Mel Gibson temporarily quit acting to focus on directing his passion projects. At 54 though, he decided it was time to come back, and come back he has done with a vengeance with “Edge of Darkness”. Based on the British miniseries directed by Martin Campbell, who also made this big screen version, Gibson plays a Boston cop trying to uncover the truth about his daughter’s murder.
Twenty-nine years after Gibson’s very first interview with Paul Fischer, the pair spent some time talking about the film, directing and Vikings in this, his one and only online interview for the film.
Question: Now, after this period of time where you were behind the camera, and you focused on rediscovering the filmmaking side of you – why, at this particular juncture in your life, do you want to go back to acting again?
Gibson: Well, it just seemed like a good time to do it. I sort of missed it. I felt I’d like to try this again. I mean, the excitement of it sort of felt like I might have something to bring to it. I stopped because I felt I was getting stale. It’s not that anything I did was horrific, but I felt that I was a little stale, and that I needed a breather and maybe walk away and see if I could come back and shed some bad habits, and maybe sort of mature with some better ones.
Question: Did this script somehow resonate with you on any kind of personal level as a father?
Gibson: Well, of course it did, yeah. It wasn’t the script that necessarily brought me back, but it was just time to come back. It just happened to be the most compelling, best piece of material that I saw when it was time to come back. It could have been something else. But I dug it, and the players were good. You know, Martin and Ray and Graham King, and I thought, ” Let’s go, you know? This could be damn good.” Andrew Bovell wrote a draft, and I thought, ” You know, that’s got some virtues.” Then they got Bill Monahan on it, he sort of changed it a bit and it just kept getting better and better and better.
Question: Did you avoid watching the original miniseries?
Gibson: I watched the original miniseries in the ’80s, obviously never realizing I’d be working on it and I really liked it. It was one of those things that I would stop and watch. I didn’t do that with many things, but I watched that because I found it really fascinating. But I did not re-watch it though.
Question: Was any version of the script as political as the original, or was it felt that it needed to be toned down because of trying to reach a broader audience?
Gibson: I think that the political comment in the series was during that time of Thatcher with a lot of strikes, and the economy was up the creek. There was a lot of anger in the country and I think it just kind of soaked in that backwash. You saw signs of that anger, and that sort of malaise that was going on at that time. So it just had this kind of smell about it. With this and with it being under two hours, you kind of had to sort of like shove a few things out there.
Question: What about the darkness of it? This character goes through some pretty emotional changes.
Question: It’s very intense stuff. Was it easy for you to get back into that kind of psyche of a character?
Gibson: Oh, yeah. I think so. To realize who he is wasn’t so hard. I mean, once you sort of understand Boston detectives, and stuff like that – and I met these guys. These guys are, like, they’re tough dudes, but they’re as soft as anybody else, in a way. They’re just hardened by what they’ve done and they’re by the book, well, the ones I met were by the book. They’ve all got families.
Question: Did you try to immerse yourself in the Boston cop culture as much as you could?
Gibson: Yeah. I hung with those guys. They let me know who they were. I observed. I let them know who I was. It wasn’t so far away.
Question: There’s a lot of physical stuff in the film. Do you keep in shape naturally or did you have to get back in shape for the fight scene?
Gibson: Well, the only thing I did with that was just I ordered a chiropractor for the day after because I knew what it was going to feel like. I knew I was going to wake up like road kill and I did. You don’t bounce back as quick as you used to, and that guy’s 25 right, and he’s taking it easy on you. It’s not a pleasant experience, you know. Things don’t pop back the way they used to but it’s okay. So long as it still looks good.
Question: Do you naturally stay in shape?
Gibson: I don’t work out much. I try and eat right and exercise a little. That sounds horrible. I quit smoking so that’s something in the right direction. There’s no more fun things left. I just don’t do anything fun anymore. But that’s dying, isn’t it? You die in stages, right? You let things go in pieces. It’s more than halfway through, right?
