was far from his only other success, and he’d go on to star in 13 different films in the ’90s. He’s not as busy these days, but now past the age of 70, he can look back at an incredible career and reflect on how important An Officer and a Gentleman was.
Debra Winger as Paula Pokrifki
Gere’s love interest in the film is played by Debra Winger, who had the role of factory worker Paula Pokrifki. Before the movie came out, she’s already had great success after receiving multiple nominations for her role in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy.
Her performance in An Officer and a Gentleman is fantastic and helped make the film as popular as it is. That image of her being carried out of the factory will remain one of the most iconic moments in romantic film history.
Busier than ever after a break
She was just 27 years old at the time and would go on to even more success. This was shown by her receiving Academy Award nominations for her roles in two films, Terms of Endearment (1983) and Shadowlands (1993).
In 1995 she took a break from acting after becoming tired of the industry. A documentary called Searching for Debra Winger was even made about her absence. These days she’s busier than ever and has starred in several popular TV series, including her role of Maggie Bennett in The Ranch
Louis Gossett Jr as Sgt. Emil Foley
Sgt. Emil Foley was a big breakout role for Louis Gossett Jr. As we mentioned, it helped him win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It was a worthy award for his exceptional performance in the film as the strict drill instructor.
A large part of the movie’s success was how his and Gere’s character grew and changed together. Both had great character arcs as the respect between them grew. It would be far from Gossett Jr’s last great film role as he has been working ever since
A huge body of work
Despite An Officer and a Gentleman being a big film role for him, he already had plenty of experience in front of the camera, starring in many TV shows. To date, he has over 200 acting credits throughout his career, which is a phenomenal achievement.
Despite being in his 80’s now, the brilliant actor is still extremely active with plenty of acting jobs in the works. That’s despite becoming hospitalized with Covid-19. Thankfully he’s made a strong recovery and is back to where he belongs on set.
David Keith as Sid Worley
The role of Sid in An Officer and a Gentleman was ultimately a very sad one. After his marriage proposal to Lynette Pomeroy was rejected because he wasn’t going to graduate, he committed suicide in the film’s saddest and most poignant moment.
There is no surprise that David Keith received plenty of praise for his role as he played it perfectly. It was to be his breakout role, and he received two Golden Globes nominations for both Best Actor in a Supporting Role and New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture.
Another great career was born
As with all the previous stars we’ve looked at, the film helped kick start Keith’s brilliant career. This was shown by him winning the Best Actor award in 2016 at the Great Lakes Christian Film Festival for his role in Heritage Falls.
He’s still a very busy man with a wide range of acting credits to his name. Aside from being a brilliant actor, he is also on the board for the charity PROTECT which seeks to have more robust sex offender laws. He’s great on-screen but has done some great work off it too.
Robert Loggia as Byron Mayo
If you want an example of an incredible acting career, then you don’t need to look any further than Robert Loggia. By the time this film came along, he’d already had an incredible amount of experience with roles dating back to 1951.
From Staten Island, Loggia was born in 1930 and eventually ended up with an incredible 233 acting credits to his name. He played Zack Mayo’s father in the film and did a great job setting up the emotional problems Gere’s character would explore.
A colossus of acting
In terms of his career, the character of Byron Mayo was a fairly minor role. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film Jagged Edge (1985) and then went on to win a Saturn Award in the same category for his role in the movie Big with Tom Hanks.
Other roles in Independence Day, Lost Highway, and Scarface were also memorable, among many others. Sadly Loggia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010 and passed away five years later. He left behind a legacy of being a truly great actor.
Lisa Blount as Lynette Pomeroy
In many ways, Lynette Pomeroy was the villain in An Officer and a Gentleman. She was the love interest of Sid but was only interested in him as a pilot. When she found out he was dropping out of training, she rejected his proposal.
That sad scene led to Zack Mayo having doubts over Paula Pokrifki’s intentions. Lynette received her comeuppance of sorts as she had to watch on as Zack marched through the factory to take away Paula to a better life.
A Real-Life Tragedy
While not as busy as some of her co-stars, Blount still had many jobs following the film. This included prominent roles in films such as Prince of Darkness and Chrystal and TV shows like Profit. She had a varied and successful career.
Unfortunately, her life was cut short at the age of 53 after she was found dead in her home. No foul play was found, and her mother suspected her death was due to complications from her autoimmune disease, immune thrombocytopenic purpura.
Lisa Eilbacher as Casey Seeger
Lisa Eilbacher’s first taste of being in front of a camera was as a child actor in 1964 when she was just eight years old. When An Officer and a Gentleman came along 18 years later, she was already highly experienced despite still being in her mid-twenties.
As Casey Seegar, she played an important role in one of the most vital scenes in the film. Looking like he would beat the course record, Zack Mayo turns back to help Casey and shows everyone that he’s now learned how to be a team player.
Her career burned out
Eilbacher would star in 10 to Midnight the following year and Beverly Hills Cop the year after that. Despite those successes, her career started to stutter, and she was no longer appearing in high-profile roles but remained quite busy.
