On May 6th, Mel Gibson‘s much-delayed comeback picture, The Beaver, will open in limited release. It’s directed by his longtime friend and co-star Jodie Foster.
The movie has already garnered reviews praising Gibson’s performance as “the best of his career” and there is talk that Gibson will make an appearance with Foster at the Cannes Film Festival to support the film.
But Hollywood and the rest of the world will be watching to see how the picture fares at the box office. Because its audiences will determine whether Mel Gibson can continue acting in front of the camera (and not just behind it as a successful producer, director, and writer).
The problem is that his once very private life has become public fodder — his 2006 DUI arrest and drunken anti-Semitic rant and his simultaneous separation from his wife of 28 years, his ex-girlfriend’s 2010 allegations of abuse, his ongoing custody battle with her for their new baby, and his recent decision to plead no contest in criminal court to a misdemeanour charge.
Veteran Hollywood journalist Allison Hope Weiner sat down with Gibson in the Santa Monica offices of his Icon production company on April 18th:
I opted to give Gibson’s interview to Deadline because editors at other media outlets seemed inclined to use this story to pursue their own agendas. It’s his first major sitdown since portions of the taped conversations between the filmmaker and his ex-girlfriend were leaked to the Internet. There were no pre-set conditions, no topic off limits, and no ground rules. This is just Mel being Mel. I found him to be funny but also melancholy, occasionally brazen and often abashed. And I was often reminded that I was in the presence of a true creative talent. I’ve always found Gibson to be amazingly honest in interviews, but I was taken aback at times by how self-knowing he was in response to certain questions. While there were topics Gibson was legally prohibited from discussing, he did his best to provide direct answers to all of my questions:
Speaking for the first time about leaked audio recordings of angry conversations between himself and his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, Gibson explains the context in which they were recorded: “It’s one terribly awful moment in time, said to one person in the span of one day, and doesn’t represent what I truly believe or how I’ve treated people my entire life.” He said that if the scandal means that the public no longer wants to see him on the big screen, “I could easily not act again. It’s not a problem. However, Gibson has already lined up his next film: to re-team with Braveheart’s Randy Wallace on an Alexander Dumas-like “swashbuckler kind of stuff” where he won’t be the leading man.
Gibson praises those Hollywood friends like Whoopi Goldberg who spoke out on his behalf and notes that he’s also received many private calls of support. But he says about those Hollywood friends who didn’t, “it doesn’t bother me. Why would anyone speak publicly and drag themselves through this crap?” He addresses the cast members of Hangover II who objected to his planned cameo in the film. Gibson says that he’s continued to write during the tapes scandal and hasn’t allowed it to keep him from living his life. But he admits to rethinking his movie career as an actor: “If I could make that choice again, I’d make a different choice.” Here’s the Q&A:
DEADLINE’S ALLISON HOPE WEINER: Were people angry at you about what you said on tapes?
GIBSON: I was angry at me. But, no one expressed any anger at me. They may have felt it.
WEINER: Do you feel regret over what you said on the tapes?
GIBSON: Of course.
WEINER: After the tapes ended up on line, many people asked themselves how could someone who’s been around this long and knows the business managed to get into a position where so much of their private life ended up on line? Did you ever think that those private conversations would eventually get out?
GIBSON: [Looks at the ceiling and shakes his head and sighs] Who anticipates being recorded? Who anticipates that? Who could anticipate such a personal betrayal?
WEINER: People didn’t understand how you could say the things you did on these tapes. They wondered, what kind of person says those things. Right now, many people think you’re a racist and that you hate women from listening to those tapes.
GIBSON: I’ve never treated anyone badly or in a discriminatory way based on their gender, race, religion or sexuality — period. I don’t blame some people for thinking that though, from the garbage they heard on those leaked tapes, which have been edited. You have to put it all in the proper context of being in an irrationally, heated discussion at the height of a breakdown, trying to get out of a really unhealthy relationship. It’s one terribly, awful moment in time, said to one person, in the span of one day and doesn’t represent what I truly believe or how I’ve treated people my entire life.
WEINER: Are you worried that audiences will hold what happened against you, and you won’t be able to act anymore?
MEL GIBSON: I don’t care if I don’t act anymore.
WEINER: Really? Is that true?
GIBSON: It really is true.
