Opening this Friday is director Martin Campbell’s (Casino Royale) Edge of Darkness. A GK Films Production based on the BAFTA Award-winning BBC miniseries of the same name (which Campbell directed), Edge of Darkness is about a homicide detective whose daughter is gunned down on his front steps. When he starts to look into what really happened, he uncovers not only her secret life, but a corporate cover-up and government collusion that attracts an agent tasked with cleaning up the evidence. The film stars Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic and Shawn Roberts and it’s been written by William Monahan (The Departed) and Andrew Bovell (Lantana), based on the original television series written by Troy Kennedy Martin.
To help promote the film, I recently participated in a press conference with Gibson, Winstone, Director Martin Campbell and Producer Graham King. If you’re a Mel Gibson fan, you’ll really like this interview as almost all the questions were directed at him. Gibson talks about everything from making the movie to whether or not he’ll be in Mad Max 4 and his Viking movie. Hit the jump to read the transcript.
Finally, look for exclusive interviews with Director Martin Campbell and Producer Graham King tomorrow night and here’s a few clips from Edge of Darkness if you’d liek to check them out before reading the interview.
Question: Have you gotten the acting bug back and might you pop up in Max Max IV?
Mel Gibson: Okay, well, yeah, I walked away from it after Signs because I just felt I was a bit stale and I needed to kind of maybe – - it wasn’t ringing my bells so I focused on directing and writing and producing and all that kind of stuff, and it was time to come back. Now, I got the acting bug back because I felt like all of a sudden, maybe after all these years I might have something to offer again and it coincided with a very good piece of material. It was a compelling story with good elements attached and I dug it, and it gave me the chance to work with Martin and Ray and Graham and Bill Monahan. If it wasn’t this, it would’ve been something else but this was the best thing that I saw.
Have you talked to George Miller about Mad Max?
Mel Gibson: Oh yeah, George and I, yeah, I’ve talked to George. Yeah, we’ve had a good chin wag about it. We talk all the time anyway, George and I, so I’m abreast of that. I know he’s been trying to do this for years, the fourth installment. At one point I was involved and it felt a bit… and then this and that, so now it’s probably gone through a lot of changes. I can’t wait to see it because everything he does I think is magic, I think is a touch of genius, more than a touch of genius about George. Probably most of any good trick I’ve ever learned, I’ve learned off that guy and Peter Weir.
Once you got back, did you feel rusty or did it come back to you quickly?
Mel Gibson: A little bit. I remember Martin had to tell me to tone it down a couple of times because you forget levels and stuff. It’s like sort of like dialing in levels and stuff. So after that it was pretty natural. You don’t do something for 30 years and forget it. So you know. It felt all right. It felt better actually.
Did the juices come back?
Mel Gibson: Yeah, pretty much, yeah. And that was something an old, wise old – - well, not so wise, not so old guy told me once. Go away, dig a hole, do something else, come back and it magically rejuvenates your creative impulses and stuff. He’s right I think and I cannot qualify how exactly, but I know that something happened. Just nothing better than a vacation sometimes.
Do you keep in shape naturally or did you have to get back in shape for the fight scene?
Mel Gibson: Well, the only thing I did with that was just I ordered a chiropractor for the day after because I knew what it was going to feel like. I knew I was going to wake up like road kill and I did. You don’t bounce back as quick as you used to, and that guy’s 25, right? And he’s taking it easy on you, okay. It’s not a pleasant experience, you know. Things, you don’t pop back the way you used to but it’s okay. So long as it still looks good.
Do you naturally stay in shape?
Mel Gibson: I don’t work out much. I try and eat right and exercise a little. That sounds horrible. I quit smoking so that’s something in the right direction. There’s no more fun things left. I just don’t do anything fun anymore. But that’s dying, isn’t it? You die in stages, right? You let things go in pieces. It’s more than halfway through, right? For all of us here, probably for most of you out there too. It’s over half, more than halfway- – not you. You’re not quite there yet.
