After a long seclusion that followed his latest scandal, in which he was accused of attacking his Russian ex-girlfriend, Oskana Grigorieva, and which resulted in a misdemeanour charge against him in March, actor and director Mel Gibson arrives at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, dressed in dark jeans and a shirt, looking fresh, ebullient, jovial, humorous and full of energy.
Still embroiled in a custody battle with Grigorieva over their young daughter, the 56-year old star is reluctant to discuss their acrimonious split. “There’s too much dependent on it,” he says. “But I learned a great deal,” he adds laughing.
But the damage was done. Last year, Gibson was dropped by his longtime agency William Morris Endeavor, after the release of the audio recording of Gibson using racist language and threatening Grigorieva with violence. And recently he lost a cameo role in the upcoming Hangover II, because the cast objected to his participation.
Gibson gained notoriety for his racial outbursts and uncontrolled anger when in 2006, he caused an outcry for blaming the Jews for the troubles of the world during his police arrest for drunken driving. He later blamed his indecorous behaviour on his alcohol addiction, an affliction he battled with for many years.
“My filter is missing. My advice, have your larynx removed,” he jokes. “Try and anticipate,” he adds blithely.
Even his movies have been a fountain of controversy, but Gibson is indifferent to his critics, who decry him as anti-Semitic, racist, misogynist, anglophobe and homophobic. “I just live my life the way I’ve always lived it, without a single act of discrimination against anyone. That’s the way it is if people express those feelings.”
Gibson also laughs off reports that he suffers from Bipolar Disorder. “That’s very nice of them to diagnose me,” he laughs. “What do you say to something like that? Well, don’t believe anything you read and only half what you actually see,” he laughs again, twiddling an electric cigarette between his fingers.
Although he has admitted in the past battling his own personal demons, Gibson rejects the comparison between him and the chronically depressed alcoholic, Walter, whom he portrays in Jodie Foster‘s new dark comedy “The Beaver.”
“Walter is very severely depressive and I don’t think that I am. But to some degree or other we all have ups and downs. We’re all going to be afflicted by the same elements of stress that the planet has to offer and other people have to offer. So you can relate to who that guy is on a smaller scale. It’s a vast human experience. ”
Nonetheless, Gibson did draw from his own and other’s experiences to inhabit Walter’s character fully. “It’s one vast human experience and it’s a worthwhile thing to investigate and to try to find a solution for on film, ’cause there are solutions.”
But unlike Walter, who overcomes his depression by speaking through a beaver hand puppet, which transforms him from a loser into a dynamic, creative family-and-business-man, Gibson seeks solace in hot baths, shaving, foot massage and acupuncture. “I am not big on medications and stuff like that. I think the answer is always a spiritual solution.”
The hardcore Catholic, who has built a church in his Malibu property, prays to God in stressful times. “Everyone does,” he laughs. “In every culture, people go through some personal stuff, they get spiritual. There is no atheist in a foxhole.”
The Beaver is dark and dramatic, but Gibson uncannily infuses it with convivial humour, using a dynamic, Cockney accent, which makes the beaver sound irreverent and musical. And he masterly coordinates his hand movements to the beaver’s words, feelings and attitude as he takes us on a thrilling emotional journey.
Gibson’s magical performance in the Beaver has been praised by critics as “the best of his career,” yet the veteran actor, who was vaulted to international fame by the Mad Max series three decades ago and has become one of the biggest stars in the world, says “Acting is not something I like doing as much as I used to.
“I like it but I don’t love it. I may do it and I’ll will enjoy it. There’ll be something that’s a particularly interesting problem or puzzle I want to solve, that I think I can apply to a character, or just simply to have fun, just for the sheer pleasure of entertaining myself and hopefully anyone who happens to observe. But I don’t care if I don’t.”
“I look back and I remember the keen attention to detail and that it matters so much. But after thirty-five years, you have a different relationship with acting. It gets into a realm of more, kind of an overview of storytelling, which isn’t altogether a bad thing, because it strips away self-indulgence from you to a degree. You just get on with this business of delivering, and delivering competently, and truthfully if you can, even if you have to fake it.”
Instead, Gibson prefers to be behind the camera, orchestrating a story. “That’s my want now. I’ve just moved on, that’s all.”
In fact, Gibson’s desire to make movies was fired at the age of 17, when he dreamed of making a film about the Vikings’ brutal invasion of England. “I am 17 and I’m thinking ‘What am I talking about? I don’t know how to make films.’ I didn’t know that I would know how to make films one day. But that was the very first kind of filmic image I ever sort of had a hankering to do.”
The 17-year-old Aussie dreamer went on to form his own production company, ICON Productions, in 1990, win an an Academy award for directing the multi-Oscar winning epic, Braveheart, in 1995, and direct the box-office massive hit, The Passion of the Christ, in 2004 and the critically-acclaimed, Apocalypto in 2007.
“I love the business of expression. I love what’s involved in the art of bringing it all together. I’ll always be involved on some level or other.”
He has recently wrapped the shooting of How I spent My Summer Vacation, which he wrote, produced and starred in, and is developing Swashbuckler Kind of Stuff with Braveheart’s Randy Wallace.
Gibson’s creativity is boundless. His mind is still fertile and throngs with ideas. He invariably busies himself in the pursuit of expressing himself. One time he wrote a book in verse when he was not doing much.
“You apply yourself to some artistic pursuit, someway or other, even if you’re making a cake, for Pete’s sake. You’re going to try and make it the best cake ever if you can,” he laughs.
It turns out that Gibson knows how to bake a cake too. In fact, he says he would’ve been a chef had he not been in the entertainment business.
“I can cook anything. You just tell me and I’ll cook it. I’ll figure out how to do it. I get people around to my place and whip up feasts all the time. I cook for 50, 60 people – it’s a blast,” he enthuses.
Gibson will be attending this year’s Cannes Film Festival with his longtime friend and co-star, Jodie Foster, to promote The Beaver which is to be screened out of competition.
Talking to Gibson feels like watching a one man show delivered by a genius performer. Judging from his scandalous personal life and controversial films, one could easily paint an image of a tragic character, but his jovial demeanour presents a different picture. Even when you confront him with difficult questions that delve into the darkest corners of his personality, he, like a Roman gladiator, deftly deflects them and bounces back with a convivial banter that lulls you into a pleasant feeling.
Although I could sense a residue of melancholy simmering behind the veneers of his blithesome personality, it’s his honesty and openness that I found most endearing. It’s truly hard to believe that such a down-to-earth, delightful human being could have acted unseemly towards others, and it’s even harder not to like him. He is no doubt a very complex character.