WEINER: Aren’t you going to be hurt if people judge you based on what they believe occurred here?
GIBSON: I’m beyond that, way beyond that. The whole experience has been most unfortunate. And so it’s not without all the downside.
WEINER: But if you don’t get to act again… I’m asking the same question.
GIBSON: I could easily not act again. It’s not a problem. I’m going to do something now because I want to do it and because it’s fun. I’ve already pulled another job and it’s going to be fun. I don’t know if it’s going to get off the ground, but I’m going to go work for [Best Picture Oscar winner Braveheart‘s screenwriter] Randy Wallace again. He’s got this script and he’s had it for years. He wrote some book and he’s adapted it to a script. And it’s almost like Alexander Dumas — like that swashbuckler kind of stuff.
GIBSON: Yes. It’s total bodice-ripping swashbuckling stuff, but it’s funny. It’s funny and yet it’s got really good serious undertones too. Randy writes a decent script. And I responded to it right away. I thought this is hilarious. I’ve got to do this. And I’m not the main guy in the film — which is great.
WEINER: You were going to do a small part in Hangover II. How did you respond to being asked to do that and then having cast members not want you in it? How did it feel to have them allow a convicted rapist [Mike Tyson] in the movie and not you?
GIBSON: You have to let that go. I sat here and talked to [director] Todd [Phillips] about it. I like Todd. How could you not like Todd? He’s smart and he’s gifted and so are the other people in the film. It’s OK. You just have to let that go.
WEINER: That’s a very Hollywood hypocritical moment.
GIBSON: It shows you a few things. You just move on and go OK. I’m not greatly offended by it. It seemed like a good idea at the time and it went south.
WEINER: What gets you to the point of ‘I don’t care’? I don’t believe you don’t care about people coming to see your work.
GIBSON: It’s like being a chef. If you’re making a cake, you don’t just make the cake and have it look nice and have nobody tastes it. But that doesn’t take away from your ability to execute what you do as well as you can and to have it be something for many. So that it’s like, say Apocalypto when it came out. I think it’s a good film. It doesn’t have a lot of dialogue; it’s mostly just like watching stuff happen in a language you never heard before. It didn’t do surprisingly well at the box office, no, but it has this life where people see it and they go “Whoa,” and the feedback is really amazing, so you know that you’ve hit. And that’s enough. That’s enough. And the end of the day, it’s what did they think of that? Did they get something from it? Were they entertained? Were they educated? Were they elevated? Were they all three? You know, which is really good? Entertain, educate, elevate. I think that’s what Jodie did [in The Beaver]. If you can get all three of those, you’ve got the Trifecta going.
WEINER: Do you think that the audio tapes have hurt your ability to make your own movies?
GIBSON: I don’t know. I don’t know. Guys like Robbie [CEO Rob Friedman] over at Summit [Entertainment] have been really nice. It didn’t seem to bug those guys at all. They were like, ‘This is crap. We’re going out with this movie.’ The next movie I’m in is How I Spent My Summer Vacation and it will have a distributor because we’re in the business of entertainment.
WEINER: Even when the drunk driving/anti-semitic incident happened and was splashed everywhere, you continued to work. Do you just compartmentalise things so you can keep working when you’re at the centre of something like this?
GIBSON: You have to. There are a lot of people depending on you. There are deadlines to meet and fiscal responsibilities. There are the basics of supporting yourself and those who depend on you and those commitments that you have to co-workers.
WEINER: What did you think of Whoopi Goldberg going out on a limb and publicly defending you?
GIBSON: I knew Whoopi before she was Whoopi. And, as she’s great and I always liked her and loved her. I like her even more now because she got it.
WEINER: She took a lot of flack for defending you.
GIBSON: I know. I love her for it.
WEINER: Jodie defended you as well. But it’s a short list of people who spoke out for you. What was your reaction to the fact that not many people publicly defended you?
GIBSON: That doesn’t bother me. Why would anyone want to speak publicly and drag themselves through this crap? It seems to add fuel to the fire. Very many people are supportive, of course, but you find out who your friends are. I have many friends and they’ve been great.
WEINER: When we last spoke after you finished Apocalypto, you said you probably wouldn’t act again. And, a four years later, you did the Edge of Darkness. You’re in The Beaver now. Did something change?
