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Mel Gibson On His Venice Festival
Comeback Picture Hacksaw Ridge
september 11, 2016
DEADLINE: After 10 years away, what did it mean when Hacksaw Ridge get a 10-minute standing ovation this weekend?
GIBSON: I couldn’t have been more pleased with the overwhelming response at the world premiere in Venice. Being able to share it with the cast made it extra special, as these things are a collaborative effort and every single person in the cast and crew contributed to that standing ovation. I don’t make films for the elite, so having that large audience in that theater, react the way they did, was gratifying to say the least. So happy for our producer Bill Mechanic, as he’s been riding this bronco for 13 years.
DEADLINE: Had you taken a film to Venice before?
GIBSON: I went there with one of the Mad Max movies, I think. I remember I bumped into Costner there on Lido. We got to yakking and everybody’s got bicycles there. We found one that wasn’t chained and so we borrowed it. He was pedaling and I was in the basket, like E.T. It must have looked so stupid, but we had a great conversation about film and a whole bunch of stuff. True story. Now there’s a guy I wish would direct another movie. He did it so well.
DEADLINE: The movies you’ve directed, like Braveheart and Apocalypto, featured protagonists who engage in violence. Desmond Doss was the exact opposite. Why did you spark to this guy’s story?
GIBSON: That’s what was amazing for me, and what impressed me more than anything. The guy didn’t carry a weapon, never fired a bullet, was a conscientious objector who thought it was wrong to kill under any circumstances. But he had the guts to go into the worst place you can imagine and stick to his convictions, armed with nothing else but sheer faith. Walk in and just do the impossible, which is courage under fire unparalleled because he didn’t do it in a split second or decision or moment. He did it again and again and again. He did it in other places in the Pacific Theater too. This was his pinnacle, but in other places like Guam and the Philippines, he was always crawling into enemy fire to get guys. They were saying don’t go out there, and he was like, if somebody’s in trouble I’m going to get them. And he’d get them, every time, and he would never get touched. And he didn’t have a weapon. That to me is the ultimate superhero. He stuck to his principles, his convictions about not bearing arms, even in the face of terrible persecution. It was worse in real life than I portrayed it in the film. He was persecuted very solidly for two years in the Army.
DEADLINE: You show him getting beaten up in the barracks by fellow soldiers who were collectively punished because he would not quit.
GIBSON: It was worse. He was discriminated against more than what I showed you but you can’t keep showing that or you’ll go crazy. He put up with a lot. A lot of guys didn’t know how he could take that. He was tough. I mean he was a badass.
DEADLINE: Hugo Weaving plays his father, and flashbacks show how his drinking, his PTSD from WWI informed Doss’ early violent streak. His father clearly saw too much, serving his country.
GIBSON: There is that aspect. I don’t know that his father was actually that solider, but he did have problems, some PTSD stuff. There were altercations involving firearms. Desmond wrote about it in a biography and he talked about his childhood and that illustration that he looked at when he was a little kid and he was crying because he couldn’t understand how someone could kill his brother.
DEADLINE: You mean the illustration of Cain and Abel that led him to renounce violence.
GIBSON: That part was a very real thing. He came from a family where the dad would drink and get violent. So in our story we said it was because of PTSD, which I think is a good thing to focus on because…I’ve talked to guys. When I was a young man, I talked to guys from World War I and I talked to guys from World War II.
DEADLINE: This goes back to when you made Gallipoli?
GIBSON: I met all those old diggers from the trenches. I talked to World War II guys, because I’m into research. I talked to murderers in prison. I find it intensely interesting to try to access somebody’s head who do some incredibly interesting things. I talked to the Korean War guys, a lot of the Vietnam guys. I’ve talked to the guys from Iraq, a lot of disabled vets. In fact, we showed it to the Disabled American Veterans conference. I went [with the film] to Georgia, South Carolina, Fort Benning. I’m really quite gratified that it played out the way it did, especially for the vets and the disabled guys is that they found it cathartic but they found it therapeutic. They really dug it.
I was worried. Is it going to trigger some kind of reaction? Some of them had a tough time with it but they thought it was a very positive and good thing to watch. Even one of the guys in the film, the guy that gets his legs blown off. That guy is a real vet. He was in Afghanistan and he had his legs blown off.
