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WME drop adds to Mel hell

Upcoming projects hang in the balance

As Mel Gibson’s PR woes mount, there are long-range questions about the effect on his career, as well as more immediate questions about the future of two completed films and two planned projects.

WME dropped the actor-helmer from its roster Friday, stoking speculation about the fate of the Gibson starrer “The Beaver.” Summit Entertainment, which picked up the Jodie Foster-helmed black comedy last year and had been eyeing a fourth-quarter 2010 or early 2011 release, insists that everything is status quo with the pic. No release date has been scheduled. Summit insiders say the film, which cost $20million, has already been largely covered by foreign presales.

Also in question is another Gibson starring vehicle, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” That project, which was financed by Gibson’s Icon Prods., doesn’t have a domestic distributor yet. The action drama was shot in Mexico this spring, with Adrian Grunberg directing and Peter Stormare co-starring.

Gibson has two other projects in early development: He’s been in talks to star in the Shane Black-helmed spy thriller “Cold Warrior” at Universal Pictures and direct an untitled Viking pic at GK Films. Shooting was originally set to begin in September on the historical drama, which would star Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s too soon to say how Gibson’s current issues could affect the production of these pics.

The oft-troubled Gibson had been a WME client for more than a year when his longtime agent, Ed Limato, died July 3. Limato’s death took place at the same time as a nasty split between Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his infant daughter. After Gibson was named Thursday as a potential suspect in a domestic violence investigation involving his ex-girlfriend, according to the Associated Press, the situation worsened with Friday’s release by Radaronline.com of audio recordings believed to be of Gibson using racial slurs.

“You look like a (expletive) bitch in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of (N-word), it will be your fault,” the recordings said. There has been neither confirmation nor denial from Gibson’s camp as to whether it is indeed his voice heard in the recordings.

Insiders said Gibson’s use of the N-word sealed his fate at the agency, with WME’s Ari Emanuel insisting on severing ties.

“It is way too soon to be discussing agency representation out of respect to Mel’s 30-plus year relationship with longtime agent Ed Limato,” said Gibson’s publicist, Alan Nierob.

Gibson’s camp characterized the split with WME as mutual, declining to speculate on where he might land. They said that immediately following Limato’s death, the star was expected to exit because he had no relationships with anyone at the agency outside Limato.

Insiders said WME had made arrangements to find new reps at the agency for Limato’s other clients — though not Gibson — when Limato’s illness worsened.

Emanuel had called for a Hollywood boycott of Gibson in 2006, following a DUI arrest and allegations of anti-Semitic comments, when Gibson was repped by Limato at rival agency ICM. “People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line,” Emanuel wrote on the Huffington Post on July 30, 2006.

Despite his earlier problems, Gibson remains a solid if not blockbuster moneymaker in Hollywood. Warner Bros.’ Gibson starrer “Edge of Darkness” grossed $81 million worldwide earlier this year, while his Mayan-language saga “Apocalypto” grossed $121 million worldwide, opening five months after his 2006 arrest. Quirky comedy “The Beaver,” in which he co-stars with Foster, is a more modest production than his usual action pics. Written by Kyle Killen, the story revolves around a man who communicates through a beaver hand puppet. If the release of “The Beaver” goes forward as planned, it will be a test of Gibson’s B.O. potential in the wake of the controversies.

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