Her last role would be in 1995 in the TV movie 919 Fifth Avenue. Following that release, she decided to step away from the acting world. It’s unclear why but perhaps the child star had enough of the industry after acting for over 30 years.
Amazing facts about the iconic film
You may be thinking that the title of An Officer and a Gentleman is a curious name for a film. The truth is that it comes a UK Royal Marine who was court-martialed for behavior that was “unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman.”
The term was then adopted and formally included in the US Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is used when an officer’s conduct falls below the standards expected by the military, even if these wouldn’t be a legal issue in civilian life, such as insulting a superior.
Gere nearly didn’t get the lead role
There are certain films where the actor simply becomes synonymous with them. If anyone else took the role, you feel as there’s no way it would have been as popular. There is a strong argument to say that here with how much Richard Gere owned the film.
That makes it even crazier to think that his lead role almost went to music legend John Denver. While the singer is most famed for this song Take Me Home (Country Roads), he has also had plenty of acting roles, but thankfully the role of Zack Mayo wasn’t one of them.
John Travolta was also in the running
While John Denver would have been a poor choice, you could see John Travolta doing quite well in the role. Travolta had starred in Urban Cowboy alongside Debra Winger and produced liked the idea of reuniting the team for this role.
Travolta turned the film down, but it wasn’t the first time Gere would benefit from his decisions as he had also turned down the lead role in American Gigolo. It worked out well for everyone as Travolta would go on to star in some iconic roles.
Paula Pokrifki nearly missed out too
There was also plenty of talk over who would go on to play the female lead. It was amazingly offered to three different women before Winger gladly accepted the role. Sigourney Weaver was the first to be offered it, who probably wouldn’t have suited the unassuming character.
Following that rejection, both Anjelica Huston and Jennifer Jason Leigh declined the role to star in other movies. In the end, it went to Debra Winger, and the chemistry she had with Gere helped to make the film so special.
Debra Winger didn’t want a nude scene
Debra Winger negotiated her contract for the film, which led to her being stuck doing a nude scene that she didn’t want to do. This was partly down to the original script not having details of the scene, so she didn’t consider it.
Winger objected to the script change, but as there was no clause in her contract excluding nudity, she had to do it. This decision was even more disappointingly frustrating as she went through the stress for no reason because the nudity was cut from the film to lower its rating.
Gere and Winger have disagreements
Despite the onscreen connection, the film’s two stars didn’t have much of a connection off-screen. This was mainly down to the two having contrasting acting styles. Winger was a perfectionist, while Gere was much more laid back.
The two have joked about their disagreements since, and apparently when they see each other Gere jokes with her, asking, “are you still saying terrible things about me?”. It shows how talented there were that they made it work on screen.
Louis Gossett Jr. was banished from the set
Louis Gossett Jr. was fantastic in the film due to his portrayal as the strict disciplinarian of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley. This character trait led to the director Taylor Hackford asking him to stay away from other actors between shoots.
The reason is that he wanted Gossett Jr. to keep up an aura of intimidation and not become too familiar with the actors he was shouting at. It was an unusual request, but it must have been the right call when you win Oscars for your performance.
R Lee Ermey was on set
R Lee Ermey plays perhaps the most iconic drill instructor ever in his role in Full Metal Jacket. His fantastic performance in that role was partly down to his real-life experience as a Marine drill instructor in the military before he medically retired in 1972.
Hackford wanted to use that experience, and Ermey was hired as a technical advisor. He probably would have got the role himself, but they wanted the historical accuracy of an African American sergeant. Five years after the film, he got his chance to be the star in Full Metal Jacket.
Gere didn’t like the original ending
For many film fans, the ending is perfect. Zack arrives at the factory in his pristine uniform and romantically kisses Paula before carrying her away. All of this was accompanied by the song Up Where We Belong.
Gere wasn’t on board with the ending throughout the script reading, and even when filming, he wasn’t convinced. They tried one song, and it didn’t work, but when Gere saw the final cut, he got chills as he knew it was now perfect.
It has a critically slammed stage musical
Some films transfer perfectly to the stage, and others don’t. It’s fair to say that it didn’t quite work out with An Officer and a Gentleman when they tried to do it in 2012. This was despite it being conceived by the original writer, Doug Day Stewart.
The stage show went down like a lead balloon, with critics not having a good word to say about it. They used an original score instead of contemporary songs, and it just didn’t fit. Its run only lasted for six weeks before it was pulled.
A historic African American award win
Films such as An Officer and a Gentleman often don’t do well at award ceremonies, as romantic films often don’t receive much credit. It helped to buck that trend by receiving several Oscar nominations, with the Best Supporting Actor going to Louis Gossett Jr.
He was not only the first black actor to receive that award, but it was the first-ever Academy win for an actor playing a role that wasn’t one of servitude. An authoritative black character winning an Oscar had never been seen before.
The film spawned some dark tourism
By far, the saddest part of the film is when Sid Worley hangs himself. He dropped out of the Navy after suffering a panic attack then had his marriage proposal rejected. He then decides to commit suicide in a motel room.
