GIB­SON’S WAR

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ -

It’s been a long time in no-man’s land for Mel, but a new film about an all-amer­i­can hero could turn the tide.

ALL SMILES – WAV­ING, SIGN­ING AU­TO­GRAPHS, JOK­ING WITH FANS. THERE FOR THE PRE­MIERE OF NEW FILM, HACK­SAW RIDGE,

it was one of the fes­ti­val’s most an­tic­i­pated events. Mark­ing Gib­son’s re­turn to the di­rec­tor’s chair for the first time in 10 years, the film chron­i­cles World War II sol­dier Des­mond Doss, a man lit­tle known in Aus­tralia but a war hero in Amer­ica. It’s fair to sug­gest the stakes were high. Be­hind the il­lu­mi­nated smiles, Gib­son was ner­vous. “I got in last night – I haven’t slept,” he later tells GQ. “It’s like putting your child out there, like send­ing them to kinder­garten. There’s trep­i­da­tion, there’s fear, there’s hope.” There’s also the fact he’s Mel Gib­son – a man who, over the past four decades, has been hailed as one of the finest ac­tors of his gen­er­a­tion, chalked up some 50 film cred­its, won two Os­cars and se­cured a per­sonal for­tune es­ti­mated at half a bil­lion dol­lars. But he’s come close to throw­ing that all away – this film his chance at a new be­gin­ning. Des­mond Doss was 23 when he joined the US army. En­list­ing in 1942, he was one of the 16 mil­lion Amer­i­can sol­diers who’d serve the coun­try dur­ing the war. Ex­cept Doss had one ma­jor dif­fer­ence – he re­fused to carry a weapon. Still, his Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist be­liefs didn’t pre­vent him end­ing up on the front lines as a medic, where he was wounded three times and saved the lives of 75 sol­diers. The first con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tor to re­ceive the Medal of Honor, he’d see an­other six decades af­ter the war, dy­ing a na­tional hero in 2006. “Des­mond Doss was an or­di­nary guy who did ex­tra­or­di­nary things un­der very dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances – which, to me, is heroic,” says Gib­son. “He went into bat­tle armed with noth­ing more than faith. He was tap­ping into some­thing big­ger than him­self. But he didn’t think of him­self as a hero.” Doss is played by The Amaz­ing Spi­der-man star An­drew Garfield, who says the role was al­ways go­ing to be a chal­lenge. “The wild thing is, he was a real per­son, he was flesh and blood – and there’s no real way of hon­our­ing such a per­son,” of­fers Garfield. “He was re­sis­tant to be­ing glo­ri­fied as a hero in any way. He gave the praise to God and the sol­diers who were brave enough to give their lives. So the ques­tion we had to ask our­selves was, ‘How do we make a film about a man who didn’t want a film made about him?’” Garfield and Vince Vaughn (as of­fi­cer Sergeant How­ell) sup­ply some US star power, but the film is a thor­oughly Aus­tralian af­fair. Shot en­tirely in Western Syd­ney, it fea­tures some of this coun­try’s finest ac­tors, in­clud­ing Sam Wor­thing­ton, Hugo Weav­ing, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey and Ryan Corr. “It was good to go home,” says Gib­son of his time film­ing in 2015. “It’s a great place to work and it was a real team ef­fort. The crews are great, the ac­tors are great, the spe­cial ef­fects are great. Ev­ery as­pect of film­mak­ing down there was mag­nif­i­cent. It was fan­tas­tic.” Weav­ing plays Des­mond’s fa­ther, Tom, a man whose per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences of World War I left him bro­ken. “He’s an al­co­holic and an abu­sive fa­ther,” ex­plains Weav­ing. “This is a war film, but of course it’s also an anti-war film. Doss is a par­tic­u­larly Amer­i­can hero but he’s also an un­likely war hero, be­cause the usual hero in war is the brave sol­dier who saves the lives of his friends by killing other peo­ple’s friends. And he re­fuses to do that.” Weav­ing hadn’t pre­vi­ously worked with Gib­son, and was nearly forced to turn down the project. “I’d just done a cou­ple of plays and I was look­ing to have a bit of a break – I was pretty ex­hausted. But I heard Mel was out here do­ing a film, and then, when

“I HAD A LOT OF UPS AND DOWNS. I’M JUST A FLAWED HU­MAN BE­ING. I’M NO BET­TER OR WORSE.”

