Mad Mel is back. Mel Gibson has served his time as an outcast among fellow actors, made his apologies and kept a low profile. But, most important of all, he has delivered what Hollywood admires most: another successful movie.
The star, who often shoots from the lip, has been directing Second World War film Hacksaw Ridge, which is up for six Oscars.
Gibson, 61, who became a star thanks to the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies and won Oscars for best director and best film for his epic 1995 movie Braveheart, has a lot of ground to make up, and he spoke to loaded about it.
He was riding high as the biggest star in the world. But then came the fall. Despite his fame and multimillions at the box office, he was secretly an alcoholic who started making headlines for all the wrong reasons. “I didn’t look too closely at what people were writing or saying,” he says. “You have to imagine your worst moments being recorded for everyone to share. I don’t feel sorry for myself, because it affects the present and the future.”
He’s insulted gay people and the Jewish community and delivered some Donald Trump-like remarks about women. The point of no return came ten years ago, when he was arrested for speeding along the Pacific Coast highway in Los Angeles with an open bottle of tequila on the seat. For good measure, he delivered a tirade against Jews to the arresting police officers.
The day after his arrest his wife Robyn – with whom he has one daughter and six sons – made a private call to end their 26-year marriage and left him, even though she did not file for divorce for another three years. The eventual settlement of £325million in 2011 is said to be the highest in Hollywood history.
He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and has managed to stay off the booze since then. But personal problems continued. He had a relationship with Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva, now 46 (she has a son Alexander, 19, with ex James Bond star Timothy Dalton), and she and Gibson have a seven-year-old daughter Lucia.
They both filed restraining orders on each other as the relationship crumbled and a tape recording of Gibson raging against her was released. It made him sound paranoid about her tempting other men.
He is now with former equestrian vaulter Rosalind Ross, who at 26 is 35 years his junior. She is expecting their child, which will be Gibson’s ninth. “Age is just a number,” he says. “Of course I have trepidation about such things but it is working out great. The last ten years have been interesting.”
He expertly directs Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the real life story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a Christian pacifist from Virginia who volunteered to serve as a medic in the Second World War.
Doss saved 75 men in action in Okinawa, a series of particularly bloody battles fought against the Japanese. He did so without firing a shot and keeping to his beliefs that killing was wrong. He became the only American conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honour.
“Real heroes don’t wear spandex or need special effects,” says Gibson, referring to the many exploits on film of comic book heroes. “They sometimes don’t even need a gun. This story appealed to me because it was about an ordinary man doing exceptional things.”
Gibson also prefers not to refer to his own “comeback” through the film. “I prefer the word ‘survival’ when it comes to Hollywood,” he says. “I don’t think this is a particular comeback.” He considers that leaving America for Australia with his family, aged 12 – and having his first alcoholic drink at the age of 13 – may have shaped some of his harsher remarks.
“The kids were mimicking my American accent and making life difficult,” he recalls. “They also liked to make a lot of personal remarks, which I found hurtful.
“I discovered that in Australia they give out insults and serve it up like a national sport. But I went through high school, university and drama school and just got used to it. When I went back to America again I would say things to people and they would get hurt.”
His drinking only served to make those remarks sharper and perhaps just a bit too personal. The actress Winona Ryder – who has had problems of her own – once reported that he made a “really horrible gay joke” about a friend of hers in the 1990s.
But on film sets, whether he was drinking or not, Gibson was always a popular character among the cynical film crews who were used to working with big-shot stars.
While going through one of his regular lay-offs from the booze, Gibson would always drink copious amounts of tea.
“I would be on a Spartan diet of fish or meat and vegetables and brown rice,” he said. “After that for a few months, you feel as if you need a drink – and a cigarette or two.”
He also talked about his early days when he became an actor by chance, after an older sister submitted his name for an audition at the National Institute for Dramatic Art. “I had never acted but would goof around at home,” he reflected. “I seemed to crave an audience.”
He won through the audition but remained uncertain. “I was embarrassed at standing up in front of other people,” he says. “The first time I acted I could hardly stand because my legs were shaking so much.
“It got a little easier but I was still incapable of delivering any kind of performance. I was tongue-tied and felt in a whirl trying to get the words out. People your own age would tell you where you were going wrong. By the end of the first year I realised I had developed a very thick skin.”
That thick skin has stood the test of time, despite his protests that he has started to look “pretty haggard and wrinkled” on screen. He dismisses thoughts of a facelift. “The audience does not take you seriously,” he asserts. “If I am going to see a movie, I don’t want to watch some guy acting a part who is so vain he’s had a facelift. Be yourself. If you start looking older, so what?
“I have never been attached to anything that is not growing on me,” he says.
“Cars are there to get you around. Houses? They’re to live in. Things like sunglasses are like disposable tissues. Does ‘stuff’ make you any happier? Not really.”
He is also down to earth about Hollywood. “It is a game,” he says. “Initially, I found it shocking that I could become a commodity and a business. I felt completely used.
“But that is just the way it is.”
And, comeback or not, that film career looks set for the long haul. “I know it sounds crazy,” he says. “But I can really relax on a film set.”
Thanks, Mel, for speaking to loaded. Hacksaw Ridge is out in cinemas now.
Credit: Garth Pearce / The Express / The Interview People