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I'd return to direction very soon: Mel

As Mel Gibson expands his movie market, his What Women Want to be remade in Chinese; Hindi can’t to be too far behind. Returning to screen after seven years, actor talks exclusively to HT Café about alcohol abuse, Edge Of Darkness, and the foggy idea called Bollywood.

entertainment Updated: Jun 11, 2010 12:53 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

He took a “pause” from acting because he felt that he was getting “stale” and wanted to “focus” on direction. After seven years, Mel Gibson returns on screen with a lead role in Edge Of Darkness that opens in Indian theatres on June 25. He was last seen in a full-fledged role in The Singing Detective in 2003.

The film has already released in markets abroad and on the home video circuit too. But Gibson doesn’t think that the fact that its DVDs are out in the stores is going to affect the box office collections of Edge Of Darkness in India. Nor does he want to sell it as “vintage Gibson”.

“You don’t watch a film for its star value but for its story and ‘soul’ performances,” argues the man who has been voted one of the top 100 movie stars of all time. Quiz him on the honour and he says modestly, “Harrison Ford is on the top of my list. I had no idea I was on that list too till the results came out. Acting is in my blood and I have learnt every aspect of cinema from being an actor.”

New markets
One of Gibson’s rom-coms, What Women Want, is being remade in Chinese by Chen Daming with Gong Li in Helen Hunt’s role. Andy Lau is stepping in for Gibson as a chauvinistic alpha male who, after being electrocuted, suddenly finds himself being able to read the thoughts of women. This ‘gift’ that he eventually loses at the end of the film, changes him and his life.

Chen,who has adapted the original script by Nancy Meyers from the hit 2000 Paramount film, started shooting his $5 million What Women Want early this month, in the central business district of Beijing and is targetting a Valentine’s Day release in 2011.

Back home, a Hindi TV serial, Bhaskar Bharti, with Ejaz Khan as a man who suddenly turns into a woman, raked in decent TRPs
during its run last year. A Marathi movie, Aga Bai Arechya, about a man who has a window to any woman’s thoughts and saves the city by tuning into a gangster’s mind, drew full houses.

Gibson is encouraged by the news: “It’s nice that people who have already seen you in a role are so inspired by your work that they are now trying to replicate it in a remake. We had never thought that the Chinese would opt for a film like this.”

No names
Will this open the doors toexploring newer markets, including Bollywood?James Cameron recently flew into India for a panel discussion with Aamir Khan. Russel Crowe was quoted at the Cannes Film Festival saying that he wants to do a film with former Miss World-turned-actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who even Oprah Winfrey wants on her top-rated talk show?
“Why not?” Gibson says agreeably, but admits he has only a “foggy idea” about the film industry here. “I have noticed many Indian film personalities at many film festivals, but if you’re thinking of asking me about some particular names, forget it.”

May be one day, the Aussie with the bluest eyes, who has been offered every superhero role, from The Terminator and Batman to X-Men and even a Bond movie, will see a desi poster boy in a ‘desi’ Lethal Weapon or direct a Bollywood sequel to Mad Max. One can always dream but for now, the 54-year-old movie legend is happy in Hollywood’s dream factory.

Gibson gets personal
‘I ran through the traffic in Sydney, breaking everything, to pluck my daughter out of the way just before she was struck down by a car’

What was it about Edge Of The Darkness that got the nod from you?
I always look at the story first and then compare it on certain parameters. Is it compelling? Can I connect with it? Can I bring something to it? I had three more projects lined up, but I felt this was the most worthy one as it was a story I liked the most.

Buzz is that you agreed to the film because you had loved the 1985 BBC series from which it has been adapted.
Yes, I’d loved the series made in the 1980’s that had much to do with the UK government’s nuclear policy and reflected the political unrest at the time. But at its core, it was the story of a father who loses his daughter. He then needs to find out why this happened to her and to him.

The political aspects were updated in the film but the heart of the picture remained the same. For me, the biggest challenge of playing Thomas Craven was the stillness. Stillness has always been a stranger to me, so I had to rein myself in… Not pull too many faces or move too much.

You attended a gun club to improve your marksmanship in preparation for the role. How good a shot are you today?
Well, you don’t bounce back as quickly as you used to and it’s not a pleasant experience. But that’s okay, so long as it still looks good.

Robert De Niro opted out of the film citing “creative differences”...
De Niro is above par, but Ray Winstone also brings a powerful, underlying threatening quality to the character of Darius Jedburgh who is an enigma.

The film is about the bonding between a father and his daughter. You have eight children; which one of them reminded you of Emma the most?
Fortunately, I’ve never been in situations endangering the kids, except for the one time I went to the pharmacy in Sydney to buy formula for my newborn twins. They’re 28 now, so this happened a long time ago.

Go on, tell us more
Well, I took my 21-month-old daughter along since my wife was preoccupied with the twins. This was in Coogee in Sydney and the pharmacy around the corner was on a really busy road. We had a nurse from New Zealand at the time. She’d help out during the day and leave at 4 pm. I was at the pharmacy and took my eyes off my child for a second to debate between two brands. I looked up to see my baby standing 25 yards away, on the edge of the curb. She wanted to say “Hi” to the nurse, who was at a bus stop on the other side, frantically waving “no”.

