an indication that people perhaps like what you '
do. that something you’re doing is working.‘ comments the man who was voted most popular movie star by American audiences in 1990. Gibson was born in upstate New York in 1956. the sixth of eleven children who moved with their parents to Australia when Mel was twelve. so that his elder brothers would not have to be drafted into the Vietnam war. He was working in a bottling factory when one of his sisters secretly
sent off an application for drama school on his ,
behalf. In his second year at college. he played his first screen role in a low budget surf movie. In I979. shortly after graduating. he auditioned for director George Miller who was ‘looking for some rough looking people' to cast in his futuristic punk cop movie Mad Max. Gibson turned up for the audition sporting a massive black eye that he had picked up in a bar the night
before and made just the right impression. The I 2 1
film was a big hit in his native Australia. but the l '
question remained. could he act? In 1981. Peter Weir made Gallipo/i ‘to show audiences what
the new Australian cinema was capable of achieving'. In the film. Gibson plays a young 5.?
wide-eyed army recruit from Perth who finds his battalion has been sent to Europe as cannon fodder in the l9l4—18 war. His subtle and powerful performance attracted critical acclaim: Gibson had shown what he was made of.
In the 80s his career developed along two seemingly divergent paths. On the one hand. there were the highly bankable. testosterone fuelled action movies including The Road Warrior or Mad Max I 1, Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, Lethal Weapon I, ll & III in which Gibson plays Martin Riggs. a world weary cop contemplating suicide. On the other hand. and in total contrast. he starred in a number of ‘serious’ films such as Peter Weir’s The Year of Living )angeroasly. in which he played a young foreign correspondent struggling with his conscience and The Bounty in which he starred as Fletcher Christian to Anthony Hopkins‘ Captain Bligh. Gibson’s adaptability as an actor. later seen in his role as the Danish prince in Franco Zefﬁrelli’s Hamlet. has consequently become his trademark. distinguishing him from other action movie muscle-men such as Stallone and Schwarzenegger. How has he handled his apparently schizophrenic career path?
‘All the ﬁlms are kinda the same to me no matter what the mechanics are. you have to approach them in the same way.‘ he says in an accent more California than Canberra. ‘They’re all serious, we approach even the silly ones very seriously. No matter what the tone of the film. you have to be serious about making it work and
Classic Gibson: Mad Max there’s also an art in being goofy and making it work. Plus you must always operate within the style ofthe director. Both Peter \Veir and George Miller are very strong directors and give you such a definite mood. atmosphere and style that you feel very secure as an actor when working with either of them. Good screen acting is about adaptability. I think you have to try and understand and communicate the best you can with the director and get his vision into your head. If you can do that you can enhance what he is doing.’
As actor and director of Brave/tear! that was not a problem which he had to deal with this time round. In The Man ll’iihout a Face made in 1993. Gibson had made his debut as actor/director and the film. made on a low- budget. did relatively well at the box office and was praised by the critics. Brave/wart. however. with its estimated budget of between $60 — 7() million dollars and epic proportions. is a whole different ball game. As the lead role. Gibson is on screen for most of the movie which meant that he was acting for fourteen of the twenty- week shoot. How was it possible to do both at the same time?
i l, ,. ,,,
‘Directing was the main thing for me. anything else I did was peripheral.‘ he says. ‘I didn‘t indulge myself as an actor much. which is good since sometimes the more you agonise over something the less you end up with.’ But surely even the most experienced screen actor needs the kind of feedback that a good director can provide? ‘I’djust hop in front of the camera a few times and knock it off — that was the easy part. I was too tired to be nervous. There were moments of minor insecurities when I’d go up and ask somebody. what was that like? But generally you know when you’re hitting the mark.’
Filmed in Scotland and Ireland over four months last year. Brave/rear! is a kind of historical fairytale based on a screenplay written by Randall Wallace who discovered his famous
a? ancestor whilst on holiday in Edinburgh. ‘I had
grown up in the American South within a family I knew to be Scotch~lrish. and although I had
" been interested in history. I had never thought much about
our roots extending beyond America.‘ explains Wallace. ‘We were dirt farmers from Tennessee. What I’m trying to say
;, is that I never thought of our having famous relatives.‘ The screenplay displays
a heavﬂy romanticised idea of thirteenth century Scotland but does capture Wallace’s heroic qualities and his fight to free Scotland from the miserable tyranny of Edward I. As Gibson admits. they used a sketchy historical knowledge of Wallace and then let fantasy embellish the rest.
‘He was an extraordinary character and as a director and an actor I was really interested in his motives. What was he after? Was it money, power or position? I couldn’t ﬁnd anything that suggested he was into self aggrandisement so I came to the conclusion that he did what he did because of what he said he was doing it for: his country. Wallace had a concept about a united country at a time when people where divided and scattered and warring with one another but most of all he wanted to be free.’ In the film, it is the brutal murder of his young wife, Murron, that motivates Wallace to pick up a sword. ‘This is really the straw that breaks the camel’s back,’ Gibson explains. ‘Although it seems like a ﬁlm device. there’s reason to believe that this was true. I hope people will see his motivation as something more. it’s really a case of him not wanting it to happen to anyone.’
Brave/rear! has its fair share of tartan cliches and there’s a cloying sentimentalising of the Scottish people which is certain to grate on a few nerves north of the border. Patrick McGoohan of Prisoner number 6 fame is utterly roguish as the evil king and there are some brilliant battle scenes that have justiﬁably
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The List 8-2l Sept 1995 7