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How, then, does a celebrity who's been skewered before decide willingly to wade into the lion's den and do several cities' worth of one-on-one interviews, even if the success of a very expensive and very personal film is at stake? Isn't he just opening himself up for more minor scandals?
"Well, obviously, after a while you do learn to think before you speak," he says.
He pauses for a moment and does just that.
Gibson makes no attempt to address unflattering stories about himself, whether they concern alcohol, abusive behavior, or offensive remarks. He doesn't deny that he said any of the things he was quoted as saying, nor does he claim that his words were subtly distorted to make more lively copy.
I asked whether someone who's made enemies in the gay and lesbian press takes a more cautionary approach when dealing with gay characters, like Edward of Longshanks' son in Braveheart.
"No!" says Gibson firmly. "In what way? I don't understand the problem. No way."
He falls silent. He puts his face in his hands and rubs his eyes. When his visage becomes visible again, it is confused and troubled.
"Y'know, somebody brought that up at the junket last week," Gibson says quietly. "I didn't understand why it was being brought up. This writer said to me, 'Well, I mean, you threw that character out the window because he's gay.'"
Gibson stares straight ahead, expressionless, as if picturing the unpleasant exchange in his head.
"So I said, 'Well, what? Should I have cut it out? Should I have cut Wallace's death out, too? They killed Wallace because he was Scottish.' Everybody's part of some group that somebody else hates. The king didn't throw that character out the window because he's gay. He did it because the king's a psychopath. That [reporter] was looking at it the wrong way," he continues, frowning. "It's not gonna be everybody's cup of tea. People are gonna see things that they wanna see, whether it's that way or not. And if they have an insecurity, that's their problem."
He's remarkably levelheaded about the whole affair. He views PR as a business transaction: You give me press and I give you a story. And although he's not big on self-analysis--at least not in public--I treated him to a few choice quotes about himself from other sources. One is from film historian David Thomson, who said that Gibson always struck him as someone who was more comfortable doing comedy than drama, and that he really ought to do a screwball comedy someday.
"Huh," Gibson says, looking at his hands on his lap, a bit sheepish. He smiles. "That's interesting. I hadn't read that. I don't know what to say to that."
Another comes from actress Sigourney Weaver. She said that Gibson's acting style is so cinematic that when she was on the set with him during The Year of Living Dangerously, she initially thought he was an attractive blank. Then she saw the dailies and realized Gibson was acting for the benefit of the camera alone, doing things so subtle nobody else on the set could see it.
"Sigourney said that?" Gibson says. As I read the quotation to him, Gibson puts his hands over his face. Now he's peeking out hesitantly from between two fingers. "Well...that's nice of her," he says at last. "Of course, what she might've been seeing was insecurity. Maybe when I was younger I was a little less adventurous about certain things, about how far to push 'em. I used to err on the subtle side."
In that case, do exaggerated, slightly flamboyant characters like Marty Rigg, William Wallace, and MacKussic, the genial drug dealer with the heart of gold from Tequila Sunrise, represent the sort of parts Gibson feels more comfortable with? Does he ever miss the earlier phase of his career, when he was asked to do more with less in films like Gallipoli and Mrs. Soffel and The River?
"Maybe, yeah," he says. He says if he's intrigued by the prospect, it's because it would allow him to take some time off from the stress of making movies--especially with films as expensive and involved as Braveheart. His company, Icon Productions, has made eight films in four years. "It might be nice to do something smaller," he says. But he doesn't sound so sure, and he's not eager to elaborate.
But when the subject is movie narrative, Gibson will talk your ear off. He has detailed philosophies about how to shoot a nonconfusing battle scene ("You always wanna make sure the audience knows who's who, otherwise it's like you're at a sporting event and both teams are wearing the same color jerseys") and the importance of humor even in grim scenes ("If this movie didn't have some funny bits, it'd be unbearable--the audience would fuckin' hang itself"). He's a meat-and-potatoes filmmaker. The approach mirrors his view of what constitutes effective acting. He likes his stories and emotions simple but big, he likes to play to the balcony, and he likes the good guys to win. If he ever plans to branch out and try something obscure or experimental, it won't be for a while. For now, he wants to make entertaining stories.
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