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Apocalypto Interviews
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Here are some Apocalypto interviews published on the web or in print for the release of Apocalypto.

Interview number One:

Interview: Mel Gibson
The Apocalypto director discusses the film's success and talks about continuing to find inspiration as an actor and filmmaker.
by Todd Gilchrist
December 15, 2006 - Even in a year in which general celebrity gossip seemed to reach an all-time high, Mel Gibson dominated headlines more than almost any other actor or director in Hollywood. But now that his latest film Apocalypto is released in theaters - and further, taking the top slot on the box office charts - there's a legitimate reason to want to read about his exploits. IGN interviewed Gibson a little more than a month ago during a preview screening for the film, where he discussed the uphill battle he knew he'd be fighting to find an audience, and talked at length about the challenges he faced getting his story told. This week IGN spoke to Gibson again via telephone- this time one-on-one; feeling charged following his triumph at the box office, he offered some words of praise for his collaborators and expressed what he hopes audiences will take away from his latest opus.
IGN Movies: Congratulations on your success over the weekend.

Mel Gibson: Yeah. Number one's not bad.

IGN: Do you have a feeling of vindication? I'm sure it must have been nerve-wracking waiting for the movie to come out.
Gibson: No, not really. I mean, you just keep chipping away on what you think is a compelling story and you put it out there. If it sails, it sails, and if it sinks, it sinks, but you knew that going in. So win or lose, you'd rather it won, but win or lose, you're prepared for it, so nerves wasn't a problem. It's your child and you want it to do well out there.

IGN: One of the things that really appealed to me was its simplicity - the fact that it's essentially a chase movie or action film. Did you intentionally make it function at a sort of archetypal level because of the language and character boundaries you knew you would be facing?

Gibson: Oh absolutely. You hit it on the head, even right down to the casting. I mean types, very specific types of people who brought the qualities that I thought the characters needed to the screen. You had to be very clear in those things if you're going to use other devices; mythic storytelling is often quite simple and it's about a man or a group of people, about circumstances, about his reaction - not so much about what he does, what he has to do or he's forced to do, but how he does it. Those are the little things; it's the little things that make it.

IGN: What do you think that this movie has to say about modern culture or about what's going on in our world now?

Gibson: Well, only that history more or less repeats itself and that everything rises and everything falls. I don't think we're crumbling as a civilization, but this is not our finest hour, and it's good to be mindful that we're all susceptible to fall and to look at what are the earmarks of a civilization on the wane. What are they - destruction of the environment? Conspicuous consumption? Heard of those? Use of fear as a manipulation tool, corruption of power - these things are alive and well and I think it's unfortunate. But I'm not saying gloom and doom either; I think there's a lot of hope. But it's just an observation that civilizations are the same, and we've seen the same pressures that are exerted on people in all eras and on civilizations, for that matter.

IGN: So seldom do we get to talk to filmmakers after the movie is released and publicized. Was it your decision to participate in the advertising or did Disney ask you to appear in the ads to sort of put a star's face on the movie?

Gibson: Well, I think that was their idea. It hadn't occurred to me, but when I heard them talk about they said, "well, you have to sell it." Okay, that was fine; I don't mind. I'm proud of it, so I don't mind speaking about it. So it was a pleasure to be able to do so, because one doesn't make films for an elite; you want as many people to share in your story as possible.

IGN: So much was written about the movie and about you in the months prior to its release. Did you feel good about the feedback you've received upon the movie's release?

Gibson: Yeah, well, mostly it was good. I didn't read them all because you would be forever reading, but somebody keeps track of that stuff and I gather that review-wise we came out about 80 percent positive, which is a pretty good result - usually it's about 50-50. It was interesting that the big number really loved it, and the small number really hated it and there was no in between, so it was interesting.

IGN: Did you read any feedback or reviews that pointed out things about the movie that you hadn't thought about?

Gibson: Well, I didn't get into any sort of extensive reading, to tell you the truth. I might have read like two reviews and I was like, well, that's enough. And I read a bum one and a good one, and I thought, well, okay. One, I can tell if someone's being honest or not. I mean, I've been around this game for a long time, and you know when they are grinding an axe and you know when they are being honest even if they are negative. One can take something from that because their perceptions are valid provided they are honest. So yeah, I'm always willing to learn.