DEADLINE: How did he come to be in the movie?
GIBSON: Well, he came as an actor and said, can I be in the movie? I’m like yeah, we’ll put you in the barracks with the other guys. We’ll put legs on you. He put his prosthetics on. We just thought he was a guy with legs. He did his stuff. He’s in all the scenes. He’s standing next to Desmond. He’s in the battle scenes and then he sort of reenacted having his legs blown off.
DEADLINE: What was that like for him?
GIBSON: He was kind of edgy going into that and didn’t quite know how he felt about it. I don’t know what the word is. He was a little bothered by it. He did a great job. He was screaming and the whole thing. Then we were finished and we all had a word. Told him thank you for his service, and all this stuff. It turned out he found it a most freeing thing. He said, “I didn’t think it was going to have that positive effect. It’s great.” You can’t stop this guy. He snowboards. He surfs. He’s all over.
DEADLINE: These soldiers you met, from WWI, WWI, Vietnam and Afghanistan. What similarities did you find?
GIBSON: That’s what I was getting to. Their hearts and minds and souls are indelibly marked by the experiences of war. Back then, they didn’t have a name for it. You just come back, man up and swallow it, but the shocking thing today is I think the official statistic is there’s 22 guys a day dropping a hammer on themselves. That’s the official statistic. They calculate that [through soldiers who are] back six months, within 120 days of active service. So the real number is probably twice that. That’s a serious problem and I think it needs more attention. It comes down to vets helping vets, because guys who understand can help guys better than those who don’t understand. It’s only those guys that can help each other.
DEADLINE: What’s the hardest thing to find funding for a war movie where your hero won’t touch a gun?
GIBSON: It wasn’t difficult, but it’s Bill Mechanic’s terrain and he has been riding on this one for 15 years. You know, Hal Wallis was trying to get the rights to this man’s story back in the late ’40s. They even sent Audie Murphy to go and talk to Desmond Doss to see if they could loosen him up to give them the rights. He said, not for sale. He was a farmer. He was growing his vegetables. He never even went to a motion picture.
DEADLINE: What changed his mind?
GIBSON: I think, toward the end of his life, the members of his congregation appealed to him and said, you need to really tell this story because it’s inspiring to other men. When he would talk about it or when the story did get out there…there were other conscientious objectors since who have gone into battle as medics, because of the inspiration of that guy. So he thought it was a way to talk about conviction, faith and courage. He didn’t see himself as a hero but guys like that never do. He didn’t want to brag about it or even talk much about it, but at the end I think the elders in his congregation prevailed on him and said, give us the rights. He said, maybe after I’m gone. They made a documentary about him.
DEADLINE: That made this narrative feature possible?
GIBSON: Yeah. He entrusted the members of his church with his life rights. Then Mechanic came along and he said, “Look, you give it to me and I promise you I’ll do the right thing.’ We showed it to all of them, the Desmond Doss Council and the Seventh-day Adventists. They dug it.
DEADLINE: Wasn’t Mechanic the executive who brought Fox into Braveheart for foreign rights, helping make the film possible?
GIBSON: Right. He took the international. You don’t say foreign, anymore. It’s International.
DEADLINE: Even Braveheart was difficult to fund?
GIBSON: None of these are easy. They never are. I mean people see afterwards that it’s pretty good, but maybe it doesn’t seem great in the idea stage. On this one, Bill spent 15 years. He even sent me the script, twice before. I passed, both times.
DEADLINE: Is it unusual for you to come back around on a pass?
GIBSON: Well, I did that with Braveheart. I passed on it. I kind of liked it and I thought maybe…I don’t know. One reason or another. Then, it’s like what happened with this one. The wheels start going around and you start visualizing it. They didn’t offer Braveheart to me to direct, anyway. They offered it for me to star in.
DEADLINE: They wanted you to play William Wallace.
GIBSON: Yeah. But then I started visualizing it, a lot. I would think about how cool could this be? You’d have a shot list in your head and visualize what you wanted to see. Two years later, I’d finished a movie and someone said, what do you want to do next? I said there’s this script I read a long time ago, that I’d passed on it but I sort of dig it. He said what’s it about? I described the whole story to him from memory but I told it to him in a shot list. I said then you’re in a low angle and he was listening to this story. He went and read the script and he said it’s a great script but what you were saying is kind of different. I really got to see it. So I read it again and I thought, I’ve got to do this. So I went and threw my hat in the ring to direct it.
