07.14.10

Mel's Multimillion-Dollar Victim

It was one of the most anticipated films of this year. But Mel Gibson’s rants seem to have killed it. Kara Cutruzzula talks to the screenwriter of The Beaver, the movie that could have been Mel’s redemption.

Did Mel Gibson just ruin the best movie of his career?

The buzziest yet most toxic property right now in Hollywood is The Beaver, a dark comedy in the key of Little Miss Sunshine, starring Gibson as a suicidal toy company CEO who wears a beaver puppet on his hand as a way of communicating with the outside world. It may sound ridiculous—and possibly fun—but you’ll likely never see it.

In 2008, to the delight of its writer, Kyle Killen, The Beaver vaulted to the top of the Black List, the annual ranking of the most promising unproduced screenplays.

“Once it went into production, it really became a Jodie Foster movie. So I’m as eager as you to find out what happens,” he said.

Now, months of shooting and millions of dollars later, Killen’s movie is presumed dead, another victim of Mel Gibson’s insane taped tirades.

The Daily Beast tracked Killen down to talk to him about The Beaver and what could have been.

The summer two years ago, when his script was being passed around the halls of development offices, felt “life-changing,” Killen told The Daily Beast. “I went from ‘Gee, I hope I don’t lose my agent,’ to ‘Wow, Steve Carell is attached and Jim Carrey is attached.’ It was a fairly stunning turn of events.”

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Carell or Carrey would both have been great fits to play the depressed schmuck Walter Black. But it was Mel who got the part, perhaps finding something to relate to in the sad sack character who, at one point, tries to commit suicide. Described as a cross between Being John Malkovich and the quirky indie darling Lars and the Real Girl, this witty, anthropomorphic film could have been Mel’s career redemption, even before it was needed. A filmgoer at an early test screening told Ain’t It Cool News that Mel “delivers his best performance in well over a decade.”

In terms of what’s next for The Beaver—if anything—Killen says he can’t comment. “Once it went into production, it really became a Jodie Foster movie. So I’m as eager as you to find out what happens,” he said.

When Mel signed on, The Beaver’s budget was reportedly $18 million to $19 million, far lower than his big blockbusters, but sizeable for an independent film.

On his blog, before filming started, Killen joked about the cost of talking beavers—and all but predicted his future: “Things can certainly still go horribly wrong, but, like I said, we’ve hired a beaver.”

Still fairly new to the Hollywood scene—he was a short story author before penning The Beaver—Killen said he “doesn’t ever do anything and expect it’s going to work.” This sense of disbelief was evident in a joyous, self-deprecating blog entry he posted after the Black List announcement, saying he “never imagined more than ten people would try to read” the script.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Killen will be walking the red carpet at The Beaver’s premiere anytime soon.

From the beginning, it was clearly a labor of love, and even after those first horrifying, misogynist rants were released last week, RadarOnline.com reported that Gibson was spotted in Brooklyn at reshoots for the film. But the rants, of course, kept coming, making The Beaver a marketing nightmare. The most recent, damning tapes, in which Mel apparently admits to hitting Oksana as she held his child, make more filming seem impossible. A rep for Summit Entertainment, the production company behind the film, said the movie is currently in post-production and that no release date has been set.

For Killen, fortunately, all is not lost. He credits The Beaver with getting his new series Lone Star off the ground. (The soap-y take on the oil industry with a con man leading a double life premieres September 20 on Fox). “To go in on the heels of The Beaver last summer was a whole different deal. The interest and access that you have—I was thinking ‘You won’t get a shot like this again, so don’t screw it up,'” he said.

An early version of the script begins with the beaver narrating the life of Gibson’s character Walter Black, “a hopelessly depressed individual” who pops pills, sobs uncontrollably, and sleeps all day after the company he takes over nears bankruptcy. “His depression is an ink that stains all who touch him. A black hole that swallows all who get near,” reads one line. Walter copes with his life with a “prescription puppet,” designed to distance himself from his emotions.

After the film first started shooting last year, Killen wrote that “Mel Gibson is wandering around New York with a beaver puppet on his hand because despite having a team of agents, managers, and years of experience, he was somehow convinced it was a good move.”

But what may have been a good move for Mel was a bad move for this much-loved script.

Another victim in Mel’s crash-and-burn is Jodie Foster, who directed the film and also plays his long-suffering wife Meredith. This quirky film was her first return to the director’s chair since the 1995 Home for the Holidays. Given Hollywood’s shortage of female directors, it’s a shame that Foster’s latest film is sidelined by a misogynist rant.

It’s hard to see how the film can be salvaged. Mel, it seems, has wasted the opportunity of a complex leading role, one that could have given him credibility as a sensitive leading man.

Instead, the last image we have of Mel on the screen is a glowering homicide cop in the Edge of Darkness, shouting things like, “I’m a guy with nothing to lose!”

Indeed, we can still hear him screaming.

Kara Cutruzzula is deputy features editor at The Daily Beast.