Interview: Mel Gibson Talks Edge of Darkness and Mad Max 4

It's been seven-and-a-half years since Mel Gibson stepped in front of a camera, a self-imposed acting hiatus he spent focusing on directorial pursuits like The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. He spent it doing more controversial things, too, but I'm not going to get into that here. There was absolutely zero chance, upon being granted an interview with the multi-hyphenate filmmaker to discuss his new movie, Edge of Darkness, that I was going to ask him anything that would result in me being pummeled to death. Call me a coward, but Gibson still looks like a pretty lethal weapon. Darkness, by the way, is about a cop who initially believes his daughter's murder was a botched assassination attempt on his life, only to discover she was involved in a much more dangerous conspiracy herself. The script by William Monahan, the same guy who wrote The Departed, is a thrill ride from start to finish, and Gibson is back in old form in it. I sat down with him recently to discuss the project as well as several upcoming ones ... including his possible involvement in the latest Mad Max movie.

Cole Haddon: I'm glad to see you on-screen again. Have you gotten the acting bug back?

Mel Gibson: Well, I walked away from it after Signs because I just felt [I was] stale and I needed to maybe ... it wasn't ringing my bells. So I focused on directing and writing and producing and all that kind of stuff, and then it was time to come back. I got the acting bug back because I felt like, all of a sudden, maybe after all these years, I might have something to offer again. [That] coincided with a very good piece of material. If it wasn't Edge of Darkness, it would have been something else, but this was the best thing that I saw.

CH: How did you happen to learn to direct? And, after several years exclusively giving direction, how did you, with Edge of Darkness, handle taking direction again? Was it hard not to pitch in your two cents, or did you?

MG: Well, you know, how do you learn to direct? You hang around the hub and watch what's going on, and ask a bunch of questions. You're there for the inception of an idea. You're there to see it executed. You're there to doubt it. You're there to see if they pull it off or not. And you're there to share the fruits of victory or failure. So, it's like a big science experiment for 30 years, so how can you not pick it up? And, if you're working with really good people, that's just great. Let go of it? I don't think you can ever totally let go of it. You can pull back on it and not be too forceful. I hope I wasn't too hard on Martin [Campbell] on this production. I don't think I was, but occasionally I'd say, "Look, dude, why don't we..." and I'd get an idea or something. And you know what? A good director, if it's a good idea, and I've noticed this, people come to my table when I'm directing and they get good ideas and I say, "That's a goddamned good idea. Can I steal that?" And they go, "Yes, please." And you go, "OK, I'll take it." And he actually did swipe one of my ideas. That's the earmark of a good director: when he sees a good idea, he takes it.

CH: After such a long, diverse, very successful career, what's left that you'd like to accomplish?

MG: I'm working with [producer] Graham [King] on the Viking movie. The very first idea I ever had about making a film and my first thought ever about being a filmmaker was when I was 16 years old, and I wanted to make a Viking movie, and I wanted to make it in Old Norse, which I was studying at the time. It's odd because at that age you're like, "Well, that's a stupidly ridiculous idea. How will I ever be a filmmaker? And that's a dumb idea. It's just some romantic pipe dream." But that was the first big, epic, wacky idea I ever had was to show Viking real.

CH: Does that mean your Viking movie will be in English or in Old Norse?

MG: I think it's going to be in English -- in English that would have been spoken back then, and Old Norse, whatever the ninth century had to offer. I'm going to give it to you real, man.

CH: You did that in The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. Is that important to you?

MG: Yeah, I want a Viking to scare you. I don't want a Viking to say, [theatrically] "I'm going to die with a sword in my hand." I don't want to hear that. It just pulls the rug out from under it. I want to see somebody who I've never seen before speaking low, guttural German who scares the living shit out of me coming up to my house. OK? What is that like? What would that have been like?

CH: You're a history fanatic, aren't you?

MG: Oh, I love it. I like trying to imagine what it was like, especially if we don't have a clear picture of what it was. Try to imagine what it was like. Maybe romanticize it, make it compelling for film. Maybe even push it a little over the top. It's just a question of choices.

CH: Edge of Darkness isn't a one-off acting gig for you, either. You're back in front of the camera for a while, since you also shot The Beaver with Jodie Foster directing. Talk about that.

MG: Yeah, The Beaver. As the title suggests, it's about a guy... [Laughs] It's about a man who's clinically depressed and the way that circumstances somehow dictate that he finds himself with a ratty beaver hand puppet on his arm. He can't even kill himself properly, but he ends up with a beaver puppet talking, and he manages to save himself and his life and his family and everything by expressing himself through this hand puppet because that's all he can do. He's too far gone. He's too broken.

CH: I've heard the script is fantastic. How about Mad Max 4? Have you talked to writer-director George Miller about it?

MG: Oh yeah. I've talked to George. Yeah, we've had a good chin-wag about it. We talk all the time anyway, George and I. So I'm abreast of that. I know he's been trying to do this for years, the fourth installment. At one point, I was involved, then it fell to bits, and then this and that. So now, it's probably gone through a lot of changes. I can't wait to see it because everything he does, I think, is magic. There's a touch of genius, more than a touch of genius about George. Probably most of any good trick I've ever learned, I've learned off that guy and Peter Weir.

CH: And so have you ruled out a cameo in it?

MG: No. We've just talked. I honestly don't know.