There used to be a critic in Sydney - he used to review theatre - and his name was Harry Kippax. Old Harry, kind of a curmudgeon, he could be pretty tough, and early in my career I was getting big parts on stage and boy I remember Harry landing on me a few times. But I started looking at it, and I bumped into Harry in New York in the Algonquin club; he was having a scotch and soda and I sat down and talked to him and it was a really valuable experience. Because I was a very young man then and Harry was old and knew theatre, and he was more experienced and more traveled, and knew more about theatre than I did. It was interesting to sit down and sort of talk to him - and he was real honest. I never begrudged him any of the stuff that was negative because I used to look at that and think, that man's being honest. He has no personal axe to grind, there's no agenda; it's really what he believes and he saw. I wanted to know more about that, and I learned a great deal from him.

IGN: What if anything would you like to impart to other aspiring actors or directors that you have learned in your career?

Gibson: I was engaged in that on this film. We had young, fledgling performers who had never seen the back or the front end of a camera, and I felt that I was giving them all of my experience to help them put a performance on film. And I was so proud of them; they trusted me and they rose to the occasion and they did such a wonderful job. I think it's pretty hard to tell somebody sometimes "what's the lessons you've learned? Here they are." Well, if they're not going through the experience, you can't really apply it to anything you're doing. You just have to take it as a concept and maybe the penny will drop later. But if they're right in the middle of something and you're able to impart something immediate that they understand because it's applicable to them, I think that's the best way to sort of pass things on. I just felt like a proud father sending a kid of on a bicycle with some of these guys. It was so nice.

GN: Having directed two unconventional films in a row, do you feel like your greatest challenges lie ahead of you as a filmmaker or actor?

Gibson: Oh there are definitely some acting challenges, believe me. The caliber of script I get, some of them are great and I would have done them but I was busy. But many are not, and I've done it for thirty years I don't really feel like going over the same ground again, but the thing is I'm so in love with the storytelling process that I'm passionate to see my vision of it, and that kind of is taking my attention. I didn't plan it that way; it's just kind of gradually evolved into that, and I get such a kick out of calling the shots and putting what I see in my mind's eye on film. And getting a wonderfully talented group of people together to help me do it and even getting more than what I imagined. I mean, the great Dean Semler, a true artist and a great cinematographer and I worked with him five years ago when I was his actor and he was filming me upside down on the front of a truck. He's a grunt, man; he understands the expression 'one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration', man, he's a worker. I knew he was the right guy for this film because his sensibilities are so kinetic; I knew that we'd get something cookin' and crackin' and movin'.

IGN: Is that process something you're planning on documenting on the DVD?

Gibson: Oh gosh there's so much footage, and behind the scenes footage, and us being all jazzed when we realized that no one had ever shot on the genesis camera at night using only fire. We were blown away that we were shooting at 2800 or 3000 ASA and you can't do that on film, and we're going "oh my God! It looks great!" and it was like we'd gone through this barrier because we were the first guys to do that. We were blown away - it was like kids in a candy store. And Dean, he said "I'm 62 years old and I've been doing this for 40 years, and hell - I'm more excited now than I've ever been," and it was so great that whole process of discovery, using new technology with the Genesis cameras; digital, wow, it's amazing.

IGN: What else do you have planned for the DVD?

Gibson: Oh gosh, there's all kind of looks at history and art and talking about the production, the production design - as it relates to history and murals and art and archaeological discoveries. Dr. Richard Hansen, the archaeologist who's been in a Mirador for 25 years sweating it out, unearthing the oldest of sites - you know, the largest pyramid in the world is down there, and most people don't even know about it.

IGN: When you say you aren't especially interested in doing some of these franchise films, is it more a product of feeling they won't challenge you any more?

Gibson: Boy, we did four of them, dude (laughs). I mean, it's kind of like we've done it.

IGN: Well, is there a film or film series you would like to revisit for a sequel or follow-up?

Gibson: Well, I always felt those Road Warrior movies were pretty cool, like they were in-the-gutter comic book stuff. It was like really pretty exciting stuff. I don't know. We began to mount one; it was a terrific idea that George Miller had and, boy, it was prohibitively expensive. But maybe there will be a time and place where that won't be the case. I don't know.
IGN: Ultimately, what do you want audiences to take away from this movie?

Gibson: Okay, I think there are some good lessons. I think the whole fear aspect of life, you know. There are a lot of things happening in our civilization now where the environment is being destroyed, there's conspicuous consumption, using just for its own sake. There's the use of fear, I think in the media as a manipulation tool, and fear itself; fear drives people to do things that they wouldn't do if they thought about it a bit longer. Those are valuable lessons, I think, and we're all susceptible to these things as human beings. And there's no such thing as a hopeless situation, and I don't know - I just think the film is uplifting and spiritual on that level, and also visceral and kinetic on an action, kind-of thriller level, and also educational in that it does look at a culture that hasn't really been addressed on film before. It takes place at a certain time in that culture when things are starting to get a little rough, but what are you gonna do - talk for two hours about the guy who invented the calendar? But above all, I want people to be entertained and moved by it, you know?

