When questioned about his stance on the China/Tibet problem by Time magazine, Brad Pitt replied "Who cares what I think China should do about Tibet? I'm a fucking actor... I'm a grown man who puts on make-up".
Richard Gere was considered for the role of Heinrich Harrer. Though he eventually did not appear in the film, Gere did a favor to the producers and sent the script to The Dalai Lama in order to gain his approval. The Dalai Lama indeed read the screenplay and was pleased with it.
Director Jean-Jacques Annaud sent a team to Tibet to secretly film footage. About 20 minutes of it made it into the finished film. This was kept secret even after the film's premiere and not known until summer 1999.
The film differs slightly from the book in that it glosses over the fact that he was a Nazi and member of the SS before setting off for Tibet. Harrer subsequently acknowledged his Nazi affiliations, calling them a youthful mistake.
Upon release, the film was condemned by the government of the People's Republic of China who claimed that the Communist Chinese military officers depicted were intentionally shown as being impolite and arrogant. They also objected to the positive depiction of the Dalai Lama.
In the movie, which is based on Harrer's autobiography, Brad Pitt's character is sent to a British POW camp just for having German citizenship, even though he hates the Nazis. In reality, he was a Nazi, with a rank equivalent to that of a sergeant. Harrer even had to ask Heinrich Himmler for permission before he could marry, and wore his Nazi uniform to the ceremony. Most of this stuff only came to light in 1997, right before Seven Years in Tibet was released. The director said he did suspect Harrer had a "possible connection" to the Nazis, but not enough to look into it at all (probably because it was too late to abandon the film). It's worth mentioning that Harrer was never linked to any war crimes, and that the Dalai Lama remained his friend even after finding out this made him Hitler's twice-removed pal.