Mel Gibson Talks His View on Directing and Helmers He ‘Stole’ From

Mel Gibson Gary Oldman Karlovy Vary
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Mel Gibson is busy in front of the camera, wrapping up his acting duties on actioners “Expendables 3” and “Blood Father” before heading to the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, where’s he being honored with the event’s top kudo, the Crystal Globe for artistic contribution to world cinema.

For fans of Gibson’s distinctive and fiercely personal directing efforts, it’s great to see him working and getting recognition as a serious filmmaker — previous honorees include Milos Forman, Gibson’s “Hamlet” helmer Franco Zeffirelli and international film legends from Liv Ullmann to Nikita Mikhalkov — but it would be even better to see him in the director’s chair again.

Is he ready to announce a new project in the pages of Variety? Gibson chuckles through the phone from the New Mexico shoot of “Blood Father” and explains, “I’ve got so many things in my pocket but I never like to talk about them until they’re really under way.”

Gibson turns more serious and says his wariness of what he calls “industrial espionage” is borne out of his experience back when he was prepping “Braveheart,” which went on to win the 1995 best pic Oscar. Because that film “took a long a time to come together,” recalls Gibson, “suddenly there was a picture called ‘Rob Roy’ dogging our trail, on our locations, and they managed to come out a month before us and really hurt our box office.”

But if Gibson is keeping his directing plans to himself, he’s more than willing to talk candidly about his passion for film directing and how the helming gig differs from the acting gig.

In Gibson’s view, “As an actor, you’re a ball carrier for the storyteller. As a director, you are the storyteller.”

“Actors make very good directors,” adds Gibson, citing fellow best picture Oscar winner Kevin Costner as an example. “Look at ‘Dances With Wolves.’ That was incredible. You should ask Costner what he’s waiting for! He should be doing something!” asserts Gibson with a laugh.

It only took Gibson one warm-up picture, 1993’s “The Man Without a Face,” to move up from actor-turned-director to Oscar-winning director with “Braveheart.” Since then, Gibson has only directed two more features, “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004 and “Apocalypto” in 2006.

While “Christ” affirmed Gibson’s dynamic, visceral directing chops, its raw portrait of Jesus’ last days also made Gibson a lightning rod for controversy. Then an array of widely publicized personal travails suddenly eclipsed the creative achievements, honors and more than two decades of international superstardom.

SEE ALSO: Gary Oldman Blasts Hollywood Politics, Defends Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin

Today, Gibson seems refocused and energized by the recent the work and future plans. And if there were an Academy Award for least pretentious Academy Award winning director, Gibson would make a strong contender.

“Spit-balling ideas” is a phrase Gibson uses repeatedly to describe the writing process he clearly enjoys, while “We pulled that idea out of our asses” readily serves as his salty explanation for various creative breakthroughs of all kinds.

Gibson also credits his early directors like George Miller and Peter Weir for on-the-job training. They may not have realized it, but Gibson says he was studying them from the beginning.  “I stole their shit, man! I picked their pockets!”

Asked to summarize the kind of material he’s drawn to, Gibson shifts to a more thoughtful tone and cites the influence of not only 1970s film directors of what Gibson calls “a Golden Age of filmmaking” such as Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah, but also of literary scholar Joseph Campbell. And he succinctly describes a Mel Gibson picture as one where “an ordinary guy is confronted with the most incredible challenge possible and we see if his spirit can lead him to overcome what seems humanly impossible.”

Reflecting on his goals, which sound unaltered after nearly 40 years in the business, Gibson reaffirms the central role that ambitious and multilevel stories play in the Gibson canon.

“I have talked about this before,” says Gibson, “but I still believe in the three E’s: entertain, educate, elevate. I need to be part of a story that takes us to a whole other level. Everyone is looking for the big connection and I enjoy looking at that aspect of the human soul.”

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  1. Gibson, Eastwood and Costner have been favorites of mine since I first saw them on screen. I do believe there are some actors who can learn a lot from working not only as an actor, but by watching every aspect of the film-making process. Jerry Lewis is proof of that and he passed on that knowledge in school. If Hollywood really wants to grow many of these Film Makers need to become mentors. Gibson mentioned his, Eastwood learned a lot from Don Siegel and Costner was friends with Kevin Reynolds. Who is going to be our next Spielberg, Cameron, Scorsese, etc., etc. These film makers need to pass their talents forward.

  2. the frisco kid says:

    I am a black African man, I am also a film critic, I have been a fan of Mel Gibson’s acting and directing for a very long time now. His films are unlike anything else that mainstream Hollywood has produced with the exception of perhaps Dances with Wolves. To err is human, the man made some mistakes in his personal life, and as the old saying goes if you live in a glass house don’t throw stones. Other than those incidences there has been no indication of any bad things in this man’s life. In summary, the man is a genius that ought to be embraced by his colleagues in the motion picture industry as opposed to being treated as an outcast. The interview was refreshing and positive and I for one am eagerly anticipating Mr Gibson’s return in front and behind the camera. In the words of William Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      I guess everyone’s looking for the next “Braveheart,” whether from Gibson or another filmmaker. Ridley Scott came oh so close with GLADIATOR, but too much of that CGI.

      One thing I can say about Mr. Gibson is that, as a director, HE KNOWS how to tell a story. BRAVEHEART and APOCALYPTO were proof that–THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST not so much because it had a totally different story structure. It’s too bad his planned FARENHEIT 451 remake was canceled.

      I personally know a film critic in San Diego who dislikes him via his films and then mostly for ideological reasons. Sad. Or what about Boston film critic Ty Burr taking a cheap shot at Mr. Gibson during an NPR interview last year???

  3. karena2525 says:

    love the interview. thank you. I think people underestimate Gibson – both his talent and his ability as a survivor. He had a rough patch but seems to have worked hard to overcome his failings. He isn’t done yet, thank goodness. Yup. I’m a fan.

  4. NYCS says:

    Good on ya, Mel. Keep the faith. You have legions of fans.

  5. robbie says:

    Every Scotsman I meet talks about their love of Mel Gibson’s movie Braveheart, it touched the whole nation in a deep way I think. Your headline Variety is classic HE STOLE is hysterical, brilliant to, I read the interview. Mel do you mind saying “I LEARNED” by observing the greats please. Thanks for the read.

  6. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    BRAVEHEART is already a classic and a superior film to TITANIC.

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