Question: How different an actor do you think you might have been on this, given the last two movies you did as a director? Did you approach film acting any differently this time around?
Gibson: Yes, I think so, but I’m not sure. I know I approached it differently, but I’m not sure I can qualify how. I really can’t. It’s just a long time. That time away informs choices I’d make now that I wouldn’t have made then. I think it’s really hard to qualify what they were, but I think basically you’re always really trying to look for some kind of level of truth, even if you have to adjust it for the camera or the situation, and whether or not you can find it – it’s up to the audience member, whether they see it in your or not. How well you’re lying to them.
Question: So do you think you approached acting any differently prior to directing “The Passion of the Christ” and “Apocalypto”?
Gibson: I think maybe a little less self-indulgent with it. I think from directing, you learn to be less indulgent with yourself. You kind of understand what it takes to do it, and you’re more inclined to just get up there and do it. I think it’s a young actor’s thing, which is good. You’ve got to go through the process.
Question: As a filmmaker, you directed these last two movies for you. As an actor, do you have very different criteria?
Gibson: Well, I think you’re always doing them for everybody else. I think one has to have in mind that you’re sharing the story. And boy, if you lose sight of that, you’re really in trouble.
Question: You didn’t expect “The Passion of the Christ” to be what it ended up becoming, did you?
Gibson: No, I didn’t expect it to resonate so much. I really didn’t. That shocked me. I was making it for myself. But one still has to think, ” Well, I’m an audience member. Would I want to see it?” The same with Apocalypto. People keep asking ” Whoa, how’d you do that?” That’s why I can’t wait to get my teeth into this Viking thing with Leo.
Question: So as a director, that’s your next thing?
Gibson: I think so. I think it’s the Viking movie.
Question: Is it going to be really violent? “Apocalypto”-type violence? I mean, is it going to be that intense?
Gibson: What do you think? I mean, who were the Vikings? Probably the worst bunch of motherfuckers –
Question: I know, savages.
Gibson: Savage animals. I mean, animals. And nice at home, but as soon as they get to somebody else’s place, they were monsters.
Question: And you’re doing it in –
Gibson: Well, what else? Old Norse. Otherwise, it’s not scary.
Question: You really don’t like movies that take risks, do you?
Gibson: Well I believe that’s actually a safer bet. I mean, it’s going to be very effective.
Question: Who are you casting in that?
Gibson: Leo DiCaprio.
Question: And he’s going to speak in Old Norse?
Gibson: I hope so… and you’re going to see him in a different way, because I’ll make sure you do. Even he’ll be surprised. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Now, you also did this movie with Jodie Foster, “The Beaver”. So did you just decide, ” You know what? It’d be nice to do something that I could just be completely ridiculous.”
Gibson: Yeah. It wasn’t completely ridiculous. It was actually pretty serious shit. I mean she’s serious as a heart attack, this gal and she’s amazing. She’s focused, she’s intelligent and she had something to say with this film. It’s not a goofy story, man. It talks about clinical depression and about how people cope with it. Okay, it’s got a very bizarre aspect to it, like there is a beaver puppet, but she’s playing the fucking thing for real, dude. It’s a guy using a puppet to survive. It’s like the full-on comedy. It sounds like it should be.
Question: How did Jodie surprise you as a director?
Gibson: She always surprises me. No matter what she does, she surprises me. She held onto a truth and a conviction and a vision and sometimes I’m like, ” Well, that is ballsy, girl, but I’ll go with you.” You know? And off we went, you know? It was fun.
Question: How surprised are you that George is doing a new “Mad Max”?
Gibson: Not at all. He’s been planning it for years.
Question: Would you do a cameo? Is he begging you to do a cameo?
Gibson: No, not at all. We’ve talked about it. We said – ” Hey, how you doing.” You know, we’ve cleared it. It’s no biggie. No biggie. It’s his franchise. It’s his to do with as he wishes and I’m looking forward to seeing it. Good luck to him. I mean I think he’s a genius. Everything he does, everything he turns his hand to, is somehow, extraordinary. So, I can’t wait to see what he does with it.
