Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

Mel Gibson Interview -

The instructions on the shiatsu massage machine Mel Gibson received for his 39th birthday on January 17 this year were emphatic that it should not be used on the head. That's exactly the first place he tried it out wielding it like a mini-Hoover over his skull and face.

Mel Gibson enjoys sticking his size 16 ins neck out.

He also needs to do something with his hands. He's given up his 40-a-day Malboro man habit. He's been a superior inhaler since he was 15 and has frequently tried to stop. When he does he fidgets and jokes around, anything to blank out the nicotine craving.

This time, his fourteenth non-smokling attempt, he's doing it cold turkey -- which he fervently hopes his film ‘Braveheart', the most extravagant risk of his hugely successful career, will not turn out to be. He is gambling nearly $20 million dollars of his own money and $50 million of other people's that worldwide audiences are ready for three hours of a wild, action galore, championship costume epic based on the exploits of Scotland 's William Wallace.

Gibson has been dealing with Hollywood for whom Kevin Costner is a historical figure. Wallace who they regard as ‘some guy in a dress who wears blue make-up' sets them in Cindy Crawford mode. It required the involvement of several major movie studios, all hedging their bets, for the ‘Braveheart' financial package to be raised. Gibson is co-producer, director and star and with the $70 million dollar budget -- before an anticipated $30 million dollars in marketing and advertising costs -- was responsible for the largest production ever undertaken by an actor/director.

For this and a roundup of ongoing problems from the early days of filming around Fort William and in Ireland he dubbed himself Mad Mac. Throughout the production handicapped by rain and mud and midges he lived by the alarm clock. On each,often 20-hour, day he put on his light Scots brogue, shoulder-length red hair extensions, a ragamuffin kilt ( underneath were specially designed briefs with strings to tighten the sides) and different hats: one moment actor, the next director and always a producer. He pulled a groin muscle getting on a horse, was nearly injured in a mob scene and all the time had to deal with nervy Hollywood executives. He lived on caffeine and tobacco.

He says that through stress he lost the place and his temper a couple of times. But he never totally lost his madcap sense of humour, his prankster mentality for which he is known as the Fourth Stooge. When the first reels of film made it over the Atlantic the ‘suits' were horrified about ‘Mel Gibson in a skirt.'

‘They're not kilts as you imagine them,' says Gibson explaining:

'They're simply blankets to keep your balls warm.'

Gibson did well to keep his covered for they were and remain on the line. The year of pre-production and filming is over but Gibson sitting in a lounge of a Beverly Hills hotel knows that the uphill march goes on.

Will the ‘Mad Max'/ ‘Lethal Weapon' audiences warm cinema seats for William Wallace? And, initially, the important numbers will involve American cinemagoers. In Britain and the rest of Europe and Japan a Mel Gibson movie is a passport to at least $100 million.

But it is on Hollywood 's home turf where the box office matters most. Not only in the bank but in the perception. On the surface at least Mad Mac remains relaxed. Cigarette withdrawal and the resulting added stone and a half of weight (20 lbs) seems more of a concern. He's been fasting and eating apples but in mock horror admits:' I've got spots.'

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