DEADLINE: This was after you directed Man Without A Face?
GIBSON: I put my toe in the water with that small-budget film, a little coming-of-age story. So the same happened with this film. It came back. I looked at it again and I just saw it with new eyes.
DEADLINE: In Hacksaw Ridge there is a slow build to the battle in the title, but the shocking, concussive and intense nature of warfare is as jolting and disorienting as what I remembered in Saving Private Ryan. How do you do all this for $40 million?
GIBSON: You just work like crazy. Everyone is good at their job and you make do with less and you find shortcuts. There’s things that I wanted to do that I didn’t do.
GIBSON: Well you were saying how it was intense. I wanted to get inside of it more. It would have taken more time than money. I had some ideas that were really crazy ideas. Investigating the area between the man and the bullet. Just getting on the inside of that stuff. But this was pretty graphic, you get the idea that it’s realistic and it has the right edits and it moves along. I think it does its job. Too much more might have pushed it over an edge.
DEADLINE: Who’s responding to the film?
GIBSON: We tested it twice and I don’t think anyone disliked it, and the scores were really good. Women liked it more than guys.
GIBSON: I think they like the romance aspect, and the girl [played by Teresa Palmer]. I also think there’s something endearing about Andrew. You see this guy who’s a nurturer. I think women naturally are, as human beings, more nurturers. So you see a guy doing that I think it just touches something in there at a core level of who they are. I mean most women become mothers at some point. They’re nurturing kind of people. So this character was as completely selfless as a mother. So I think it just kind of plays to women.
DEADLINE: You went all the way back to Australia to bring this in for $40 million? When was the last time you shot a major film there? Mad Max?
GIBSON: Yeah, when I was 28, so this was about 30 years ago. It felt good to go back there and do it. We got some good breaks because it was a totally Australian film, and a good rebate. They had a very good plan there. Filmed in New South Wales. Screen Australia and all that stuff. The exchange rate for the U.S. dollar was good at the time, and I think we locked in at about 72 cents on the dollar and took a $27 million budget and turned it into a $40 million budget. It was a completely Australian film, all the players were Aussies except Andrew and Vince Vaughn. So the whole production is an Aussie film, but a very American story, which is kind of unusual. My worry was, is it going to look like we’re in Lynchburg, and Okinawa? I think we got away with it.
DEADLINE: You made Apocalypto for around $30 million?
GIBSON: Yeah. It was a little more than that.
DEADLINE: What do you think when you read about all of these big summer movies that cost $200 million and up? Do they have to be that expensive?
GIBSON: I don’t believe so. I look at them and scratch my head. I’m really baffled by it. I think there’s a lot of waste, but maybe if I did one of those things with the green screens I’d find out different. I don’t know. Maybe they do cost that much. I don’t know. It seems to me that you could do it for less.
DEADLINE: If you hit, the rewards can be enormous, but you’ve got to make a lot of money to just break even.
GIBSON: That’s the game, isn’t it?
DEADLINE: Is it a good game though?
GIBSON: Wow, I mean if you’re spending outrageous amounts of money, $180 million or more, I don’t know how you make it back after the tax man gets you, and after you give half to the exhibitors. What did they spend on Batman V Superman that they’re admitting to?
DEADLINE: I want to say $250 million. Then you’ve got marketing.
GIBSON: And it’s a piece of sh*t.
DEADLINE: Well it was self-serious and it wasn’t fun at all.
GIBSON: I’m not interested in the stuff. Do you know what the difference between real superheroes and comic book superheroes is? Real superheroes didn’t wear spandex. So I don’t know. Spandex must cost a lot.
DEADLINE: The battlefield staging here is terrifying. So was Braveheart, which seemed to inform stylistically so many medieval stuff that followed, including The Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones. This one’s different, with the concussive gunfire and explosives. What’s the big challenge of staging these kind of epic battle pieces?
