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All of which unfortunately colors one aspect of Braveheart: the king's relationship with his son, Prince Edward (Peter Hanly), a spoiled, petulant, weak-willed young gay man. In the movie's (admittedly slight) defense, the character's sexuality is backed up by historical record, and the film portrays him less as a villain than as a victim, continually persecuted by a hostile nation, a treacherous court, and his own hateful father. (He was also the subject of the late Derek Jarman's politically charged 1992 experimental feature Edward II.) But in light of Gibson's past remarks, the way Braveheart unflatteringly contrasts Prince Edward's effeminate mannerisms with William Wallace's supermacho posturing comes off as unsavory. And the scene in which the king throws his son's male lover out of a window in a fit of pique might strike some viewers as downright creepy. It certainly strikes the San Francisco-based Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that way. "The Edward II character in Braveheart is a throwback to the classic celluloid queer played for laughs as a simpering weakling," declares GLAAD's executive director, Ellen Carton. The organization plans to demonstrate outside theaters on the picture's opening day in nine major cities, not including Dallas.

I asked Gibson whether he feels uncomfortable exposing himself to a multi-city schmooze session with journalists. After all, in the past the media has sometimes painted him as unpleasant, a drunk, a bigot, or worse.

"Journalists are always looking for a hook, an angle," Gibson says, shifting somewhat uncomfortably in his chair. "That's part of the job."

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.

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Matt Zoller Seitz