Interview number TWO:

Apocalypse Mel
Girls Sports Videos Maxim
Mel Gibson took a break from getting yelled at by pundits to chat with us about the success of Apocalypto, which of his films had the most blood, and if he feels remorse…for making What Women Want.

Maxim Online, Dec 2006
By Adam Bryant

No one will argue that Mel Gibson had a rough 2006. But with the box office-topping $15 million opening weekend for his new Mayan jungle adventure Apocalypto, things are looking brighter for the new year—perhaps even as bright as a shiny gold statue on the mantel. We cut all the crap, and asked the really important questions that Diane Sawyer's too chicken to approach. ("What dead language will your next film be in?")

You have a knack for directing glorious bone-splitting, blood-spurting violence. What are some secret tricks to perfecting it?
To begin with, I don't think it's [Apocalypto] that violent. I think it was far less violent than Braveheart was, and hey, that won Oscars. The thing with this film is, I believe I made people care so much for the characters that they think even a hangnail is too much to bear. But it's appropriate to the story, and it was appropriate to the times. People are cruel to one another in different parts of civilization. Violence is here, and I am not saying we should accept it, but it afflicts every era and every culture. Hopefully, what I have done is to juxtapose the violent aspects with the higher aspects of the story.
As for filming it, of course you learn tricks on how to achieve something. I did stay off the violence a little bit more. In Braveheart you are right up close to it with heads being split. But with this, I really do stay away from it and avoid it—you only see it kind of peripherally. I think it's the expectation that can often be hard to take. People often close their eyes and imagine something worse happened.

Did you use more fake blood for Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ or Braveheart?
[laughs] It's hard to quantify that. I suppose we had more than a few barrels on each of them.

Do you think you're getting a fair shake from critics or are they unfairly pre-disposed to hating Apocalypto?
You have to take all reviews with a grain of salt because there are many things that they [critics] don't understand. But if you look at all the percentages, reviews have been about 80 percent positive. I've never had a result like that. It's usually about 50-50 or 60-40 one way or the other, but 80 percent is phenomenal. It's the best-reviewed film I've ever had.

But the critics either really loved it, or they didn't dig it all. There really is no in between. I think some of them failed to look at the deeper meaning of it. I've been around a long time reading reviews, and one can tell if someone is being honest or if they just got the knife out. If a guy is honest, I will pay him all day long, even if he's negative. But if he ain't, I'll know it.

What dead language will your next film be in?
Well…what do you think about Swahili? No, no, I wouldn't do that. I might try English. [laughs] That's a dying language.
Since the movie's in Yucatec, and we're guessing you don't speak Yucatec, is it possible the actors were just making dialogue up as they went along?
Well, I had my thoughts about that a couple of times, but the Mayan dialect advisors, who actually spoke Yucatec and were there all the time, assure me that it sounded like colloquial usage.

Either acting or directing, you've covered the Mayan kingdom (Apocalypto), Scottish revolution over the British (Braveheart), the American Revolution (The Patriot), World War I (Gallipoli), and Vietnam twice (Air America, We Were Soldiers). Any more wars on the horizon?
I don't know. I think all war films are kind of anti-war films because they show the horror of war and the pain and suffering of it. But they also show the higher side of human nature.

What I was really stunned about from the exit polls [for Apocalypto] was that women 25 years and older responded to this film the most positive of all. That's cool. But they saw in it this love story at the center of the film. They see what a man will do—what he'll risk—for what he loves. He loves his forest, he loves his environment, he loves his tribe, he loves his family, he loves his culture. And it's about what he'll do to maintain that and the obstacles he'll overcome and the extremes he'll go to preserve it, which is amazing. But for the guys it's also this balls-out action movie.

Your directorial work has been very serious. Do you think you will ever do anything lighter or more upbeat?
I think I might go for something a bit lighter next time. Or at least something a little less dark. It's worthwhile if you can make people laugh. I don't know if I can, but I might try it.

Which character has one more movie left in him: Mad Max or Martin Riggs?
Mad Max has one more. I know [writer-director] George [Miller] is tinkering away. He's been tinkering away for years, so he might surface again.

