Edge of Darkness follows a detective who, while investigating the murder of his activist daughter begins to uncover much larger political conspiracies and cover-ups in the process. It was a massively successful television series created by the BBC and now is being brought to the big screen by the same director (Martin Campbell) that originally helmed the project on British TV. Mel Gibson was a huge fan of the show, so much so in fact that he agreed to lead the movie cast in the role of Thomas Craven, marking his first big screen leading role since the supernatural thriller Signs back in 2002.
Emmanuel Itier: It’s good to see you onscreen again, especially in a thriller like this. Have you gotten the acting bug back?
Mel Gibson: I walked away from it after Signs because I just thought that I was a bit stale and I thought that it kind of maybe wasn’t ringing my bells, so I focused on directing and writing and producing and all that kind of stuff, and then it was time to come back. I got the acting bug back because I suddenly thought that maybe, after all these years, I might have something to offer again, and it coincided with a very good piece of material.
This was a compelling story with good elements attached. I dug it, and it gave me a chance to work with Martin [Campbell] and Ray [Winstone] and Graham [King] and Bill Monahan on good stuff. If it wasn’t this, it would’ve been something else, but this was the best thing I saw.
EI: Was there a time, during that period, that you thought about not coming back?
MG: Of course. Probably further toward the beginning, but then as time went on, I was like, “Eh, maybe I should I try that again.” You don’t know, and that’s why I didn’t make some big pronouncement like, “I’m quitting. I’m retiring.” I didn’t want to do that. I just thought that I’d back away for a while.
EI: I wanted to ask you about the physical aspects of this role. Do you stay in shape on a regular basis, or did you get in shape for this — particularly the scene where you’re fighting for the gun and all of that?
MG: The only thing I did is I ordered a chiropractor for the day after because I knew how I was going to feel. I knew I was going to wake up like roadkill, and I did. You don’t bounce back as [quickly] as you used to, and that guy is 25 and he’s taking it easy on you, and it’s not a pleasant experience. But that’s okay, as long as it still looks good.
EI: Do you work out on a regular basis?
MG: I don’t work out much. I try to eat right and exercise a little. That sounds horrible. I quit smoking, so that’s something in the right direction. There are no more fun things left, but that’s dying, isn’t it? You die in stages, right? You let things go in pieces. [Laughs]
EI: What was the most challenging aspect of this character for you?
MG: Every time you go out there to do something, you wonder if you can do it. 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 an actor or whatever, a filmmaker — whatever you happen to be, you’re throwing your stuff out there for other people. It’s going to be judged. You’re either going to be excoriated or praised, or somewhere in between — or both sometimes. The whole gig is a challenge.
EI: Why are you drawn to characters who have lost family and are fighting for justice?
MG: I think that’s a very old theme in a lot of stories. Martin and I talked about how it reminded us of a Jacobean tragedy from the 17th century in almost every way, by one of those guys like…who wrote that? I can’t remember. They were all written by English guys about the Italians. It was really weird in the 17th century. “Man, those Italians are really vengeful,” but it was all the Brits doing it, all talking about the other guy. It sort of reminded me of that — where everybody gets it. Even the dog gets it. It’s an old theme, and it’s a part of most hero myths. Something sets the spears wrong and someone has to right it.
EI: Did your time off and things that you went through during that time help add to your experience and weight as an actor?
MG: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and tough, I think. Life’s experiences — whether they be pleasant, unpleasant, torturous or excruciatingly wonderful and blissful — season you somehow, and you learn from them. Hopefully we learn. Isn’t that what it’s about? That’s all I’m trying to do now — 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.
EI: In the midst of a long acting career, how did you learn to be a director? And since then, how is it to be directed and not put your two cents or your vision in place of that?
MG: How do you learn to direct? You hang around the hub and learn 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 share the fruits of victory or failure. So it’s like a big science experiment for 30 years, so how could you not pick it up? And if you’re working with really good people, that’s just great.
Letting go of it — I don’t think you can ever totally let go of it. You can pull back on it and not be too forceful. I hope I wasn’t too hard on Martin. I don’t think I was, but occasionally I would get an idea. When people come to my table when I’m directing and they have good ideas, I say, “That’s a goddamn good idea. Can I steal that?” and they go, “Yes, please.” You go, “Okay, I’ll take it.” He actually did swipe one of my ideas. That’s the earmark of a good director — when he sees a good idea and he takes it.
EI: What’s left in your very long and successful career that you still want to accomplish?
MG: I’m working with Graham King on the Viking movie. My first thought ever about being a filmmaker was when I was 16 years old, I wanted to make a Viking movie. I wanted to make it in Old Norse, which I was studying at that time. It’s odd because, at that age, you’re like, “Well, that’s just a stupidly ridiculous idea. How will I ever be a filmmaker? That’s a dumb idea — just some kind of romantic pipe dream.”
EI: Does that mean that the Viking movie will be in English or Old Norse?
MG: I think it’s going to be in English — an English that would’ve been spoken back then and Old Norse. I’m going to give it to you real, man.
EI: Is that really important to you?
MG: Yeah. I want a Viking to scare you. I don’t want a Viking to say, “I’m going to die with this sword in my hand.” I don’t want to hear that. It just pulls the rug out from under you. I want to see somebody who I’ve never seen before speaking low, guttural German who scares the living shit out of you.
EI: What is it that draws you to historical epics? Because you seem to really enjoy those, right?
MG: I guess so. I do like history. Especially when we don’t have a clear picture of what it was, I like trying to imagine what it was like, maybe romanticize it and make it compelling for film and maybe even push it a little over the top. It’s just a question of choices.
MG: The Beaver — it’s about a man [who is] clinically depressed and the way that 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 save himself and his life and 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.
EI: What about How I Spent My Summer Vacation?
MG: That’ll happen in March probably. That’s something I wrote with a couple of the guys on Apocalypto. We sat down and wrote this story, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, about a gringo in a Mexican prison.
EI: Have you talked to George Miller about Mad Max?
MG: I’ve talked to George. I know he’s been trying to do the fourth installment for years. At one point, I was involved, and then it fell to bits, so 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 there’s a touch of genius more than a touch of genius about George. Probably most of any good trick I’ve ever learned I learned off of that guy and Peter Weir.
'Edge of Darkness' is in theaters now from Icon/Warner Bros. Pictures