HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — Mel Gibson says he learned a lot from the people of Thailand, where he once spent time filming on location.
"They have this philosophy about life that appeals to me," says Mr. Gibson during a recent interview. "The Thais insist: Don't do anything if it's not fun. If it looks like it's going to be a chore, make it fun."
The superstar must still be having fun, or why would he work so hard? He's starring in "The Patriot" as a Revolutionary War hero, and is the voice of Rocky the Rooster in "Chicken Run," the feature-length clay-animation film. Gibson plays a secondary role as an FBI agent in "The Million Dollar Hotel," to be released later this year, and he just wrapped up "What Women Want," a comedy with Helen Hunt, which his Icon Productions is filming.
Reminded of the above list, Gibson holds up his hands, smiles, and says, "Enough already, I'm taking a vacation. Just hearing that list makes me feel burned out." Revealing a more serious side, he says, "I'm going to take off six months beginning next week, just to do normal things."
"You know, like get the car registration taken care of, cook the breakfast, get the kids off to school, improve my golf swing, and travel." His face lights up at the thought of seeing new places. He explains, "Being on the road means not scouting film locations, but [spending time] with Robyn [his wife of 20 years] and the kids." The Gibsons have seven children, from toddlers to teens. The actor was No. 6 of 11 children, so he is accustomed to a full dinner table.
Gibson was born in upstate New York in the 1950s, where his dad was a brakeman for the New York Central Railroad. When Mel was 12, his father, Hutton Gibson, won as a contestant on "Jeopardy," and decided to move the family to his mother's native Australia.
"I thought at first I'd like to be a newspaper reporter," he recalls with a smile, "but instead I became a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art at the University of New South Wales. From my first days on the stage, I had this idea that acting should be a hoot."
But doing so many movies back to back is tiresome for an actor, especially on a multimillion-dollar epic like "The Patriot." Not only was Gibson in 90 percent of the scenes, but his was a physically demanding role.
"I spent weeks learning how to throw a tomahawk so it would hit its mark. Also, those were the days of the long rifle - one shot at a time, 20 seconds between shots. You had to load, discharge, prime the pin, pull the flint back, and do it like it was second nature."
But unlike "Braveheart," Gibson didn't direct or produce "The Patriot."
"I still have an itch to direct again," says Gibson, who in 1996 won two Oscars for "Braveheart" in the Best Director and Best Picture categories. "First, I'd have to find a story which I'm really passionate about. Directing takes two years out of your life, so you'd better be sure you love it...."
"The Patriot" was filmed in several different locations in South Carolina. At the start of the four-month shoot, Gibson joined other cast members in what he describes as "18th-century boot camp." They learned to handle muskets, tomahawks, and rifles. They also had to brush up on their horsemanship.
Heath Ledger, the Australian who plays Gibson's 18-year-old son, confides, "Mel would tell the worst puns and have everyone laughing, but the minute the director said, 'Action,' he became the character," says Mr. Ledger. "It was none of this superstar stuff. He ate with the crew.... We all ribbed him for he'd never be satisfied with one dessert. He'd go around the table with a plastic fork and plate and try a bite of everything."
Director Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day") got a taste of the Gibson humor. When they had a break in a battlefield scene with 400 extras, 96 stuntmen, and 400 reenactors, Gibson decided to lighten the mood. For Emmerich's birthday, the actor invited the Carolina Panther cheerleaders to the location. They came yelling a war cry, shaking their pompoms, high-stepping, and finally singing "Happy Birthday." After lunch, the cast regrouped and they returned to 1776.
When asked about his family life, the Oscar-winning actor says Robyn keeps him centered. "She is very temperate in her manner of speech and in the way she looks at things."
Gibson is glad he proposed 20 years ago. "It wasn't very romantic. I just said, 'Shouldn't we get hitched or something?' Her idea was we get married or nothing. Told you she was the cool one."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society