If you could remake any of your old films as a director, which one would you most want to tool with?
[whistles] Boy, that's a tough question. I'd probably redirect my own films. I might go back to Braveheart and redirect it because I often look at that and go, "Oh, no! What was I thinking? I should have done…" So I'd maybe go back and correct some flaws I left in it.
Is it true your noir revenge pic Payback is getting a re-cut version on DVD?
That's absolutely true. When we made that film, Brian Helgeland who wrote and directed the film had a version of it made. And then we reshot the third act and that's the film you saw. But Brian always said, I really want people to see my version of it, and I told him to go for it. So he got the film and re-cut it back to what he wanted to do to it and he's going to bring it out on DVD.

I watched it, and it's valid. Although, for commercial reasons mostly, we didn't see eye to eye at the time, I think Brian's really great and gifted. This version's drier and a little harder. A lot harder, actually. There's a scene in it that we shot where Porter beats up his wife and it's horrible. It was so vicious, and I didn't want to encourage violence against women. So that was a hard scene, and I didn't really ever want to see it again. But Brian has put it back in, and it's valid in a way because you don't know why he's doing it, but you find out later that she really did him over. And Porter is just a creature. He's an animal.

What's better, winning the Academy Award for Braveheart or being a voice on The Simpsons?
[laughs] They're both pretty good and they're both cool. I dig The Simpsons. It's the meaning of life watching The Simpsons. And I like the people that produce that show and the writers. They're really cool, and they're really funny. It's like being with the Algonquin Club from the '30s and '40s.

Could you take George Clooney if People magazine made their current "Sexiest Man Alive" fight previous "Sexiest Men Alive"?
[laughs] Oh, God, I don't know. He's a friend of mine, so I'd hate to do that. He's a cool guy. But I hear he's had a little back surgery so I might have the edge on him.

Finally, needs an apology for What Women Want, because our girlfriends love that movie way too much.
[laughs] They dig it, do they? Well, to hell with you, can I meet them? I've got nothing against women, I think they're great.

Women are great, no question. Chick flicks where you shave your legs and try on pantyhose? Not so much. Thanks for your time!

Interview number THREE:

EXCLUSIVE: One on One with Mel Gibson
By Reg Seeton
Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but he makes great films that spark a ton of debate. To some, that's truly the hallmark of a great filmmaker. When Mel Gibson steps behind the camera to make a movie, people stand up and take notice. After winning Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Braveheart in 1996, Gibson went on to make the controversial The Passion of the Christ in 2004 and most recently stepped back behind the camera for his latest project, Apocalypto, which chronicles the brutal demise of the Mayan Empire told from a New World perspective. As the film heads into its second weekend after claiming top spot at the box office in its opening week, we caught up with Mel for an exclusive one-on-one to get his thoughts on the film's recent success, the challenges he faced on set, his fears prior to the project and how controversy has made him a better filmmaker.

UGO: Was there a sense of relief when the film went to number one?

MEL GIBSON: Well, hey, that's always good. I'm not complaining about that, man. You can't do better than number one.

UGO: To me, one of the most refreshing aspects of Apocalypto is that it didn't really need dialogue to work, which goes back to the fundamentals of visual storytelling. How much of an impact did that have on your approach to story?

MEL: Yeah, all visual, dialogue is incidental and if need be, expositional. It's not overly verbose, and I think most of the film is visual. If you can possibly tell an aspect of the film without dialogue, I think it's really cool and the last hour of it is practically wordless. There are a few things like, "Help get me out of here," or "Take that, you bad man." By and large, the setup is in the first half. I am mainly visual and I work in images, and film is visual. Sound is a very important part of it, though, that's for sure.

UGO: How much of an effect did that have on the script as you were shooting?

MEL: In telling the story, I found that before it ever hits the page you tell it about fifty times to people over and over again and it changes each time, so you're developing it as you go. Then, when you finally write it down, you realize there's a lot of description. Every now and then there's like a page or two of dialogue and that's good, because if you are working in a foreign language, it's good to keep the talk down and try to communicate your meaning anyhow.

UGO: How difficult was it to remain historically accurate, but also strike the right balance between history and creative liberty?

MEL: I think it was a pretty good balance, actually. We had an archeologist, we had historians, professors, the guy who was responsible for breaking the glyph code from the Post-Classic period, there were books available, eyewitness accounts from the 1600s, and the Mayan bible. There was a lot of source material that we went to in order to find out the veracity of what we were trying, and in a lot of cases we hit the nail on the head. Even stuff we made up was surprisingly accurate. I cooked up this thing about the guy finds a frog and he gets the thorns and he makes the poison needles. When I told it to the archeologist, who lives down in Guatemala, I was slightly embarrassed about it because he'd say, "Oh, that's cheesy," but he looked at me and said, "Hey, let me show you the picture of the frog he would have found." It was a picture of this thing called a Poison Arrow Frog and I'm like, "Oh yeah, he could have done that."