GIBSON: It was something different and it was also Jodie. I’d give her a pedicure every day of the week if I could. We met on Maverick many years ago. I realised that one has a perception — everyone gets preconceptions. She totally surprised me. I knew she was bright, so that didn’t surprise me. She was really bright. And she was pragmatic and extremely sensitive and a good heart, a real good heart. So how could you not become friends? We became fast friends and we maintained that over the years. We’ve both had our different little journeys. It’s untraditional. But there are a lot of things we have in common. I can empathise with her. From four years of age, she’s been out there. And it’s not that for me, but almost, because I was a baby when I started. I was probably more developmentally arrested at the age of 21 than she was at four. [Laughs] You couldn’t get two people who are more diametrically opposed on everything that they think about religion and politics than what we do. But there is a core of goodness there that’s undeniable and I just love her.
WEINER: Don’t you find that a lot of your industry friends have different political beliefs than you?
GIBSON: Nobody is the same. The whole notion of politics is they always present you with this or this or this. I’ll get a newspaper to read between the lines. Why do you have to adhere to prescribed formulas that they have and people argue over them and they’re all in a box. And you watch Fox claw CNN, and CNN claw Fox. Sometimes I catch a piece of the news and it seems insanity to me. I quietly support candidates. I’m not out there banging a drum for candidates. But I have supported a candidate and it’s a whole other world. Once you’ve been exposed to it, once or twice or however many times, if you know the facts and see how they’re presented, it’s mind-boggling. It’s a very scary arena to be in, but I do vote. I go in there and pull the lever. It’s kind of like pulling the lever and watching the trap door fall out from beneath you. Why should we trust any of these people? None of them ever deliver on anything. It’s always disappointing.
WEINER: You’d kept much of your private life out of the public for so many years. And you kept this relationship with Oksana Grigorieva really private for quite some time. The public didn’t even know you were dating her for a long while.
GIBSON: It’s nobody’s business. It really isn’t. Why is it? Why is it anyone’s business? I think it detracts from my business. It’s a change. And why is that of interest to anyone? It always baffles me. Why is that of interest to anyone? If people understood how mundane my life really is. You’re sort of thinking, who cares? It’s staggering. It’s a surprise to me. It’s just a life.
WEINER: It seems like you’ve become really uncomfortable with your fame.
GIBSON: Yes. When I was younger and it first started to happen, there’s some kind of novelty to it in your twenties. You quickly realise before your twenties are over, you realise that it’s not anything it appears to be in your imagination or any other thing, and that it has a lot of downside to it. Now you deal with that. It’s like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, but you can’t. The toothpaste is out there. You realise change has happened. You face it, you cope with it and you move on. And it’s not easy. Change is always proceeded by a little pain. [Shrugs shoulders with smile.] Some people can change and they don’t have to go through so many painful things. But I think that I’m of a personality [laughs at himself] that I’m a little stubborn, so it’s tough for me.
WEINER: Do you think that being a movie star now is drastically different than when you first became famous 30 years ago?
GIBSON: Of course it’s more difficult. The pop culture has become more frenetic. There are more forces at work that are far more invasive. However, I think it would be perfectly doable to defend ones loved ones from some of the harsher aspects of public life. You’re not going to be a 100% successful. But you can see when it’s on purpose. It’s so blatantly easy to avoid at times and you can tell when it was unavoidable.
WEINER: People don’t know very much about who you really are. You had this public persona that seemed easy-going and always happy and joking. And I think people all thought that personality as the Lethal Weapon franchise evolved was yours.
GIBSON: Yes. Kind of slightly manic. A kind of cuddly pathology.
WEINER: But your public persona is not really you.
GIBSON: It never is. Remember old Cary Grant. People said, “Boy, what’s it like to be Cary Grant?” [Imitates Cary Grant voice and says] “I wouldn’t know.” It’s like, “I don’t know who that guy is.”
WEINER: Did you ever question that you chose the wrong occupation — especially when the tapes were released? Did you think that, ‘I’m sick of this and I chose the wrong job’?
