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05.26.09

Octo-Mel's Split Personality

Is Mel Gibson a devout man of God or an anti-Semite? Devoted father of seven or a middle-aged guy about to have an eighth child with his Russian girlfriend? Kim Masters on what his year of living dangerously could cost his career. Plus: VIEW OUR GALLERY of Octo-Mel’s family album.

Mel Gibson and his estranged wife, Robyn, have been separated for two-and-a-half years, so maybe it’s his business that he’s expecting a baby with one of three Oksanas that he’s been linked with in the press in recent weeks.

But Gibson has been popping up on the talk-show circuit, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel in February and joking with Jay Leno on Monday night about the fact that baby No. 8 is on the way with Russian musician Oksana Grigorieva. “I guess I’m Octo-Mel now,” he said.

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The line got a courtesy laugh but behind the appearance is a serious motive.

Next year Warner Bros. will release Edge of Darkness, Gibson’s first starring role since M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs in 2002. The British thriller has a good pedigree in that it’s directed by Martin Campbell ( Casino Royale) and written by William Monahan ( The Departed). The question is how Gibson now plays to the public.

Clearly he must care or he wouldn’t be showing up on the late-night talk-show circuit. At the same time, he seems so off-message that one hopes he doesn’t care too much.

“Mel didn’t build his career on being a bad boy. We’re not talking about Kiefer Sutherland here.”

Gibson has already had to apologize for his exercise(s) in anti-Semitism. Decide for yourself whether you want to count The Passion of the Christ or his wink-wink Holocaust denials of the time. But there was no room for quibbling after Gibson’s arrest for drunk driving, when he launched into a rant in which he blamed “fucking Jews” for “all the wars in the world.”

Even then it seemed possible that Gibson might have damaged himself more with women than people who don’t like Jew-bashing. (Not only had the married father of seven been caught carousing with young women at a bar, but he famously referred to a sergeant at the Malibu police station as “sugar tits.”)

Gibson apologized for his diatribe against the Jews, but with women he’s digging himself in deeper every day. He told Jimmy Kimmel that he never used the phrase “sugar tits” but wished he had. Then on Monday he had an exchange with Leno that sounded like it was from five decades ago. First Gibson explained that he was drawn to Grigorieva before he ever saw her, when he heard her sing.

“So you were attracted to her voice,” Leno deadpanned. “Did you hear Susan Boyle?”

Gibson laughed and then replied, “I could put the squeeze on Susan Boyle.” (Who would doubt it?)

“There’s very few people who are man enough for Rachmaninoff,” Gibson continued.

“And I assume she has a nice Rach-maninoff?” Leno leered.

This followed an exchange in which 53-year-old Gibson revealed his girlfriend’s age. “She’s going to kill me for this—she’s almost 40,” he said. “Now I’m going to have two women mad at me.” Ah, yes—your 39-year-old friend and the wife of 28 years who bore you seven children.

But are women paying attention? That depends on whom you ask. A veteran marketer says Gibson’s female fan base is and they won’t like this recent turn in his life. “A great percentage of the audience is female,” she says. “It wasn’t guys who were paying for What Women Want or even Ransom.” She believes the same will apply to Edge of Darkness, which involves a father who investigates the murder of his activist daughter. “Avenging the death of a child skews female,” she says.

Another problem is that Gibson’s behavior is perilously at odds with his image, she continues. “Mel didn’t build his career on being a bad boy,” she says. “We’re not talking about Kiefer Sutherland here.”

But a well-known producer who has worked with Gibson believes that the public—women included—may very well give Gibson a break. “He’s a huge talent,” he says. “I don’t think he’s susceptible to what happened to Kevin Costner or Ben Affleck or Tom Cruise.”

This producer points out that Passion of the Christ brought Gibson “a very devout following.” And despite the fact that his life is a “shambles,” he continues, people seem to cut the Traditionalist Catholic Gibson a lot of slack. “I would have thought the whole anti-Semitic thing would have destroyed him,” he says. “But I’ve sat at dinner tables and heard people defend his behavior. `Well, it’s not his fault. His father raised him that way.’ ” This industry veteran says people—especially women—see Gibson as “a wounded animal." The cute kind.

Certainly one major player seems to feel that way. After Gibson’s outburst following his arrest, agent Ari Emanuel—now presiding over the newly minted super-agency WME—publicly called on Hollywood to boycott him even if Gibson apologized.

“Now we know the truth,” he wrote on the Huffington Post in 2006. “And no amount of publicist-approved contrition can paper it over. People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”

Having engineered the takeover of William Morris, Emanuel’s agency now represents Mel Gibson. And apparently Emanuel no longer intends to shun him. Those fences have been mended, we’re told. What’s not yet clear is the amount of money that Emanuel’s agency won’t have to sacrifice by standing up against bigotry and sexism.

Kim Masters is the host of The Business, public radio's weekly show about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.