Did you watch the original because your performance was similar to Bob Peck’s?
Mel Gibson: It was? Interesting because I watched it back in the ’80s, avidly. Avidly. It was some of the best TV I’d ever seen and British television at that time was great. We’ve all talked about that but I made a point to not watch it, because I didn’t want it to be a part of that. But to just try and be truthful. Hey, if you’re saying that my performance was anything like what Bob Peck did, I’m flattered because I think he was amazing.
What were your preconceptions when you saw the screenplay and how closely do these sync up?
Martin Campbell: I think very closely. The action, we tried to do the action – - cumulatively, it’s actually not that much. There’s not a great deal of action in it but we designed the action so rather like a car crash, most violent acts come out of nowhere. They simply happen in the blink of an eye. You never quite know exactly what happened and that was the principal of this, really.
Mel Gibson: He likes to do that kind of thing. Before you can do this [cover your eyes], it’s like oh, oh. It’s like that. It’s much better.
Martin Campbell: So that was a decision that we took.
Martin, did this movie remake feel familiar or totally new?
Martin Campbell: Well, like Mel approached the acting, he didn’t watch the series and neither did I. I simply forgot the series and treated it as a new movie. I think it was the only way to go about it.
Is it more political thriller than film noir?
Martin Campbell: No, I think it’s much more about loss. It’s about grief and it’s about retribution. It’s all of those things. I think the political story is the least interesting of the elements in the film.
What were the most challenging scenes for you?
Mel Gibson: Boy, challenging. Look, every time you go out there to do something, you wonder if you can do it. There’s no assured success. There’s no assured – - there’s no secret recipe for success. Every time you go out there, you go out there with the possibility of great failure. So the whole business of putting your wares on display, whether you’re a chef or an opera director or a painter or actor or whatever, a filmmaker, whatever you happen to be, you’re throwing your stuff out there for other people and it’s going to be judged. You’re either going to be excoriated or praised or somewhere in between. Both sometimes. It’s all a challenge. The whole gig is a challenge.
Why are you drawn to stories about characters who lose family and fight for justice?
Mel Gibson: Ah, well, there’s a lot of anger around. That’s not a good answer either. I think that’s a very old theme in a lot of stories. Look at Beowulf.
Ray Winstone: Yeah, I think also you look at the script first. If you love the script, and it just happens to be about that subject, the subject is not the thing you look at first. It’s the script.
Mel Gibson: It really is and if you go back, Martin and I talked about this. It reminded us of a Jacobian tragedy from the 17th century in almost every way. By one of those guys like Turner.(actually Jesse Berger) He wrote The Revenger’s Tragedy. They were all written by English guys about the Italians. It was really weird in the 17th century. “Man, those Italians are really revengeful.” But it was all Brits do it. “Look at how revengeful…” all talking about the other guy. So that’s what it reminded me of, where everybody gets it, even the dog. Even the dog gets it. So I don’t know, it’s an old theme and it’s part of most hero myths. Something sets the spheres a-wrong and somebody has to right it. It’s a big theme.
You’ve been on the edge, defending projects, being the center of politics… has all that made you a better actor? And how did you quit smoking?
Mel Gibson: Well, all experiences, what does not kill you makes you stronger and tougher I think. Life’s experiences, whether they be pleasant, unpleasant, torturous or excruciatingly wonderful and blissful, season you somehow and you learn from them. And hopefully we learn. Isn’t that what it’s about? That’s like all I’m trying to do now is put some information on a chip that I can leave to my progeny and maybe they can do a better job than I can in this crazy, spinning piece of dirt in the future. How did I quit smoking? It was torture. I’m on day nine now so it’s almost over. But the first three days I was like an axe murderer. Day four I’d come at you with a bat. Day five I was dangerous with a lawnmower. But now, I’m kind of ok. But it is a hellish habit to break. Your neurons are involved. My mother smoked I think when I was in her womb. I’m not sure. I think so. When I first had one when I was nine years old, I thought, “Oh my God, now, ahh, yes, I missed this.” I knew I missed it. Then 45 years later, after every single artistic decision, every decision I’ve ever made was done with a cigarette. To not have that is pretty hectic. That’s like worse than – - that’s crawling the walls, I did for a while.