GIBSON: [Hesitates] There are a lot of instances over the years, with the loss of personal anonymity, you’ll always look back at. Nobody warns you about that. You walk into that arena and your intentions are fairly pure — you just want to be good at what you do and do what you love to do. That’s all. It takes on another side life. There are all these side streets that you really have no control over. One looks back with regret on that. There was a moment where there was a fork in the road where you could have chosen one way or the other. For example, I know people because they know me, they’ve chosen another way because they don’t like what it does. You go back and say, if I could go back and make that choice again, I’d make a different choice. It’s unfortunate that I was 21 or 22 years old when I made the choice because without benefit of experience or any kind of maturity, one makes a choice in the spur of the moment, that you again can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
WEINER: There are other things you could do to stay out of the public eye. You could write.
GIBSON: I’m writing now. I’m writing on three different things. That’s what I’ve been doing this whole time is writing. I’m always writing. There is always a story brewing in my head. It’s been productive.
WEINER: It just seems that if you could only act, that would be one thing. There are other things that have less exposure.
GIBSON: I walked away from acting for eight years and tried to make the choice that I should have made when I was 21. But, it doesn’t make any difference. Nothing changed. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
WEINER: Do you remember where you were when the tapes scandal broke? What was your reaction?
GIBSON: I don’t remember a bunch. What came first? The chicken or the egg. The Beaver was completed. We’d finished shooting, I think.
WEINER: Before the tapes were leaked on line, you’d reached a $16 million settlement agreement with Oksana, right?
GIBSON: I can’t really talk about that.
WEINER: Well, it has been reported that you reached a $16 million dollar settlement with Oksana and she signed the agreement. And then, shortly after agreeing to the settlement, she rejected it and the tapes were leaked to RadarOnline only days later. [Gibson says nothing.] So, when did you first find out that tapes had been made of your private conversations?
GIBSON: I really can’t talk about this stuff. It’s all kind of … There are a lot of things pending, custody and all kinds of things that I can’t even go into. Put it this way, for the sake of my daughter and the rest of my children, I really can’t talk about this. There are all sorts of legal things pending.
WEINER: What are you dealing with in terms of legal things?
GIBSON: Everybody has a dog in the fight but me, oddly enough. I haven’t got a lawsuit out on anyone because I think it’s extremely… You have to think about your children. That’s all there is to it. I can’t really discuss this. There are a lot of delicate and sensitive issues and I don’t want to be the cause of grief to any of my children or to friends or family or associates on either side because it’s a matter that should be dealt with. It’s important to me that it’s dealt with correctly and it’s important that I maintain my integrity through this for the sake of those I love. So speaking about it is just not on and apart from anything else, I’m prohibited by court order. Now, the system is flawed as we know, but you’ve got to ride with that. I think that it will all eventually come out in the wash and I’m depending on that. I have a lot of faith in that. Even though any organisation, anybody, will always be flawed or not perfect in many ways. But at the end of the day, they’re trying to work in a fashion that achieves some kind of justice. I’m going to hook my hitch onto that and follow that through. Perhaps some time I will go on and comment in a more full way. But even if the judge hadn’t put some kind of court order on me, I think I’d stay mum on a lot of these things just out of consideration for Lucia and my other children and my grandchildren and friends and family. It doesn’t do any good. Maybe, when this is all over and hopefully, justice is achieved. Maybe I could say something. But I’d never want to leave anything lying around that would… a lot of damage has been done. I don’t want to add to it.
WEINER: Let’s talk about what you plead to in court regarding allegations that you hit Grigorieva.
GIBSON: I was allowed to end the case and still maintain my innocence. It’s called a West plea and it’s not something that prosecutors normally allow. But in my case, the prosecutors and the judge agreed that it was the right thing to do. I could have continued to fight this for years and it probably would have come out fine. But I ended it for my children and my family. This was going to be such a circus. You don’t drag other people in your life through this sewer needlessly, so I’ll take the hit and move on.
WEINER: How did you find yourself in the position to make some of these many bad choices? When you were pulled over for the DUI in Malibu, weren’t you separated from your wife?
GIBSON: The next day.
WEINER: Were you having problems before that?
GIBSON: Marriage is marriage. Everybody has problems. I don’t want to really talk about that either.
WEINER: What I was trying to get at is that you found yourself without your family after a long marriage. Were you in a good frame of mind?