GIBSON: It’s maintaining safety and yet making it look incredibly insane or whatever the word is. A kind of madness in what’s going on in there. A barrage of fire and explosives and guns and having it look real, and not hurting anyone. There is a bit of CG, but most of the pyrotechnics are there, and the explosions are real. When you see guys having their legs blown off, that’s real. They’ve got devices now that you can almost walk through, as they go off. These guys are getting like six feet away from them, walking through the middle of it. Crazy stuff. I’ve looked at other war films, and there are very few explosions because they were real and dangerous. The things we used, you saw them going off like crazy. People being lit on fire. That’s old but they’re even getting better with that stuff, these neoprene suits and stuff they put on is amazing. The pyrotechnics of it to keep it really going. The Japanese called it a steel rain.
DEADLINE: That was the battle strategy?
GIBSON: A steel rain. They got it coming and going both ways. They called it a steel rain, and it was the first real use of napalm. So when they were squirting these guys down with petrol and stuff that was so bad. They had to use it because of the caves and the underground stuff and it became a much feared new tool. The logistics of filming that with all the gunfire, with the explosions, with the flamethrowers, the intensity of the battles I think…a lot that goes into that. And I was killing myself to get it all in, in 59 days. About 30 of that was in combat. We got a lot of bang for our buck.
DEADLINE: You made your early films with Australian directors like George Miller and Peter Weir. Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was like a post-apocalyptic Cirque du Soleil. Were you thinking about directing when you were young and working with those guys?
GIBSON: I absolutely was absorbing everything. George is a doctor, and he had this Einstein persona going where he used to have the same suit eight times so he didn’t have to think about what he was going to wear. He’s slightly eccentric but he’s the nicest guy. The best thing about George was that he had good ideas about editing and how to shoot something and you’re right it is a Cirque du Soleil thing. The best thing about him is that he’s generous. I would ask him a million f*cking questions. What are we doing here? He’d take his time and explain it because he loves the process and he loved to share it. So a guy like that, I mean I just drank it up like a sponge. I mean you’re 22 years old and just sucking it up. I worked with him three times and I kept asking the questions. Then of course you work with Peter Weir. Completely different kind of filmmaker altogether.
DEADLINE: Gallipoli, The Year Of Living Dangerously.
GIBSON: There’s just something ethereal about him. Both these guys are excellent directors but they’re so different, which pointed something out to me. There’s no one way to achieve excellence. He was also very generous in his explanations and descriptions. His explanations weren’t as mathematical, they were more spiritual. It was pretty interesting. These are the people I’m learning from when I’m very young. How can you possibly do better than those two guys? Everybody else I worked with later, it was the same. I was always tapping into whatever they did and asking them a million questions. Dick Donner was amazing. He always denigrates himself. I’m just a traffic cop, is what he’d say. But he’s actually brilliant. He knows structure. He knows how to shoot something. He knows how to make it funny. He knows how to move it along and keep the energy. He underrates himself.
DEADLINE: So you had those lessons, but what a step up in scope from The Man Without A Face to Braveheart, and then Apocalypto and now Hacksaw Ridge.
GIBSON: I wanted to show people things they’ve never seen before, things I wanted to see and thought I could achieve. I figured even if I get halfway there it’s going to be OK.
DEADLINE: What war films were touchstones for you?
GIBSON: I like The Sands Of Iwo Jima. Did you ever see a film called Objective, Burma?
GIBSON: I love that film and its way of dealing with war in the Pacific, in hindsight. Things were heavily censored back then and you couldn’t show a lot of awful things, but it was kind of suggested. Raoul Walsh directed it and Errol Flynn parachutes into Japanese-occupied Burma in hopes of destroying a critical radar base. The mission is a success but the group reaches the air strip where they expect to find planes ready to fly them to safety. Walsh was one of the f*cking greats. He had an eye patch, like some kind of pirate. Walsh made some great movies. The choices he makes in Objective, Burma, they really horrify you about war, and this was in the ’50s.
DEADLINE: Andrew Garfield is best known for Spider-Man, but showed an empathy in films like Boy A. What put him on your radar?