Ray, how much fun was it to play this character?
Ray Winstone: It’s funny because the parts you really want to play are the emotional parts. I do anyway, personally. To sit across the table or sit in the garden watching someone play the emotional part, when I read the script, and I didn’t have a lot of time to get my act together and with the help of Martin and Mel as well, decide which way you’re going to take it. To play a man really, me in the film, a man with no emotion who’s seen death and created death, I’ve kind of met people like that, years ago who’ve been through, whether it’s the second World War or people who were members of the SAS. They have these eyes that kind of burn into you and look at the wall behind you. You can’t tell them lies. Because of the amount of emotion that Mel has to go through in this film, it’s kind of making the decision. It’s all about decisions anyway as an actor, but to make a decision to play someone who had no emotion on the surface. That’s fun because you usually play a guy with it, playing of it, in loads of films like that. Besides, going to work is fun anyway. Especially when you’re sitting opposite someone like Mel or John Hurt or whatever it is. It’s always a blessing because you’re working with people who are talented and know their job and know their business.
How did you happen to learn to direct, and how do you dial back and take direction?
Mel Gibson: Well, how do you learn to direct? I mean, you hang around the hub and watch what’s going on and ask a bunch of questions. You’re there for the inception of an idea, you’re there to see it executed. You’re there to doubt it, you’re there to see if they pull it off or not. You’re there to sort of share the fruits of the victory or failure so it’s like wow, it’s like a big science experiment for 30 years so how can you not pick it up and if you’re working with really good people, it’s just great. Let go of it? I don’t think you can ever totally let go of it. You can pull back on it and not get too forceful. I hope I wasn’t too hard on Martin here. I don’t think I was but occasionally I’d say, “Dude, why don’t we…” and I’d get an idea or something and you know what? A good director, if it’s a good idea, and I’ve noticed this, people come to my table when I’m directing and they have good ideas and I say, “That’s a god damn good idea. Can I steal that?” They go yes, please and you go okay, I’ll take it. He actually did swipe one of my ideas and that’s the earmark of a good director. When he sees a good idea, he takes it.
Who came up with the last scene? Was it Monahan?
Martin Campbell: Oddly enough, we had a slightly different ending to the film and it just wasn’t comfortable. It didn’t work and in fact Mel said to me, “This is not working. It doesn’t feel right” and so forth. We discussed it and he said to me, “Well, why don’t we put it in the hospital? In the hospital corridor.” That’s precisely what we did so that’s where that came from. There’s also another scene which is, I think, one of the best scenes in the movie which is the flashback scene to the little girl and the shaving scene. Well, I have to say that was entirely Mel’s idea. It wasn’t mine and that was a scene that Mel improvised with the little girl. We shot it in two or three hours I think. We shot the scene and it’s probably my favorite scene in the movie, or certainly one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
Regardless of whether you revisited the series or not, were you hesitant to revisit a past success?
Martin Campbell: No, it all depended on the script. As Ray said earlier. It entirely depends on the script. I think the idea of a father who’s lost his only daughter and sets out on a voyage of discovery, I always thought that was a great story. To be honest, it was simply a matter of the script coming right. Andrew Bovell did a terrific job, the first writer but Bill Monahan took it to the finish line. I could put the series out of my mind and it was a very good script so I had no hesitation.
Mel, what’s left you want to accomplish?
Mel Gibson: I’m working with Graham here on the Viking movie. Yeah. The very first idea I ever had about making a film and about ever my first thought of ever being a filmmaker was sixteen years old and I wanted to make a Viking movie. And I wanted to make it in old Norse which I was studying at the time, okay. It’s odd because at that age, you’re like, “Well, that’s a stupidly ridiculous idea. How will I ever be a filmmaker? That’s a dumb idea. It’s just some kind of romantic pipe dream.” But that was the first big, epic, wacky idea was to show Viking real.
Ray Winstone: I thought you said a f***ing movie.
Mel Gibson: It’s actually not very different. You get to see another country get f***ed.
Does that mean the Viking movie will be in English or Norse?
Mel Gibson: I think it’s going to be in English, the English that would’ve been spoken back then and old Norse, whatever the ninth century had to offer. I’m going to give you real, man.
Is that really important to you, like The Passion?
Mel Gibson: Yeah, I want a Viking to scare you. I don’t want a Viking to say, “I’m gonna die with a sword in my hand.” I don’t want to hear that. It just takes all the, it pulls the rug out from under. I want to see somebody who I’ve never seen before speaking low, guttural German who scares the living sh*t out of you, coming up to my house. What is that like? What would that have been like?
How hard will that be to cast, apart from Leo?
Mel Gibson: Oh, he’ll be amazing. He’ll be amazing. He’s a great actor this kid.
Graham King: There’ll be a few Vikings out there.
Mel Gibson: Or I’ll just get my family. Nephews and…
Are you a documentarian of the past?
Mel Gibson: I guess so. I like that. I do like history. Oh, I love it and I like trying to imagine what it was like, especially if we don’t have a clear picture on what it was, trying to imagine what it was like. Maybe romanticize it, make it compelling for film. Maybe even push it a little over the top. It’s just a question of choices.
You did a film with Jodie Foster, tell us about that.
Mel Gibson: Yeah, The Beaver. As the title suggests, it’s about a guy who…
Ray Winstone: Don’t go there.
Mel Gibson: It’s like shooting cats in a barrel. It’s about a man who’s clinically depressed and circumstances somehow or other dictate that he finds himself with a ratty beaver hand puppet on his arm. He can’t even kill himself properly but he ends up with a beaver puppet talking and he manages to kind of save himself and his life and his family and everything by expressing himself through this hand puppet because that’s all he can do. He’s too far gone. He’s too broken.
Were there humorous elements?
Mel Gibson: Well, it sounds pretty bizarre but she’s a ballsy girl, you know. She was going for real.
And you’re filming it currently?
Mel Gibson: Oh no, we finished.
But How I Spent My Summer Vacation?
Mel Gibson: Oh that. That’ll happen in March probably. That’s something I wrote with a couple of the guys on Apocalypto, with the first and the second AD on Apocalypto, we sat down and wrote this story, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, about a gringo in a Mexican prison.
For Martin and Graham, why did you think Mel would be a good choice for this role?
Graham King: Well, first of all, I don’t think anyone plays the emotional side better than Mel and I always remember that scene in Lethal Weapon, he’s got the gun in his mouth. I just thought he’s perfect to carry that part. Then to go on that journey with that kind of script, it was an honor for us to get Mel. As far as I was concerned, he hasn’t worked. I didn’t know Mel before this movie and we knew he loved the miniseries. We met with him and it was kind of like a dream, to get Mel Gibson back in front of the camera, for us. We went to see him and I think he just really dug the material, what Andrew Bovell did. I remember we met about that and he really liked it but we needed to, like Martin said, push it to the finish line. I called Bill Monahan and sent him the miniseries and he said basically, “I’ll have a script for you in about six weeks.” And he did and it’s just amazing. I don’t think anyone writes dialogue like Bill in this town for this kind of movie. Lucky enough, Mel read it and said let’s go. You’re kind of like wow, this is amazing. And to see him on set, see the guy who comes out of his trailer and he’s Craven. He’s naturally gifted on the movie. It’s just amazing.
Was there a point during your period off that you considered not coming back?
Mel Gibson: Yeah, of course, yeah. Probably further toward the beginning and then as time went on, you think eh, maybe I should try again. You don’t know. That’s why I didn’t make some big pronouncement, “I am quitting, I’m retiring.” I didn’t want to do that but I just thought I’d back away for a while.
Were you discouraged or tired?
Mel Gibson: Just tired and bored with it, you know. I’ve done that a couple o’ times. I just walked away and just spent a year not doing it, do something else. I think it’s a natural thing. As soon as something starts getting a little tedious and you want to spice it up again, you kind of have to change it.
Are you a protective dad in real life, and is it especially hard with daughters?
Mel Gibson: Yeah, well, I think I am a protective dad. I’ve never really been in situations, fortunately, where the kids have been in some of harrowing dangerous experience. I related one the other day. It’s pretty basic. I remember I went to the pharmacy to buy some formula for my newly born twins. They’re now 27. I brought my 21 month old to the pharmacy with me because my wife was occupied with twins. It was a place called Coogee in Australia. There was a pharmacy right on the corner and then there was the Coogee Bay road, really busy road. We had a karantene Nurse from New Zealand at the time who used to help out during the day and go home at four. So it’s that time, we’re in the pharmacy, I’m buying formula and I take my eyes off the child for a second. The next thing, I look up, I’m saying, “Well, what’s the difference between this one and that?” I look up and I see my child standing about maybe 25 yards away on the edge of the curb and the karantene nurse in a bus stop on the other side with traffic blowing in front of her going [waving hands no]. She’s going out there to say hi to her. Well, okay. Okay. 25 yards and not much time to get the kid, okay. So needless to say, there’s an old man with broken ribs. There was a lady with a footprint on her face. I completely wrecked the place to get through that place and get the kid. I broke everything and ran through things and lifted things and threw them out of the way, that you weren’t supposed to do, to pluck her out before she got struck by a car. I forgot who asked me that question, so yeah, you’ll do anything for your kids, even kill somebody. [Laughs] But the poor woman, I had to apologize to a lot of people afterwards and they didn’t understand. They get very angry of course because you’ve knocked an old lady over.
Have you learned anything exciting while you were recharging away from the industry?
Mel Gibson: Well, I didn’t really get away from the industry. I learned a lot about the industry. I learned about writing. I learned about conceiving, from conception to writing, bringing that to the screen to sort of mounting a film to producing it to directing it to actually single handedly marketing and distributing and doing everything except exhibition. And I think I did it. It’s almost kind of the full thing. Now I bought a bunch of theaters in Australia called the Dendy chain. So I’m an exhibitor as well.
What made you come back then?
Mel Gibson: To act again? It was just time. I don’t know. I just felt like doing it. It was my first love. I used to love doing it and if the tarnish is on it and the glow goes off it, you can kind of walk away for a while. When it’s time to come back, you come back.
Is Steven Soderbergh’s Cleo still happening?
Ray Winstone: I don’t know. It was going to go last year and I think Steven had another film to go and do. There was talk of it going this year but I haven’t heard anything more about it to be quite honest with you. It’d be great, dressing up in a toga and all that with Tony Curtis haircuts, singing rock n’ roll.
Would it have been you singing?
Ray Winstone: What, do you want me to apologize for that? [Laughter] Yeah, and that’s another – - from a kid, I always wanted to be a singer. My balls dropped one day and that was it. My daughter’s a singer. She sings jazz and blues but I’m a frustrated singer really. I think I became an actor because I couldn’t sing. You play a different kind of music now. I’d love to do that.
It’s not officially dead?
Ray Winstone: I haven’t been told it’s dead. I haven’t been told when it’s going but I’d love to. And to get a chance to kiss Catherine Zeta-Jones, you know, that’s just making movies, isn’t it? That’s why I’m doing for. So I’d love to do the film and I think he’s a very, very clever boy and I think if anyone can pull that off, he could.
Mel, have you ruled out a cameo in Mad Max?
Mel Gibson: No, no. We just talked.