UGO: Since so much of Apocalypto deals with fear, after your journey with The Passion, what were some of your fears heading into Apocalypto?

MEL: I think the main fear was not being able to get it done the way I had imagined it. It was a very arduous process with very difficult camera moves, always moving, always kinetic, so it had that flow feel. Not only were the cameras moving, but the protagonist and the people involved had to be moving in the shots that were moving, and we had to get performances from them in motion. It was tricky, the environment, weather and the amount of time with hair, makeup and costumes. It was over whelming. The whole thing was a big undertaking and the most difficult thing I've ever attempted. But then again, if you keep your nose to the grindstone it's like chainsaw mechanics - stare at it long enough and you'll figure it out. It was no less the case here. As they say, good art is one-percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. It was scheduled to be shot in five months and it took eight, and that's kind of telling.

UGO: How has fear helped you become a better filmmaker? In some cases, fear can also be a good motivator.

MEL: Well, it can be at times. There's healthy fear, I think, like the fear of really transgressing. Then there's unhealthy fear, the fears that clutter your mind, perhaps unnecessarily. How many times have you been absolutely terrified of something, but when you actually get to it, it was a paper tiger? That has happened to me a lot. As life goes on, you realize, "Wow, I wasted all that time worrying and I was driven by something I expected that didn't happen," because you don't know what's in store. I think that's one of the lessons of the film, that fear can be unhealthy if you let it rule your life.

UGO: Was there ever a time where you thought, "Wow, I don't know if I can pull this off'?"

MEL: Are you kidding? Every day, but that doesn't stop you from trying. You look at the whole big picture of things and every now and then you'll hit some gold and you think, "Yeah, I got it," and then you move on. It was fraught with difficulties, but it was a puzzle that was a joy to solve.

UGO: Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, and Apocalypto all reflect certain levels of man's innate brutality. How did the way you depicted brutality in the past shape the way you approached it in Apocalypto?

MEL: Well, I think in any story that has a mythic structure, and I think all three of those films did, they're mythic in nature. What you're doing is exploring because their myth is so overwhelming and vast in what it covers, because it's not only entertaining, it should also inform, teach, and lift you to another plane. In order to do that you have to run the full gambit of human experience, the ugly side of man and the highest side of man. You have to explore that experience in all of its phases and all of its light or lack of light, its darkness. I think from that aspect, it's that kind of movie. It's mythic in nature, simple at heart, focuses in on the important things, like a man's love for his culture, environment, family and tribe, so you see the best and worst of human nature in it, and you see the fears in someone who is an everyman. He becomes extraordinary during the course of his trials and in the midst of the furnace. Those are big themes and those are themes I focused on in those three films.

UGO: There's one thing that really hits home with your films in that they reflect just how cruel people in groups can be. There's a real tragic element in that we never seem to get past it as a species. What type of impact has that had on you as you've been making these films? There's also a certain element of that in real life as well.

MEL: It's never going to go away. I think a lot of people group into herds and seem to behave in herds through fear. They need to belong and they need to have a point of view. If they don't know what it is, they'll sometimes be willing to let someone invade with something they wouldn't necessarily choose themselves. They don't have any defense against it. We're like horses or cattle in some ways, and I include myself in that. It's easy to be influenced and hard to see clearly. One has to always be mindful to do that. Negative things like fears can sometimes drive you into the wrong place.

UGO: How has your experience on Apocalypto changed the way you perceive the human spirit?

MEL: Not much, really. I think mostly in regard to fear and you start to inspect your own. What made this happen? Is there some underlying fear here? In a lot of cases there is for many people, and it's about projection, really. It's about projecting into the future and being fearful of it. Like I said, how many times have you stepped up to the plate and realized it wasn't as bad as you thought it was going to be? When you actually do it, that's courage. In spite of fear, you go where you would rather not. Jaguar Paw gets put into that predicament. He's going away to where he'd rather not, he doesn't want to jump over a waterfall, be chased by jaguars, or even kill anyone, but he finds that he has to go there. It takes him into a whole other level of experience and realization. He moves from being almost, into completely.

UGO: Speaking of Jaguar, you also spent a lot of time teaching actors how to act on Apocalypto. