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.
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.”