Mel Gibson talks about turning his life around | Inquirer Entertainment
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Mel Gibson talks about turning his life around

By: - Columnist
/ 01:01 AM October 28, 2016
Mel Gibson        RUBEN V. NEPALES


LOS ANGELES — After not directing for a decade, Mel Gibson is back with a vengeance with “Hacksaw Ridge,” unquestionably one of the best films of 2016. Mel arrived for this interview looking like he’s gunning for the most eccentric-looking filmmaker of the decade.

He’s grown a wild salt-and-pepper beard whose tip he was constantly twisting. There was crazy, manic fire in his eyes.


The Oscar and Golden Globe award-winning filmmaker poked fun at his appearance. “It’s almost Halloween, and I thought I would come as a werewolf,” Mel quipped as he sat down one recent afternoon for an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.

Looking like Moses or a grizzled old rocker — take your pick — the actor-director was on a roll about his facial hair. “I have gotten smarter,” he joked. “It has made me realize how irritating it (beard) is and I can’t wait to cut it off. But unfortunately, I am making a film over in Ireland with Sean Penn, and we have to be in the 1800s.”


That movie is “The Professor and the Madman.” And no, Mel isn’t playing the Madman; Sean is.

“So, we are going to look like the 1800s version of ZZ Top,” the Aussie cracked.

In the meantime, there’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” which sees Mel back in top form as a director. The biographical film is an intense, absorbing drama that lives up to the buzz it generated when it earned standing ovation that lasted 10 minutes in the Venice Film Festival in September.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, working on a book by Booton Herndon, wrote a compelling script on the incredible true-to-life story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in an excellent performance).

And Mel created a powerful depiction of the heroic efforts of Desmond, an army medic who saved 75 men, mostly by lowering them single-handedly from a ridge, during the bloodiest World War II battle in Okinawa. He evacuated those wounded soldiers from behind enemy lines, braving fire and carrying on despite being injured himself by a grenade and shot at by snipers.

Desmond did all that without firing or carrying a gun. As a result, he became the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in US history.

Inspired by the material, Mel drew terrific performances not only from Andrew, but the entire ensemble led by Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey and Rachel Griffiths.


The “Braveheart” director is earning acclaim for what some say is his comeback, after a 10-year period in which he figured in one controversy after another. He made tabloid headlines with alcohol abuse and legal issues, battery charges, homophobic and anti-Semitism accusations.

Mel’s relationship issues did not help matters. He started dating Oksana Grigorieva while he was still married to Robyn Gibson, his wife of 26 years. Robyn filed for divorce, ending a marriage that bore seven children.

When Oksana and Mel (who have a daughter) split, it resulted in nasty, messy lawsuits. Mel, 60, is currently in a relationship with Rosalind Ross, 26, who is pregnant with his ninth child.

“The last 10 years have been interesting and, certainly, I have worked on myself — and I feel great,” he reflected. “I am glad to be back, and I am fortunate.”

On the age difference between him and Rosalind, he chuckled and replied, “Regarding age and relationships, it’s just a number. She is an adult, and we dig each other.”

Has he figured out love and relationships then? “You don’t have to like anybody. But it’s incumbent that you have to love them,” he said. “That simply means, just don’t do anything to hurt anybody — but don’t get walked on, either.”

New film

“I don’t feel like it’s some kind of comeback,” Mel pointed out about his new film, which is bringing him fresh acclaim in Hollywood, which loves comeback stories. “There are more constraints now — budgets and it being more independent now. Generally speaking, you get all the bells and whistles if you are making a hero story in spandex, but not for a real hero story.

“Traditionally, people have not been too willing to back (financially) the things that I wanted to generate from myself. So, I used to put my hand in my pocket and in that way, they worked. But I have been unwilling to do that, so nothing has happened in that arena for a long time, because I wasn’t willing to take the risk — because you can get burned, too.

