* The following comments are excerpted from a recent interview with actor and director Mel Gibson.

Although "The Man Without a Face" (see review, left) marks Mel Gibson's directing debut, he pleads a good case for prior experience.

"I worked with the best directors when I was young," he says. "I hope I've learned by now when to trust actors on their own in a scene and when to take a strong hand with them."

Mr. Gibson is proud that his current project is a departure from his action pictures, such as the "Lethal Weapon" series.

Gibson, who plays a teacher in the new film, says, "I don't know why as a movie director I can't be an educator as well. Sure, the entertainment factor must always be No. 1, but there's got to be more to it than popcorn-munching.

"My movie is about looking past appearances to test the real worth of people.... In my business, we're always judged on appearances first. I wanted to make a statement against that, about looking past that.

"But I didn't want to preach at the top of my voice. I wanted a quiet movie, to speak in a quiet voice. I didn't grandstand it. We kept to a modest budget and didn't go in for car crashes or explosions or anything like that. Nobody kills anyone. I wanted to show how people have far more destructive weapons to hurt each other with, like gossip and slander."

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