GIBSON: The first time I saw Andrew was in The Social Network. I remember he was very minimal in what he did but very truthful and he could say little things with his eyes where you go, there’s a whole paragraph, which is pretty interesting. He’s a very good actor. The screen is really his medium. He’s not a muscle man, he’s just a regular guy. He seemed like the Desmond kind of guy. The other thing is, he looks younger than he is and I think he has the benefit of having more years under his belt than you can see.
DEADLINE: Why aren’t you in this, playing his father? I recall you played William Wallace only because you had to, to get it financed. You couldn’t get it done with your choice, Jason Patric. Weren’t you tempted here to play a strong role?
GIBSON: No. I wasn’t, once I saw Hugo Weaving. The guy killed me. I thought he was great. He became the obvious choice to do that part. You get somebody like Hugo you use that guy. I can’t do what he can do.
DEADLINE: Do you cast films you direct thinking, I’ll play this role if I don’t find the right guy?
GIBSON: Kind of. I don’t want to, because when you’re in something and you direct it, by the end of the shoot you’re in a strait jacket in a rubber room. Because the workload is too great. After Braveheart, I couldn’t even talk to anybody for a month. This, after 105 shooting days. I was just wrecked. You’re just in the editing room, numb.
DEADLINE: You said at times that you wanted to scale back your acting anyway. You just did Blood Father. You did Get The Gringo, Machete Kills, and The Expendables. What’s your ambition for acting?
GIBSON: I enjoyed those things, getting up there and doing it. I can do it. I’m reasonably proficient. Of course, my biggest interest is directing. I really love doing that the most. It’s the ultimate storytelling experience.
DEADLINE: But it’s been 10 years then, right?
GIBSON: Ten years since I directed. Something like that.
DEADLINE: Why the long time away from behind the camera?
GIBSON: You really want honesty?
DEADLINE: Of course.
GIBSON: I don’t know if I want this in print. You know why.
DEADLINE: But I’d like to know more about something that completely hindered your ability to be behind the camera and tell stories. I don’t think I saw a better movie in the calendar year when Apocalypto got released. I don’t think enough people gave it a chance, but wow, was that was an original piece of filmmaking. And then 10 years pass.
GIBSON: I’m extremely proud of that film and the reception it still gets to this day.
DEADLINE: I’m trying to think of a way for the readers of this interview, the industry, to know where is Mel Gibson at this point in his life?
GIBSON: I think if you make a film, your personality is sort of in the film, if it’s coherent and sticks together. I’ve done a lot of work on myself these last 10 years. I’ve deliberately kept a low profile. I didn’t want to just do the celebrity rehab thing for two weeks, declare myself cured and then screw up again. I think the best way somebody can show they’re sorry is to fix themselves and that’s what I’ve been doing and I’m just happy to be here. He who tries, gets. If you try, you get somewhere. I’ve got eight kids I love very much. They humble you. One of my sons got married a few weeks ago. One of my boys is in this movie. He plays one of the soldiers, the one with the Thompson gun.
DEADLINE: Which one? I think Andrew Garfield was the only one not holding a gun in this movie.
GIBSON: The Thompson gun is a Thompson machine gun and there’s only one guy using it in the show. The Thompson wasn’t as user-friendly on the battlefield as the grease guns they gave the sergeants.
DEADLINE: So your son got bit by the acting bug?
GIBSON: A little bit. He enjoyed himself. He played a guy called Lucky. You see him in the barracks reading a girlie magazine. That’s my number five son…I don’t think I answered your question very well, did I?
DEADLINE: When you find yourself in a situation like that…
GIBSON: Like what?
DEADLINE: When you come out the other side, what’s the big thing you learn about yourself when you have to go through this?
GIBSON: I’ve learned a lot of things, like phone etiquette…how to use my “indoor voice”…and if you’re going to drink, don’t talk. Have a designated talker. Nobody has ever said to a drunk person, “That’s a brilliant thought! You need to share that with the world!” Can we move on?
DEADLINE: Yeah, we can. You’re next going to star with Sean Penn in The Professor And The Madman. How did you find your way into that one?
GIBSON: That’s actually a book that was brought to us by Luc Besson, who said, English isn’t my first language, and this is about the English language. I read the book that he optioned and it seems like it’s going to be the driest matter on Earth, the Oxford English Dictionary, etymology, definition. But I started reading and couldn’t put it down. Then you hear the true story of the compilation of the greatest compendium of any language ever; no one’s got a dictionary like the OED. It took 70 years to do it because they didn’t have computers.
