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Photo courtesy of CREDIT

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

Mel Gibson on the “Edge of Darkness”
By Gina Piccalo For Hollywood News.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mel Gibson ambled into the windowless hotel meeting room clearly unenthused about the next forty-five minutes. He pinched his cheeks as he walked, readying himself for interrogation. It had been a rough week. Gibson had quit smoking just nine days earlier. Cold turkey after 45 years. (He took his first puff at age 9.) It was a courageous move considering Gibson’s last major press appearance was spent issuing a mea culpa to Diane Sawyer for his infamous 2006 meltdown in Malibu.

To his credit, Gibson chose well for a comeback. In “Edge of Darkness,” a crime thriller directed by “Casino Royale’s” Martin Campbell and written by “The Departed’s” William Monahan, he plays Thomas Craven, a grizzled Boston detective driven slightly mad with revenge after his only daughter is murdered on his doorstep. It’s a role that allows Gibson to tap his own reserve of rage. And some of the film’s memorable one-liners — and Gibson’s hyper-charged delivery of them — even conjure the mojo of the “Lethal Weapon” years.

Still, it’s a wonder Gibson willingly thrust himself back in the spotlight. It’s one thing to be perceived as a controversial filmmaker, albeit one who’s earned two Oscars (for 1994’s “Braveheart”) and amassed a $1 billion fortune. It’s quite another, though, to be the leading man, who’s anti-Semitic tirade made headlines around the world.

On this day at the beachside Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, Gibson was visibly addled. The reporters, many of them correspondents for outlets in Japan, Europe and Latin America, did their best to step around the sensitive stuff. No one acknowledged the elephant in the room. But even their softball questions seemed to make Gibson squirm.

Days before, he had walked out on an interview with the Los Angeles Times (though he reconvened with the Times’ Geoff Boucher on two separate occasions, a few days later). And when KTLA’s Sam Rubin suggested some folks in Hollywood might “never” want him back after “the remarks,” Gibson leaned forward, his eyes wide and asked the Jewish reporter, “I gather you have a dog in this fight?”

Clearly, it has been tough living down that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” tirade and the DUI arrest that created the “public humiliation on a global scale” that drove him back to sobriety. And his recent split from his wife of 29 years, apparently precipitated by his girlfriend and their newborn baby (Gibson’s eighth), certainly doesn’t help matters.

To his (or his publicist’s) credit, Gibson has stuck to a pretty consistent script for much of this press tour. After M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” in 2002, he felt he’d grown “stale” as an actor and moved on to more satisfying pursuits such as writing, directing and producing. (Though, according to IMDBPro.com, Gibson’s most recent major directing and producing credit, “Apocalypto,” an Oscar nominee for makeup, sound editing and mixing, actually preceded his arrest.) He even bought his own theater chain in 2008, the iconic Australian Dendy Cinema. By the time the “Darkness” script crossed his desk; he had already been considering a return to the screen. “I thought maybe after all these years,” he told reporters. “I might have something to offer again.”

Indeed, Gibson has another film in the can, the idiosyncratic comic drama “The Beaver,” in which he plays a depressed father coping with his failures by communicating through a beaver hand puppet. Jodie Foster directs and co-stars as Gibson’s wife. In March, Gibson starts shooting the action drama he penned himself “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” starring as a career criminal stuck in a Mexican prison.

Meanwhile, he’s putting together his Viking movie, scripted by Monahan and reportedly starring Leonardo DiCaprio, fulfilling one of Gibson’s adolescent dreams. “That was the first big epic wacky idea I had,” he said. “I think it’s going to be in the English that would have been spoken back then and Old Norse. Whatever the 9th century has to offer. I’m going to give you real, man. I want a Viking to scare you. I want to see somebody we’ve never seen before speaking low guttural German and scare the living shit out of me.”

As he spoke, Gibson’s body language often revealed more than he probably intended. He sat like a coiled spring. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. While Campbell answered a question, for instance, Gibson plucked determinedly at the hairs on his knuckles and forearm. After Gibson answered an inquiry about how it felt to return to acting, telling the reporter, “You don’t do something for 30 years and forget it. So, you know, it felt all right. It felt better,” he covered his face with both hands.

Sometimes his answers veered unexpectedly into dark corners. When one woman asked how he prepared for the physical demands of the role, Gibson got surprisingly morbid.

“I don’t work out much,” he said. “I try and eat right and exercise a little. That sounds horrible. I quit smoking. So that’s something in the right direction, you know? There aren’t many more fun things left. I don’t do anything fun anymore. But that’s dying isn’t it? We all die in stages.

And when asked how his experiences as a director served his acting this time around he offered this: “What does not kill you makes you stronger. Life’s experiences, whether they be pleasant, unpleasant, tortuous or excruciatingly wonderful and blissful, it seasons you somehow and you learn from it. Hopefully you learn. All I’m trying to do now is put some information on a chip that I can leave to my progeny. And maybe they can do a better job than I can on this crazy spinning piece of dirt.”

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