He deadpanned, “Of course, I dabble in acting here and there. I was developing stuff, writing or even cooking a banquet, which is a story all in itself, and it’s something you share — the cultural experience. I kept occupied as far as that side of me goes — that kind of creative need to express yourself in some way, and it keeps you out of prison.”

“I also got a chance to perfect my fly fishing technique, be a pretty hands-on dad, work on myself.

“So, I feel good and healthy. I am fortunate to be able to make a film like this. Bill Mechanic and David Permut (producers) brought the story to me, and it was like, here, can you do something with this? It’s a beautiful story. I was compelled to want to tell the story because it did affect me on a very emotional level.”

The filmmaker, twisting his beard, maintained that “Hacksaw” is not a war film. “I see it as a love story and not a romantic love story, but that’s also there between Teresa Palmer and Andrew Garfield,” he pointed out. “They did it with a lot of chemistry … but I am talking about the love that a person has to have and not wanting to ever harm his brother. Then, beyond that, the kind of love it requires to actually lay your life down for someone else.

“That is what attracted me — the story, that this guy is so transcendent to what was going on around him and was so heroic in that. It was so pure — his need, his wish to save life and right in the place where it was being taken. That has got to be the pinnacle of heroism for me.”

“Absolutely not,” Mel answered when asked if he can be as brave as Desmond was.

On why it took so long to bring Desmond’s heroic life to screen, Mel explained, “Desmond was an intensely private person. He didn’t want a film made about him. It was finally when he was older that he decided to give his life rights to his church.”

Faith also motivated Desmond, who was an unwavering Seventh Day Adventist, according to Mel, who is himself a devout Catholic. “Spirituality was definitely a force in his life,” Mel emphasized. “For a man to have that conviction, to actually go into the mouth of hell unarmed and to risk his life to save others, it’s one of the most profound and spiritual things you could do — to risk your own existence to save someone else.”

That story’s aspect has some folks embracing “Hacksaw” as a “Christian movie.” “The acknowledgment that something is greater than all of us is a pretty good message,” he said.

Mel maintained that his film is timely in today’s world, which is racked up by wars and conflicts. “It’s a story about love, not war, really, although it involves war. It’s graphic because I wanted to pay tribute to the guys who fought that war.”

Desmond apparently even evacuated several wounded Japanese soldiers. “The (US) Army, when they started to see Japanese guys coming, told him to stop it. But he didn’t.”

Mel shared that for cinematic purposes, he focused only on Desmond’s service in Okinawa. The medic actually served first in the Philippines and Korea.

He declared about war violence, “I don’t know if I could actually kill somebody, even in a war situation. It would be very tough.

“It’s about the plight of veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). We moved the character of Hugo Weaving (who plays Desmond’s dad) more in that direction. It was like PTSD before they had a name for it.”

Proud dad

The father in Mel proudly pointed out that Milo Gibson, his sixth child, is in the cast as Lucky Ford, one of the soldiers. “Milo fit right in with everybody. He didn’t have more lines or anything. He was just one of the guys.”

Mel said about Milo, who worked as an electrician, but is now seriously contemplating an acting career. “I was very proud of him, I thought he did a good job. My other son (Christian Gibson) was one of the camera guys. He filmed some really cool shots.”

On what he’s teaching his younger kids these days, as opposed to when he had his first kids in the 1980s, Mel smiled and answered in filmmaking lingo: “Probably similar stuff, but with some edits. Where it didn’t work, you will change it. I am much cooler with stuff now — and I am more patient.”

People magazine’s first-ever Sexiest Man Alive (in 1985) laughed when asked what he does not miss about being a heartthrob. “You mean I am still not one?” he shot back. “I don’t miss the pressure of that label.”

“I am certainly proud of my work,” he quickly replied when asked what he is proudest of. “I suppose children are the second thing. I am proud of all my kids. My oldest (Hannah) is almost 36 now, and a great gal.”
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