07.01.10 10:46 PM ET
Why Mel Will Get Away With It
Mel Gibson's ex taped him delivering a racist, misogynistic rant—and now it's been released for all to hear. But Nicole LaPorte reports that the actor-director will emerge relatively unscathed from his latest scandal.
When RadarOnline.com obtained tapes of Mel Gibson yelling at his ex girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva—with whom he's in an ugly custody battle—in which Gibson is heard ranting, "You look like a f------ pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n------, it will be your fault," a here we go again was heard around Hollywood.
Immediately, the question was raised: Is his career now really over? As in, more over than in 2006, when he infamously went on another tirade, spewing that "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!"
“I can tell you, in the meetings I sat through, we were funneling material to him,” one agent said, recalling the months after Mel Gibson's DUI arrest in 2006.
The verbal repercussions to that implosion, which accompanied a DUI arrest, were fast and furious. Ari Emanuel, then the head of the Endeavor talent agency, wrote a letter demanding an industry-wide boycott of the Oscar-winning actor. Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, vowed never to work with him again.
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But the reality is, over the last four years, Gibson's livelihood has hardly been stymied. When Robert De Niro walked off the Warner Bros. picture Edge of Darkness after clashing with the film's director on the first day of shooting, Gibson was hired to replace him. The film was released in January and made $80 million worldwide. Later this year, Summit Entertainment is releasing The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster and starring Gibson as the lead. And he recently wrapped How I Spent My Summer Vacation, which he wrote and stars in.
When a major talent agent was asked Thursday how Gibson's career would weather his latest slurs, the agent said, without pausing, "I've got to think the guy keeps working."
This seems to be the assumption, regardless of the fact that, as Ross Johnson, head of strategic communication at the PR firm PMK-BNC, put it: "He's getting into the most emotionally and politically charged area that he can get into in American culture, which is the relationship and history between black people and white people in this country. He's ratcheted this up a notch."
Gibson's publicist, Alan Nierob, was not available for comment.
Gibson's immunity lies in the fact that he's not just an actor. Worth nearly $1 billion, Gibson is a veritable and very self-sufficient entertainment empire, who has reached the point where he doesn't need the entertainment industry machine to survive. Through his company, Icon Productions, he not only writes, directs, and stars in films, he produces and finances them, which is how controversial projects such as Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ got made. In 2008, he went a step further and bought a theater chain in Australia, so now he can distribute his movies, too. Tom Cruise, another image-challenged actor, tried to go this route with United Artists, which he owns a stake in, but has been far less successful.
"Mel has earned the right to work on projects that he's passionate about and isn't dependent upon traditional Hollywood to support him financially," said Dennis Rice, a film-marketing strategist and former marketing executive at Disney, where he worked with Gibson on Apocalypto.
And even traditional Hollywood, in the wake of his 2006 implosion, didn't totally give up on him. "I can tell you, in the meetings I sat through, we were funneling material to him," said an agent who formerly worked at the William Morris Agency. "Ed [Limato, Gibson's agent] would come in, and say, 'Let's get him a job.' He replaced De Niro on Edge of Darkness. The Beaver was a William Morris script. Hollywood was blackballing him until, all of a sudden, hello!" (Interestingly, as far as the Mel business is concerned, Emanuel’s Endeavor and William Morris have since merged.)
Money, after all, speaks volumes, and Gibson has made a lot of it, not just for himself but for his representatives and the studios that have released his films. Disney, which at first was reluctant to get too close to Gibson on Apocalypto, which came out just months after his drunk driving arrest, ultimately realized that the only way to sell the picture was by using Gibson, the film's only marketable name (though he didn't appear in it). Thus the film was marketed as "Mel Gibson's Apocalypto" and went on to be nominated for Oscars and make $120 million worldwide on a budget of $40 million. It was not the wild success story of Passion of the Christ, which earned a blockbuster $611 million worldwide, but it was hardly a bomb.
"He seems to have people who want to go see his movies," said one publicist who nonetheless thinks that Gibson's perception issue may indeed harm him. "I think traditional financing may be a problem for him from the studios. Not because they can't make their money back, but because they don't want to have to justify their relationship with Gibson." This publicist said that if Gibson were to enter a room he was standing in, he would walk to the other side.
Other celebrities who have tarnished their reputations by using the "N" word publicly, such as former Seinfeld star Michael Richards, have been able to survive, because they were quick about making an apology that seemed gracious and sincere. Also, Richards had no prior history of bigotry or racism.
Many in Hollywood, however, feel that Gibson's mea culpa, via a Diane Sawyer interview, over his initial slur was not enough of an apology and that he never fully articulated an "I'm sorry." Even earlier this year, while promoting Edge of Darkness, when the issue was gingerly brought up, Gibson was prickly and defensive. During an interview with KTLA's Sam Rubin, who suggested that some people in Hollywood might never want to work with him again after his "remarks," a wild-eyed Gibson leaned in and said to the Jewish reporter: "I gather you have a dog in this fight?" Days before, he had stormed out of an interview with the Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher. (He resumed the interview later.)
Still, The Edge of Darkness was a small, if not splashy, comeback for Gibson.
Will this latest act be a regression?
"Whether you like it or not, he's an international movie star," said the agent, "and people will applaud him saying this, somewhere in the world."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include the merger of Endeavor and William Morris.
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.