Mel Gibson for “The Patriot”

Aussie raised Mel Gibson got paid a record $25m for his latest film, The Patriot, and by the Oscar-winner’s own admission, he’s worth every cent of it. Paul Fischer reports from Los Angeles Mel Gibson was looking a little weary at the end of a long day of press for his latest film The Patriot. “I can’t think straight any more”, the 44-year old Aussie superstar says as he is about to light up a cigarette.

Tired or not, age has been kind to Gibson, looking tanned and fit, and ready, he says “to finally taking a year off”. On the eve of The Patriot opening at the US box office, Gibson’s animated Chicken Run is clucking merrily away, acknowledging that it’s “groovy” that the actor is competing with himself. “It’s good that it’s holding on. It’s been over a decade since Gibson arrived in America from Australia, hot on the heels of the success of the Mad Max films and his award-winning Gallipoli.

These days the once Aussie accent he inhabited when he initially started out, has completely disappeared, though admits he still regards himself as being slightly Australian. “I don’t think of myself as either American or Australian. I see myself as a true hybrid. It’s been a great thing for me because both America and Australia are really good countries,” explains Gibson. “I don’t mind if some Australians have adopted me as their son. I owe Australia a great deal. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t started my career in Australia.” Gibson says that he still manages “to sneak in and out on occasion. I’m like The Shadow; I drift in and out like a spy.”

The actor was 9 when his father ferried him from America to begin a new life in Australia. It’s been speculated that part of that had to do with the Gibsons avoiding the Vietnam draft, hence his attraction to the ant-war drama, The Patriot. “That’s bullshit and all too simplistic”, he responds. “, His mother was from Australia and so we ended with a lot of relatives there. Dad had hurt himself at work, he decided to start fresh in Australia and become a computer programmer, in the late 60s the economy was great there and we went down and started. It just happened to be during the Vietnam crisis. I mean, Australia was also involved with the Vietnam conflict. I can remember my dad telling us that if we were in Australia, we could wait until we were 20 before we were drafted.”

Hollywood has been more than generous to this Aussie actor whose career was finally up and running internationally with the first Lethal Weapon. He has remained consistently one of the major box office stars in the world, but doesn’t take the stardom that he has attained all that seriously. “I take it very seriously when I want a table at a restaurant”, he says smilingly. “I go for the fringe benefits, because you have to put up with all the crappy stuff as well, so I figure it balances out.”

Gibson adds that he doesn’t “buy into the whole scene here too much. I kind of stay in the periphery of it and watch it. It’s best to keep other things going with which you can feed it, such as ordinary things, keeping yourself real is important.” One of those aforementioned ‘fringe benefits’ that Gibson refers to of course, is the much talked about $25m pay cheque he received for The Patriot. “Do you think they’d give it to me if it wasn’t worth it to them? Of course not. These are hard people; we’re dealing with killers here in this town. It’s REAL worth it to them, ok? And I earn every fucking cent of it.”

In The Patriot, Mel is given the chance not only to receive a large pay cheque, but to show a dark and intense side to the actor. Set amidst the background of the American War of Independence, Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a hero of the French and Indian War, who has become a staunch pacifist. When the war with Britain literally arrives on Martin’s doorstep, he not only rearms himself, but three of his sons, teaching them to be the skilled warrior he is.

The actor says he was simply drawn to this material “because it’s a darn good story and I’m attracted to. It’s not that I prefer war films. I like great human stories and war movies generally have powerful stories, universal themes and intriguing characters. I really connected with the character in The Patriot.” Perhaps the other attraction for Mel was the parallel between Gibson and his character: They both have seven children. “There are many similarities between Martin and me. I don’t mean that I’m a tomahawk-wielding kind of guy. I mean the more ordinary, fatherly moments are me. I feel I can bring truth to playing a screen father because I am one seven times over. So many actors try too hard to portray a parent. It comes off being so phoney.”

The Patriot is the first mainstream film to deal with the Revolutionary War since the disastrous Revolution, but Gibson disagrees that this movie is in danger of being too parochially American. “I think it will play outside America well, because it takes people from outside to do it. Nobody attached to this film is from here, they’re all Germans, Australians and from the Philippines, thus making the movie objective about the subject matter. I think it will travel well for that reason.”

At 44, Gibson is happy to slowly give up the action-oriented projects that have often defined his career. Having worked relentlessly, he is not only happy to be taking the next year off, “but what I’m really itching to do next is direct. I don’t have a divine plan about my career.”

Gibson will next be seen in the change-of-pace romantic comedy, What Women Want, in which he plays a misogynist who suddenly discovers he can read women’s minds. “I get to do some dancing in this one, which is great, Gene Kelly dancing, with the top hat and tails. I get to dance with Helen Hunt to Frank Sinatra music. It’s great doing lifts and that kinda stuff.” Naturally, being in a film with that title, begs the obvious question: What DO women want? “Sigmund Freud spent his whole working life trying to figure that one out, and he died without an answer, so don’t expect one from me, because I don’t know WHAT they want. After 20 years of marriage, I’m trying to scratch the surface on it, and I think the answer lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate.”

Gibson is next going to take at least a year off, hoping to go places. “I want to travel, see things I haven’t seen before they all crumble, before someone pushes the button.” He will also play golf, another of his passions. “Get the swing down,” he says. “I really love golf, and I suck! I really want to get good at it, stuff like that. Mel also wants “to spend time at home. I have a young son, 13 months old. I just want to be around.” Before that, Mel will be heard, but not seen, as the cocky rooster of the new box office hit, Chicken Run. Asked what that delightful British charmer meant to him, he slyly replies: “Hey, I just wanted to show everyone my cock.” Ah, that’s our Mel!