What happened next?
(Chuckles) Nothing much, except for an old man with broken ribs and a lady with a footprint on her face. I lifted things and threw them out of the way, ran through the traffic and broke everything to pluck my daughter out of the way just before she was struck down by a car.

I had to apologise to a lot of people afterwards. They didn’t understand. They got angry because I’d knocked an old lady over.

Edge Of Darkness, The Beaver and How I Spent My Summer Vacation are all "unhappy" roles. Does this reflect real life blues, given that you have admitted to having contemplated suicide?
Nothing personal though, there is a lot of anger around. That’s an old theme, in a lot of stories, and hero myths. Something sets the sphere wrong and somebody has to set it right. I enjoy taking on unhappy roles, despite how difficult they can be, because they make me appreciate my own life.

You were once quoted as saying that you had done a "hatchet job on your marriage". In retrospect, how differently would you handle things if you could relive your life?
In life, there are pleasant and painful experiences, rewards and sacrifices, disappointment and joy. We all are looking for happiness, and if we get even a little piece of serenity for five minutes a day, we’re lucky.

I have that now. So all I’m trying to do is put some information on a chip that I can leave to my prodigies. Maybe they can do a better job than I did on this crazy spinning piece of dirt.

Every time you go out there to do something, you wonder if you can do it. There’s no secret recipe for assured success, only the possibility of failure. The whole business of putting your wares on display, whether you’re a chef, an opera director, a painter, an actor or a filmmaker, means you are going to be judged by others. And you are either going to be excoriated or praised. Sometimes it’s both, other times, you are somewhere in between. It’s a challenge, the whole gig is a challenge.

You once described Hollywood as a “factory where once you break down, you are easily replaced”. Has anyone been able to replace Mel Gibson in the last seven years?
I am no one to answer that question. The verdict always comes from the audience.

‘I’ve been sober now for three-and-a-half years’

On his struggles with alcohol abuse
I have relied on my Christian faith to pull me through. I have totally given up alcohol now and have re-evaluated my life. I suffered a crisis in 2006, when I was pulled over on suspicion of DUI in California, and reportedly made anti-Semitic comments during my arrest. I later apologised, pleaded no contest and received three years’ probation.

I have been sober now for three-and-a-half years. But I had to put some time together before that — once it was eight years, once it was five. And I have to be vigilant or it will creep back in.

SNAPPY 6
1 Your next film, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, is set in Mexico. What’s your take on the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
I’m really happy about British Petroleum’s decision to donate the net revenue from the sale of that oil to a wildlife fund. This fund will create, restore, improve and protect wildlife habitats along the coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Mexico.

2 Buzz is that Mad Max 4 is being contemplated with a younger actor. Any names you would recommend? And is a Lethal Weapon in the pipeline too?
Dear, that is the director and producer’s call, not mine. I am free from it.

3 Signs was one of your biggest grossing films, any chance of collaborating with Manoj K Shyamalan again?
May be, if we could settle on a really good script.

4 In retrospect, how do you view the controversy over The Passion Of The Christ?
I didn’t expect it to resonate so much. I really didn’t, and it shocked me. I had made the film for myself. Of course, one still has to think, “I’m a member of the audience, would I want to see it?”

The same was true of Apocalypto. People keep asking me, “Whoa, how’d you do that?”

5 What was the experience of working with Jodie Foster, as actor and director, in The Beaver?
Jodie is a good friend, she’s superb and I’ve learned a lot from her, particularly in the field of writing. From conception to writing to bringing the words on screen, mounting a film, producing and directing it.

As the title suggests, The Beaver is about a man who is clinically depressed. He tries to kill himself but can’t do it properly. Instead, he finds himself with a ratty beaver hand puppet. And manages to save himself and his family by expressing himself through this puppet because that’s all he can do. He’s too far gone, he’s too broken.

6 You’ve played a cop and a detective in countless blockbusters. Pick one that you rate highly?
Detective Thomas Craven from Edge Of Darkness. The reason is that once you have a child, you’re never quite the same again. You begin to see your own mortality and begin to have hopes for the next generation. And you have to be able to pass along something to this bunch that has value so they can keep propagating the race.

Parenthood makes you aware on certain levels and affects what you do on screen. More so if you’re dealing with the loss of an offspring, which is one of the worst nightmares one can imagine.

I was 16 when I wanted to make a Viking movie’
On his next film as a director

You want to hear the very first idea I ever had about making a film? I was 16 years old then and I wanted to make a Viking movie. And I wanted to make it in old Norse which I was studying at the time.

It was odd because at that age you’re like, “Well, that’s a dumb idea! How will I ever be a filmmaker?” It was like some kind of romantic pipedream but that was the first epic idea I ever had. That’s why I can't wait to get my teeth into this Viking movie with Leo (Leonardo DiCaprio) .

The Viking is definitely on. I’m working on it with producer Graham King. It’s been four years since Apocalypto, but very soon, I should return to direction.

—As told to Roshmila Bhattacharya