GIBSON: I doubt it. It’s nobody’s business, my separation, my divorce, any of that stuff. It’s out there, OK, so it happened. As to the details, I have precious little to keep to myself. And if I can even hold on to even painful things for myself, so be it.
WEINER: At this point, you seem to have made it past the worst of the tape scandal. How are you feeling about things?
GIBSON: The main thing is that it was terribly humiliating and painful for my family, all my kids.
WEINER: Did they talk to you about that?
GIBSON: Yeah, we spoke. And I had to speak to them with everyone but my youngest who is blissfully unaware, thank God. Well, she may be aware of it one day, and at that time, I guess I’ll just address that. I spent 30 years keeping them away from this kind of thing and I was quite successful. So why should I start now dragging them through that stuff? You try to manage that.
WEINER: Let’s talk about The Beaver. It’s getting amazing reviews — there was just an incredible on by Richard Roeper. Was it a movie that everyone wanted to do?
GIBSON: Nobody wanted to do it. It was always on the top of the pile for scripts that don’t get done but that should have been done.
GIBSON: I don’t think anybody really had a notion of really had to grapple with it. It really could have gone in several different directions. There were three main ways it could have gone. When I read it, I chose a different way to what Jodie did. She said you have to read it and tell me what you think.
WEINER: What was Jodie’s take? And how were the differences between you two resolved?
GIBSON: It’s called trust. She’s very decisive and she’s very smart and she had a very clear vision of what she wanted. I was thinking, I’ll go for the yucks or something more obvious. I’d go in there with that inclination because that’s in me, and that would be counter-productive. Because her vision and what she’s trying to do with the film would not have been served by my shtick. What’s the reality of a guy who’s using a puppet to express himself? What’s the reality of that? That can happen.
WEINER: During the film, you actually find yourself looking at the puppet when it’s talking.
GIBSON: The idea was almost to kind of disappear a little bit. Or there were balances you had to hit. It’s the way it’s shot. He’s almost always a two shot. Walter and the Beaver is almost a two shot — there are very few close-ups. And, that was brave of her. I thought, oh my God. I was like, throw a close-up of the Beaver so I can relax. [He collapses back on the couch with laughter.]
WEINER: I thought the family and the father being at the centre and how everyone reacts he gets the puppet was really moving.
GIBSON: It’s a band-aid that he needs to sort of get through a really hard time . Because he’s walked so far out, there’s only the puppet left. I found that really interesting. How far people will go and how strong we are to really be able to survive terrible trauma. Whether it’s PTSD or guys who come back from war? How do the World War II guys or the Vietnam guys survive that? When this latest group come back, it’s going to be fireworks because I don’t think we have the mechanisms in place for them to adjust as easily.
WEINER: But there is a feeling expressed by wife and the older son in the movie that Walter is being depressed on purpose.
GIBSON: Right. ‘He’s doing this to us. He embarrasses us. He doesn’t care about us because he’s so trapped in himself.’ And, depression is like that. It’s somewhere one can be caught. You can get stuck there. Initially, it does stem from a certain amount of egotism. You have to say, OK, I’m not the most important thing here and you have to travel towards humilities. What does it do to everyone around in the family? It is an illness. It is a disease. And, I think there is a better understanding of it. A guy said to me one time, something really profound, and it’s so simple. It’s that depression lies. It’s a liar and you have to shut it down. There is nothing that alleviates it more than going out and doing something for someone else. It’s almost like instant healing. Get away from yourself. People can’t even get out of bed and it gets really severe. I’ve never been at that stage. Everyone goes through low and high and low and high and some people are blessed to be created on an even keel all the way through—but not me.
WEINER: You’ve battled it?
GIBSON: Of course. I think the majority of people do—especially. It has something to do with the speed of life and the information overload.
WEINER: Is that why you were looking for a project like this with Jodie? She said that you guys were fascinated by desperation and had been looking for a long time to do a movie that explores what people do when they’re truly desperate.
GIBSON: Yes, we were looking. I read it and I saw the odd quirky humour and at the same time, the very profound undertone of what happens to us and what can happen to us and how do you handle that. What’s the solution to that? What’s the answer to life’s question pass the halfway point? I think we’re all past the halfway point — jeez, I hope so.We had conversations about, boy, I can understand why the guy doesn’t want to get out of bed. Not that I ever didn’t get out of bed. I did have a couple of days like that in my life where you’ve been working seven days a week — it’s like leave me alone.