I read the script, I thought it was a ter­rific char­ac­ter – I said ‘yes’. “And I ab­so­lutely loved work­ing with him. He’s very in­stinc­tive – be­cause he’s an ac­tor, he gets ac­tors. I’ve never been on a set where the crew was so buoyed by the en­ergy of the di­rec­tor. Mel just steers a re­ally great ship.” Garfield agrees: “There are no ques­tions – it’s very clear. He’s in the scene with you, ab­so­lutely in the frame with you. Feel­ing ev­ery­thing that you’re feel­ing – and [he] knows when you’re not feel­ing it. There’s not many di­rec­tors who care about ac­tors in the same way. It was a rare ex­pe­ri­ence.” Gib­son, of course, has worked with some of the greats – Ge­orge Miller and Pe­ter Weir spot­ting his rugged tal­ents early on. Of his di­rec­to­rial style, Gib­son says it’s hard to know how he com­pares to such men. “We’re all in­flu­enced by the things we’ve seen and the things we’ve been ex­posed to – art and paint­ings, ac­tors and di­rec­tors or movies we’ve seen,” he says. “Ev­ery­one’s got their own style. Some peo­ple are re­ally more into the ac­tion and the ac­tors. Oth­ers not – they like to leave it to you. “I re­mem­ber hear­ing this edi­tor talk­ing to this di­rec­tor I was work­ing with one time. They loved each other. But they would scream abuse at each other. Did I? I don’t think so. I got up­set once or twice.” Adds Garfield: “He didn’t scream at any­one.” Gib­son ar­rived with 1979’s dystopian ef­fort Mad Max, show­ing he had no is­sue draw­ing crowds. Crit­ics came on board two years later, with the pow­er­ful clas­sic, Gal­lipoli. Then 1995’s Brave­heart gave Gib­son Academy Awards for Best Pic­ture and Best Di­rec­tor. War, it seems, makes for good cin­ema. “When I look at bat­tle scenes like Brave­heart, I like to make them like sport­ing events, so they are clear – the rules are spelled out, even though it looks like chaos. It’s im­por­tant that you don’t send peo­ple run­ning out of the cin­ema, but I wanted to push the en­ve­lope with this – to show what it was like. I al­ways loved films as a child. To me, they were big dreams. They fired my imag­i­na­tion and I don’t think that’s di­min­ished. I still get the same kick out of fash­ion­ing a story as I did back when I was a child.” Still, not ev­ery­one shares the same en­thu­si­asm for Gib­son’s sto­ry­telling. Af­ter a se­ries of out­bursts and hu­mil­i­a­tions, he’s spent most of the past decade as a Hol­ly­wood pariah. His fall from grace be­gan with a drunken tirade hurled at a po­lice of­fi­cer in 2006. Then came the 2010 record­ings of him scream­ing abuse at his ex-wife, Ok­sana Grig­orieva. Mega-agent Ari Emanuel – the in­spi­ra­tion for En­tourage’s shouty Ari Gold – shut the door on Gib­son, and all but de­manded oth­ers do the same. And they did. There’s been a lot of wa­ter un­der the bridge since then. Some peo­ple will never for­give Gib­son or bring them­selves to trust him again, and maybe they shouldn’t. But here to­day, at 60, Gib­son’s cer­tainly older – his hair and beard both grey, the years spent in the Hol­ly­wood wilder­ness etched in his face. As to whether he’s any wiser, he ad­mits to lessons learnt. “The past 10 years have been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he claims. “But then, life is a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, you know. I had lots of ups and downs. I’ve done a lot of work on my­self in that time. I’m get­ting to a much health­ier place now. But it’s an on­go­ing thing, and al­ways will be. I’m no bet­ter or worse – I’m just try­ing, as al­ways. I’m just a flawed hu­man be­ing. “But like some­one once said to me – it’s one per cent in­spi­ra­tion, 99 per cent per­spi­ra­tion. You have to get out there and do the work. I’ll let you know when I fig­ure it out.” It’s hard to call Gib­son coura­geous in the con­text of some­one like Doss, but there’s no doubt his film pre­miere took balls. The morn­ing af­ter, re­views trickle in – The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter, Va­ri­ety and The Guardian among those hail­ing it a suc­cess. But Gib­son didn’t have to wait that long to ap­pre­ci­ate its re­cep­tion. When the cred­its be­gan to roll in Venice, the crowd took to their feet and ap­plauded, stand­ing for 10 min­utes while the cast made their way on stage. It was a tri­umph – per­haps best summed up by the man him­self. As Gib­son fronted an ex­cited press pack to face ques­tions, one jour­nal­ist asked him for a sin­gle word to sum up his time in Hol­ly­wood. “One word?” he grinned. “Sur­vival.” Hack­saw Ridge is in cine­mas Novem­ber 3

GIB­SON ON SET FILM­ING HACK­SAW RIDGE – AND IN THE LINE OF FIRE AT THE PRE­MIERE IN VENICE.

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