By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
In the 16 years since he made his screen debut, Mel Gibson has seen plenty of action. Part of what makes him so charismatic is his ability to take a licking and keep on ticking: enemies can beat him, shoot him, torture and humiliate him, but he always comes back for more, hurling hot lead, uppercuts, and really awful puns.
But for all the abuse he's absorbed in the name of entertainment, Mel Gibson has never looked as exhausted onscreen as he does right now, sitting in a plush chair in his suite at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. He's wearing a hand-tailored, three-piece Italian suit in various shades of slate, but it's wrinkled and amusingly unbuttoned in places; he's slung the jacket over a chair because it's stuffy in here. Gibson's close-cropped brown hair is matted, and his eyes look red and puffy. Slumped unceremoniously in the chair, head bowed at a sleepy angle, he looks less like a millionaire matinee idol than a little kid who much preferred sleeping in on Sunday to going across town to visit his hug-crazy, mustachioed Aunt Ethel.
He's come to Dallas as part of a multi-city tour promoting his latest film, Braveheart, a $70 million medieval epic about 13th-century rebel William Wallace, a Scotsman who led his countrymen in a desperate crusade to evict the occupying British. According to his printed itinerary, since 6 a.m. today, he's done three locally broadcast one-hour radio shows, two TV appearances, and four one-on-one interviews with major print outlets. He'll probably do a couple more print interviews--roundtable discussions with reporters from minor publications and college papers. Then maybe a workout to keep his much-coveted physique in salable shape. And tomorrow morning, he'll drive out to Las Colinas, clamber onto a platform down by the Mandalay Canal, and present an award to the Boy Scouts' "Scout of the Year." Then it's off to the airport and on to Chicago or Denver or someplace--Gibson is too tired to remember where--to begin again.
The interview begins with an abstract question about acting: since he's nowhere near as physically imposing as Schwarzenegger or Stallone, does Gibson have any pet performer's tricks that he employs to make moviegoers believe in him as an action hero?
"Well," Gibson says. He squints, thinking."Well...if you can convince..." he trails off. "If you can make...If...If, uh, the audience...If you can add some..."
He is silent for a good 30 seconds, squinting extra hard.
"God," he finally mutters. "I don't know the answer to that question. Maybe if you'd asked me this morning, I could have come back with something interesting, but now I'm having trouble even getting a sentence together in my head. I'm fuckin' exhausted, man. I just woke up from laying down for a few minutes, and I'm still trying to put my brain cells back in order. This movie had a long shoot--105 days on location, no breaks. It took a lot out of me. It was fun, but it was pretty taxing, too. And the stuff that comes after the shoot takes a long time, too. The editing. The previews. This..." He waves his hand at the reporter, the tape recorder, the hotel room.
Gibson pulls down an estimated $10 to $15 million salary for each movie he appears in, plus a cut of the gross box office receipts, videocassette sales, and just about everything else. When you tally up domestic and foreign box office receipts, the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies alone have grossed nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars. A star of Gibson's magnitude usually wouldn't be caught dead traveling the country, cozying up to any journalist who will listen to his spiel, and engaging in photo ops with Boy Scouts.
But Gibson has too much riding on this movie to go the low-impact route. First, Gibson directed the film; he's only helmed one other, the 1993 tearjerking melodrama Man Without a Face. Second, he's credited as a producer. Third, his independent production company, Icon, assembled half the picture's shooting budget from various foreign investors, with the other half coming from Paramount, which figured Gibson's name on anything was worth kicking in $35 million. And last but not least, besides Gibson, Braveheart has no stars. It's an exceptionally violent three-hour epic about an obscure historical rebel figure driven to vengeance and grief and outrage over the murder of his beautiful fiancee by British soldiers. And he dies a graphically violent death so that others might live to fight another day, thus making Braveheart a one-shot project with no sequel potential.
Now that the film is almost finished--the print screened for the press the night before was complete except for a final, digital sound mix--does Gibson find himself obsessing over any aspect of Braveheart? Like the quality of his performance, or the picture's lengthy running time, or the promotional campaign, or how it will ultimately be received by critics? Anything?
"The paycheck," he quips, without missing a beat.
Then he laughs and shakes his head. His face twists into an almost surprised grimace. Mel Gibson, who is known by his colleagues as perhaps the only first-rank action star who doesn't take things too seriously, suddenly seems troubled by the realization that he just cracked a joke.
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