There may not be a literal “movie jail” in Hollywood, but it’s still real — just ask Mel Gibson.
Ten years ago, the once-superstar actor and Oscar-winning director was arrested on a DUI charge on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. It was neither the first or last time a movie star will meet that fate, but it’s the infamous, hate-filled rant he went on while being placed into a police car that caused his media implosion.
“F—ing Jews … the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” the drunk Gibson slurred that evening in the leaked recording.
Gibson took his hits for the comments, made his public apologies, and met with Jewish leaders to ask for forgiveness.
All wasn’t forgiven, but he was on the right track.
In 2010, however, the mega-talent agency William Morris Endeavour dropped Gibson after tapes surfaced of him going into a racist rant and making a death threat against his ex-girlfriend.
For many in Hollywood, it was the last straw. They turned their backs on him. Since 2006, he’s only starred in one studio-backed movie (“Edge of Darkness”).
“I think he’s essentially been blacklisted in the industry,” “Lethal Weapon” screenwriter turned director Shane Black (“The Nice Guys”) told Business Insider back in May. “I think people don’t want to work with him.”
There have been exceptions. Close friend Jodie Foster cast Gibson in her 2011 directing effort, “The Beaver,” and Robert Downey Jr., who found support in Gibson when he had his own substance-abuse problems in the late 1990s, tried to convince Marvel Studios to hire Gibson to direct “Iron Man 3.”
But mostly Gibson has been an outcast in Hollywood, and that was most evident in his directing efforts, which had dried up following 2006’s “Apocalypto.”
As much as we love to see our stars knocked down a peg (whether we acknowledge it or not), we’re even more excited when they stage a comeback. And that’s where we are in Gibson’s career trajectory right now.
On Friday, the Gibson-directed World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge” opens in theatres. Along with being his first directing effort since 2006, it’s also fuelling the best press Gibson has gotten in a decade.
Gibson will receive a directing honour at the Hollywood Film Awards later this week, and at a recent screening for “Hacksaw Ridge” in Beverly Hills, he received a standing ovation. (The movie currently has a 89% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes.)
On Variety’s “Playback” podcast, Gibson recently spoke about his 2006 arrest, and he was candid, though also much too defensive.
“Ten years have gone by,” Gibson said. “I’m feeling good. I’m sober, all of that kind of stuff, and for me it’s a dim thing in the past. But others bring it up, which kind of I find annoying, because I don’t understand why after 10 years it’s any kind of issue. Surely if I was really what they say I was, some kind of hater, there’d be evidence of actions somewhere. There never has been.
“I’ve never discriminated against anyone or done anything that sort of supports that reputation,” Gibson continued. “And for one episode in the back of a police car on eight double tequilas to sort of dictate all the work, life’s work, and beliefs, and everything else that I have and maintain for my life is really unfair.”
Obviously Gibson has some scars. But hopefully he’s aware that in addition to “eight double tequilas” behind the wheel leading nowhere good, the drinks don’t excuse the speech or ideas behind them.
It’s likely Gibson will never again be the leading man of a studio movie, and perhaps he finds that doing gonzo movies like his most recent “Blood Father” works best for him.
But it’s his directing work that might define him for the next decade, and if so, “Hacksaw Ridge,” which is being released by Lionsgate, is the foundation for that.
Oscar buzz is building for “Ridge” star Andrew Garfield, who plays Desmond T. Doss, an Army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa and refused to carry a gun. He would go on to become the first conscientious objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honour.
And it seems from the reaction that Gibson’s work behind the camera (which earned him best director and best picture Oscar wins for “Braveheart” in 1996) is as moving and bloody as ever.
Even Lionsgate seems to be getting more comfortable touting Gibson. The first poster for “Ridge” didn’t even have his name on it, reading instead “from the acclaimed director of ‘Braveheart’ and ‘The Passion of the Christ.'” But TV spots this week call “Ridge” “a film by Mel Gibson.”
This is all leading to the best possible moment for Gibson to be thrust back into the global spotlight. He’s working on a sequel to his mega-hit “The Passion of the Christ.” Titled “The Resurrection,” it will be “a huge undertaking” according to Gibson (a script is currently being developed).
“Passion of the Christ” had its own controversies surrounding it, of course, but no one could deny its devoted fans and box-office might. Given Gibson’s slow climb back to relevance, a movie about the resurrection of Jesus seems like an oddly fitting comeback.