WEINER: So you were drawn to this script for a lot of personal reasons.
GIBSON: We all present a version of ourselves whether you’ve got a puppet on your hand or not. To actually be very real out there in a public way, why?
WEINER: The thing that struck me about the movie is that it does have it’s funny moments, but…
GIBSON: But it’s not humorous. When I first read it, it made me laugh until I cried. He was so pathetic, this guy. I understood that aspect of him. Every aspect of it — the drinking, the obsessive compulsive kind of stuff, and that he’s tried everything. Oh yeah. [Laughs] What’s the answer for this stuff? And there is an answer. There has to be an answer. There’s nothing that can afflict humankind that doesn’t have an answer, hasn’t got an anecdote.
WEINER: Is there closure in the movie?
GIBSON: In a way, but not completely. There are solutions and it doesn’t all happen like that. [Snaps his fingers.] Bad things happen like that. But good things all take time — growth, healing, that all takes time. That process — how bad it can get and embarking on the solution. There are solutions and you’ll find them, as you go, it’s a leap of faith in a lot of cases.
WEINER: At least you believe you’re going somewhere else after this. I’m not even sure, although I have moments.
GIBSON: I have to believe that otherwise, I’m out of here now. Dr. Kevorkian… But you’ve got to have that belief, boy.
WEINER: When I watched the movie, I had to stop laughing because it’s kind of pathetic and you don’t feel right laughing. It’s so bad and so much suffering for Walter.
GIBSON: It should make you a little uncomfortable. And all the other characters, many of them don’t signal the uncomfortable feeling — but Jodie’s does. It’s rock bottom. Rock bottom. It’s like building back from rock bottom.
WEINER: Somehow, you found rock bottom.
GIBSON: [Laughs] Somehow.
WEINER: You’re very quiet in this film. We haven’t seen you act in such a quiet fashion in a while.
GIBSON: I haven’t done that in a while. But it was fun working with the puppet. And when you’re doing it, you’re not aware of it. What’s this thing doing? Is it looking at the camera? (Laughs) Really.
WEINER: Were you afraid you’d look silly?
GIBSON: Yes. I was like, that was alright? And she’d go, ‘Yeah.’ And I say, yeah? She’d say, ‘Yeah, it was fine. Let’s move on.’ [Looks hesitant.] But I never saw it.
WEINER: Did you practice at home to see if it looked ridiculous?
GIBSON: Yeah. And it did look ridiculous.
WEINER: You don’t look like a very glamorous movie star in this film. You actually look kind of bad.
GIBSON: I was a little porky. There was a sallow, unhealthful glow which was purposeful.
WEINER: Did you care about not looking that great in the film about you…?
GIBSON: Oh, my vanity? Well, everyone is vain. I knew I looked bad in it. It sort of fits. The guys been doing drum circles, and eating pills, and drinking. He starts to come back to some modicum of health.
WEINER: Do you worry about that? Do you try to stay fit?
GIBSON: Yeah, you do stuff like that. [Whispers with a smile.] Nobody wants to see my belly button on my chin. I don’t like it when I see somebody else’s belly button on their chin. It’s the way things go. Hey, I do what I can to sort of just stave off the clock — walk, swim, try and smoke an electric cigarette. I mean it’s all bad for you. Life is bad. We’re all dying. We’re all in the process of oxidizing. Everyone of us is in the process of oxidizing so to sort of interrupt one aspect of that while everything else goes on, it’s a freak show.
WEINER: Is it hard to have a new baby at your age?
GIBSON: No. Not at all. That’s the best thing. That’s just great. It’s just — look, children are just amazing gifts. The whole journey of discovery again and having a different perspective now. It’s different. You learn. I mean, I have a daughter who is 30 and I have a daughter who is 18 months. And the 18 month is getting 30 years of benefit.
WEINER: Can you go out alone or with your family and not be followed right now?
GIBSON: Yeah, it happens sometimes. You ain’t seen much of me recently. It’s doable. Yeah, I go out. I do what I need to do. Life goes on. It’s part of your job to be out there. But there are aspects that you don’t necessarily want and sometimes they are completely unavoidable. You get blindsided and try to deal with it in a pragmatic way.