DEADLINE: A major contributor was confined to a mental institution. Sean Penn plays him?
GIBSON: He was an American. The interesting thing about the Oxford English Dictionary is that the two guys who probably contributed most to it, neither of them was English. One was a Scot called Dr. James Murray who was an autodidact, self taught, and he knew all about words. He knew Greek and Latin and he just knew the roots and origins of words. He was very scholarly. Oxford hired him for the mammoth, daunting task of putting out a companion of the English language, which had been attempted a few times by different people in other centuries. Samuel Johnson did one. I think he had a 40,000- or 60,000-word entry. The Oxford English Dictionary had a word entry of a half million.
DEADLINE: Is the message that the distance between genius and madness is razor thin?
GIBSON: That’s quite correct. James Murray was given the task but the man who helped him the most was a fellow he corresponded with, a doctor from an insane asylum. Murray wondered how a guy who worked as a doctor in this institution could possibly have the time to read as much and to contribute so much to the breaking down of words, their pronunciation, their etymology, their origins. How could this guy have been so prolific? So he finally goes up to visit him and he finds out he’s not a doctor working in the place. He’s an inmate. He was put into an institution for the criminally insane. He was rather an extraordinary character. He was a surgeon in the Civil War and he was sawing people’s legs off. He saw a lot and I think his mind walked away so he had some problems. He was suffering from PTSD. He thought someone was in his room one night and he grabbed his service revolver, ran out into the fog, and he shot the first guy he came in contact with, thinking he was someone else. It was just some guy hauling coal. So he realized he’d done the wrong thing and was very repentant. This was 1800s and they felt all these Americans have guns and they wanted to lynch him but realized he was insane. They put him into this place at his majesty’s pleasure for many years. He finally did get out when he was old. These two guys formed a good friendship and it’s a very interesting story. Sean always like this and we’ve been going back and forth for a couple years.
DEADLINE: What about that Viking epic?
GIBSON: That’s still lying around. Randall Wallace and I wrote that one. It’ll probably surface one of these days.
DEADLINE: Do you really see a sequel in The Passion Of The Christ?
GIBSON: That’s something we’re starting to talk about. Sort of a sequel, that moves on from the Resurrection, but jumps back before, after, back to the Old Testament. The Old Testament is a pre-figurement of everything and the New…you can correlate them in an uncanny way.
DEADLINE: Hollywood keeps trying to tap the faith-based audience that turned out for Passion Of The Christ. But these Biblical epics have largely failed to measure up, whether it was Exodus, Noah, or Ben-Hur, with its parallel story line dealing with Jesus Christ. What were they missing?
GIBSON: I don’t know. I never saw any of them so I honestly couldn’t tell you. I know that the audience didn’t respond to them on some level. I’d have to watch them all to really comment.
DEADLINE: They veered creatively from the Old and New Testaments. Exodus was pretty good, but Ridley Scott’s honesty about his own atheist beliefs probably didn’t help appeal to a potential audience of believers. His depiction of the Plagues was pretty cool, though.
GIBSON: You got to see the Plagues, the frogs and all that stuff? I’ve got to check it out. What else did they have? Flies?
DEADLINE: They had them, along with the bloody river, the locusts. Ridley Scott is good at that kind of stuff and it was touching when he dedicated the film to his brother, Tony Scott. It seemed like Ridley threw his grief into that ambitious movie. Everyone’s trying to hit that faith market, and it has proven elusive.
GIBSON: Randall Wallace did OK with his little $12 million movie, Heaven Is For Real. And TD Jakes had Miracles From Heaven. Randall and I are talking about [the Passion sequel]. It’s a pretty deep subject because you have to use what’s there and not stray too far away, but at the same time you have to use what you have juxtaposed against other things that are there to enlighten what’s there more, and to illustrate things that perhaps you never thought of before. It’s tricky but doable. If you could make something clear or make somebody realize something about what they thought they knew or have a more intense experience with it or find something surprising about it or another aspect of it that they never before considered, that’s pretty good. It’ll be a couple years away because it’s a big one. I’d like to direct it. There are so many ways into the subject of the Resurrection.
