I hope Mel Gibson’s publicity reps are billing him for their blood pressure pills and the salon appointments to cover up the gray hair he’s giving them.
The actor-director-producer’s current PR schedule on behalf of “Edge of Darkness,” his first lead role in eight years, could easily be titled The Hostility Tour.
May and September appearances with Jay Leno – softball-tossing, buddy-buddy chats – hinted at a renewed, revitalized Gibson. During the January 17 Golden Globes broadcast, the star’s gently self-deprecating response to host Rick Gervais’ crack about his drinking problems nudged this new image further.
But two days later, things took a different, weird turn. Gibson’s more straightforward sitdown with KTLA-TV’s Sam Rubin to promote the film veered into downright combative. And it included what can only be interpreted as an ethnically tinged taunt by the actor toward the Jewish entertainment reporter.
Just as the viral reach of the KTLA video died down, another one took its place.
Last week, Gibson had another testy interview, this time by satellite with WGN-TV Chicago. The reporter cut the segment off after some tense back-and-forth. While Gibson was still mic’ed and on-camera he muttered, “Asshole.”
Over the past few days, I’ve been barraged with links to this new video through Twitter, Facebook, industry sites and every other channel.
But get past the train wreck fascination with both interviews and you’ll find a more interesting situation.
Beyond the eight-year acting hiatus, this round of publicity represents Gibson’s first major voluntary celebrity exposure since his notorious 2006 drunk-driving arrest and the obscenity-laced anti-Semitic, misogynistic rant that accompanied it.
It’s logical to expect that during this round of interviews, any reporter getting more than a single soundbite is obligated to ask some variation of "How are you faring post-meltdown?"
And it’s just as logical to assume that Gibson and his handlers have worked up and rehearsed a number of respectable PR replies that address in broad strokes – then summarily curtail – that subject. That’s how the game is played.
In each of the videos, however, the reporter is caught off-guard to find that Gibson doesn’t have a well-practiced answer and, instead, veers between coy and angry. And Gibson seems under the impression that this incident currently merits neither discussion nor response.
You have to wonder whether Gibson believes he can shut down that particular line of questioning simply through intimidation. Or if he is convinced that an interview tied to his latest work has no right straying from that subject. Or even if he’s decided he never has to address these incidents again because he’s endured the now-requisite process of accountability, then apology. In fact, he alludes to having done just what was demanded of him, which should put it behind him, in the WGN piece.
Whatever reasoning he wants to argue, he’s wrong.
No journalist expects Gibson to launch into a lengthy existential monologue about the impact of his actions four years ago and all that’s transpired since then. Few media, aside from the tabloids, are really seeking it.
Most of those doing the interviews just need to bring back a few lines to the editor or executive producer to prove they’ve done their job.
And when these slight variations of the same response start getting traction and are no longer worth the column inches or airtime, the subject begins to fade away.
By doing everything except tossing off those few repetitive lines, however, Gibson’s making his unhappy situation worse.
What’s most surprising is that Gibson is one of the smarter folks in Hollywood. As an actor, he masterfully built an on-camera and red-carpet persona appealing to both men and women — no mean feat. Crossing over to writing, producing and directing, his work has seen both critical and financial success.
You have to believe that even if he is still resentful about the incident and its fallout – or truly means what he said about Jews and women while under the influence – he’s shrewd enough to take the right steps for professional reasons.
Personally, I hate what has now become the formulaic public redemption that other PR experts swear by. The Oprah Winfrey/Larry King/Barbara Walters/People Magazine mea culpa is predictable, tired and really only benefits Oprah, Larry, Barbara and People.
Michael Richards’ recent storyline on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was a brilliant way to acknowledge and start rewriting his own very public misstep.
Gibson’s momentary self-directed silliness following Gervais’ comment was smart. His participation on the phone bank at the recent Haiti telethon took guts.
But for those two steps forward, Gibson takes several backwards with each testy interview.
It’s unlikely that Gibson had the contractual choice of refusing to support “Edge of Darkness” through publicity, although he could have done less than the breadth of coverage that has appeared to date. Instead, he chose to venture forth. Surprisingly ill-prepared.
Gibson isn’t the first celebrity to have a fall from grace. He won’t be the last. But he might break new ground by having a perfectly manageable situation handed to him and then bungling it. That’s not a breakthrough role anyone should want.