That motel room was real, and you can still visit it today as a tourist attraction. It’s called Tides Inn and is situated at 1807 Water Street in Port Townsend, Washington. It’s a little bit of dark tourism as we’re not quite sure why you’d want to go!
Gere’s fight with Gossett Jr. got real
The film is full of masculine energy with Mayo, who was a martial artist against the strict drill instructor. They decide to go at each other, resulting in a brutal contest where both of them get injured.
But the fight got real. Frustrated with Gossett Jr not getting the moves right, Gere kicked him for real, and his co-star stormed off. The produces decided to swap in a body double for some scenes, but thankfully the two stars would make up.
The reason Debra Winger disappeared
Fans of Debra Winger would have been disappointed with her disappearance from the silver screen. She had been tired of the industry for a long time and had wanted to quit. In 1995 she followed through and had a long break from the industry.
Thankfully for such a talented actress, the break wasn’t to be a permanent one. She came back with Big Bad Love in 2001, which her husband directed. She has been busy ever since, and her 6-year hiatus hasn’t been repeated.
The film was an incredible success
For its budget, the film was a ridiculously good return on investment. The overall cost of the film was around $6, which wasn’t a large sum of money for a film at the time. It would go on to make just under $130m at the box office.
One of the reasons for the success was a genius marketing move by Paramount. They decided to give away free tickets and wanted word of mouth to spread how good it was. It worked, and after a modest opening, popularity grew.
Dwight Yoakam had an appearance
We’ve already seen that one country music star nearly made the film in John Denver, but another was actually in it. When the band plays at the ball, we see Yoakam play one of the singers, which was a low-key role.
Before he hit it big, this must-have taken the role to get a bit of extra cash. Thankfully for him, much more success followed with over 25 million record sales. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show, Yoakam’s popularity boomed after humble beginnings.
The screenwriter had a cameo
When it comes to cameo roles, crew members sometimes filmed them when they didn’t have the extras to fill the role. In this case, the cameo took the form of a picture that Paula showed to Zack Mayo. It showed the graduation picture of her ‘dead’ father.
In truth, the picture was a real-life photo of Doug Day Stewart’s graduation from Naval College. It perfectly fitted in with the film, so Stewart was happy to lend his image. It’s a cameo where the crew member didn’t need to worry about acting.
A subtle nod to a navy tradition
There are many great traditions in the navy, and a film needs to follow them to be authentic. One such tradition is for new ensigns to give a silver dollar to whoever gives them their first salute, usually the training officer.
The officer then places the dollar in their left pocket. Foley does this with every other recruit except for Mayo, where he puts it in his right pocket. It’s a subtle show of respect to show Mayo that he was an exceptional graduate.
The producer hated Up Where We Belong
The producer Don Simpson vehemently disagreed with Up Where We Belong being chosen as the finale song. He was so adamant that he even tried to bet $100 that the song would flop. He instead wanted to choose On The Wings of Love.
It’s fair to say that he was wrong. Despite Jennifer Warnes not being a huge star at the time, it was chosen simply because it was a perfect fit. The film took it to new heights, and it ended up being number one.
Gossett Jr feared racial tensions
We’ve already seen how groundbreaking it was for a black character of authority to receive an acting Oscar. Due to this, Gossett Jr. feared that he would get a lot of unwanted tension from racists who didn’t like seeing it.
He stays away from bars and is extra vigilant about anyone who wants to test themselves against him. Despite a few uncomfortable moments, thankfully, Gossett Jr. has described the reaction to his role as “overwhelmingly positive.”
The song that made the film
There is no doubt that music can dramatically improve a film, especially in its finale. While Up Where We Belong was written for the film, we’ve seen that the producer had doubts about whether it was the right fit.
There have been many moments in the film when a man comes in and sweeps the woman off her feet, but this film is probably the best example. This song playing over the top of it makes for one of the most memorable film moments ever.
Inspirational and uplifting lyrics
Part of its success must surely be how the lyrical content perfectly fits in with the film. It’s a song about struggling to make your way in life. Then a certain love comes along and elevates you to the person you want to be.
That’s exactly what happens in the film as Zack struggles to find himself as a person, and Paula helps to lift him. In turn, Zack physically lifts Paula up and out of her dead-end job. It’s a perfect song for the perfect scene from the perfect movie.
Jennifer Warnes was nearly overlooked
When Jennifer Warnes suggested that she sing the song, director Taylor Hackford rejected the idea as her voice sounded too sweet. A duet was suggested with the gruff tones of Joe Cocker, and a genius idea was born.
The two of them shared great chemistry during the song and sung it side by side when recording in the studio. You always saw this chemistry in their live performances, which were always special. Getting the two of them singing it together was a masterstroke.
It won multiple awards
Given the song’s gravity and its importance to the film, there was no surprise that it won some of the most prestigious awards. It won the Academy Award for Best Original song in 1982 and received the same honor at the Golden Globes.
That wasn’t all, as it also won the award for the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the Grammy’s. It was a justified honor for a brilliant song. Without it, that final scene wouldn’t be quite as memorable.