DEADLINE: What else has you excited?
GIBSON: There’s one for TV, The Barbary Coast. It’s kind of like a tabloid history written by a guy called Herbert Asbury back in the ’30s, about San Francisco from the days of the Gold Rush. Actually from when it was Mexico and then all of a sudden it wasn’t Mexico anymore and then gold was discovered. It spans from there, to the earthquake in 1906. It’s an amazing story that made Ancient Rome look tame. They called it the Barbary Coast because it was full of pirates and crime and gangsters, corruption and debauchery and greed. This free-for-all mud-wrestling match that got worse and worse and more extreme. When I say opium dens and murders and the worst kind of racism where people murdered Mexicans indiscriminately and got away with it or Chinese. It was the first Chinatown. It’s where the triads formed. It literally took an act of God to shut it down, with this earthquake.
DEADLINE: You are collaborating with Kurt Russell?
GIBSON: Kurt, Kate Hudson, and Kurt’s son Wyatt, and Oliver Hudson. I was telling my manager, Rick Nicita, about this obscure book I read that would really make a good film. He said I’ve heard of that book and I didn’t believe him. He said, Kurt was telling me about it. His kids brought him the book and he said why don’t you two guys get together. I worked with Kurt on Tequila Sunrise years ago, when we were both young fellows. I’m slightly younger than he is, I think. TV has become a whole different animal and pretty exciting. The way to tell a big story like Alexander the Great is on television, because it’s too big for two hours. There are many stories like that.
DEADLINE: You have other big stories like the Maccabees; will you move them to that format?
GIBSON: Well, initially with this book I was thinking an aspect of the book would be a good film and I still might do that. But the whole story is giant and the best way to tell it all is television. Mark Gordon has it and he’s with eOne. We don’t have a network yet but they’re out there. We’ll get it written, hopefully it will be compelling and I’ll direct some of them, maybe not all of them. There are other good directors out there. The Maccabees, that’ll get made one day too. It’s like the Viking thing, on a back burner, somewhere. It’s the best story in the Old Testament. Like a Western, but set in 175 BC. It’s just fantastic.
DEADLINE: That Viking film sounds pretty ambitious, too.
GIBSON: Well, nobody saw it. I see it. You can take a horse to water…
DEADLINE: Well, they didn’t see Passion either.
GIBSON: Or Apocalypto. There was a time I used to reach into my own pocket, but I’m not doing that anymore because you can get burned too easily. You can have a hit film and have all the screens yanked after a week, which happened on Apocalypto. In the words of a wise old accountant, OPD. What’s that? Other people’s dough. It’s not as lucrative if you win but you get to do it and you don’t have to walk home.
DEADLINE: When you look back on these movies like that, was The Bounty a good memory?
GIBSON: That was tough.
DEADLINE: Roger Donaldson has such a great cast. Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Laurence Olivier and Anthony Hopkins.
GIBSON: That was great. I was a kid, man, 27 years old and playing Fletcher Christian. It was pretty weird. It was an OK film. If you’ve got to make a choice of a direction in a film I think the best thing about it was what Tony Hopkins did. He played to the truth of who Captain Bligh was and it kind of exonerated Bligh because Bligh wasn’t really a bad guy.
DEADLINE: He came off as the villain.
GIBSON: In fact, Fletcher Christian was kind of a bad guy. I mean, you don’t set people adrift in a lifeboat to die like that. It wasn’t a good enough reason. Bligh and the other members of that crew hadn’t done anything to warrant that treatment. What they were trying to do was make Christian look like young, romantic hero guy and at the same time exonerate Bligh, but you couldn’t do both. I think it would have been more interesting to turn the story completely around so you couldn’t do both things to make Fletcher Christian the villain of the piece because that was the truth. He was kind of a villain. Bligh actually did something extraordinary. An open sea voyage without a compass and he found his way to where he was going. It’s an unequaled feat of seamanship to this day. He survived and kept everyone alive. Good in a crisis, this guy. He had one fault and it was that he was a perfectionist and he would be very harsh on people if they didn’t come up to their standard. So people copped a resentment toward him because he’d tell them off. But he was the captain. And he was vilified in the stories.