Question: Is there a character you’d like to revisit? Martin Riggs is definitely – out.
Gibson: Boy, Riggs has been put through the wringer, I tell you. Who’d I like to revisit? Hamlet. Yeah [laughs].
Question: When do you plan on starting the Viking film, and would you like to work in Australia again?
Gibson: Yeah. I would say that if we did the Viking thing, it’d probably have to be down in the southern hemisphere anyway, to take advantage of the light. I’m not sure, really, where to film it. Would I like to work in Australia again? Of course. I will. I don’t know on what yet.
Question: As a director?
Gibson: Yeah. As a director, I want to get down there because there’s such talent there. It’s flowing out of the place. It’s getting over here. [LAUGHTER] It’s swimming over here.
Question: I know. They’re everywhere.
Gibson: They’re everywhere!
Question: Those bloody Australians. Are you happy? Is this the happiest you’ve been, do you think?
Gibson: I’m pretty happy, yeah. I’m pretty happy.
Question: It’s been a pretty interesting few years for you.
Gibson: Are you kidding? It’s all over the joint. It’s all over the place, llike a mad woman’s lunch. But hey, it’s not boring and sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s blissful, sometimes it’s joyful. It’s all over the place, but it ain’t boring.
Question: Was there a point during your period off that you considered not coming back?
Gibson: Yeah, of course, yeah. Probably further toward the beginning and then as time went on, you think eh, maybe I should try again. You don’t know. That’s why I didn’t make some big pronouncement, ” I am quitting, I’m retiring.” I didn’t want to do that but I just thought I’d back away for a while.
Question: Were you discouraged or tired?
Gibson: Just tired and bored with it, you know. I’ve done that a couple o’ times. I just walked away and just spent a year not doing it, do something else. I think it’s a natural thing. As soon as something starts getting a little tedious and you want to spice it up again, you kind of have to change it.
Question: Are you a protective dad in real life, and is it especially hard with daughters?
Gibson: Yeah, well, I think I am a protective dad. I’ve never really been in situations, fortunately, where the kids have been in some of harrowing dangerous experience. I related one the other day. It’s pretty basic. I remember I went to the pharmacy to buy some formula for my newly born twins. They’re now 27. I brought my 21 month old to the pharmacy with me because my wife was occupied with twins. It was in Coogee in Sydney. There was a pharmacy right on the corner and then there was the Coogee Bay road, really busy road.
We had a nurse from New Zealand at the time who used to help out during the day and go home at four. So it’s that time, we’re in the pharmacy, I’m buying formula and I take my eyes off the child for a second. The next thing, I look up, I’m saying, ” Well, what’s the difference between this one and that?” I look up and I see my child standing about maybe 25 yards away on the edge of the curb and the nurse at a bus stop on the other side with traffic blowing in front of her waving her hands in a ‘no’ gesture. My kid was going out there to say hi to her.
Well, okay. 25 yards and not much time to get the kid. So needless to say, there’s an old man with broken ribs and a lady with a footprint on her face. I completely wrecked the place to get to my kid. I broke everything and ran through things and lifted things and threw them out of the way to pluck her out before she got struck by a car. So yeah, you’ll do anything for your kids, even kill somebody. [Laughs] But the poor woman, I had to apologize to a lot of people afterwards and they didn’t understand. They get very angry of course because you’ve knocked an old lady over.
Question: Have you learned anything exciting while you were recharging away from the industry?
Gibson: Well, I didn’t really get away from the industry. I learned a lot about the industry. I learned about writing. I learned about conceiving, from conception to writing, bringing that to the screen to sort of mounting a film to producing it to directing it to actually single handedly marketing and distributing and doing everything except exhibition. I think I did it. It’s almost kind of the full thing. Now I bought a bunch of theaters in Australia, the Dendy chain. So I’m an exhibitor as well.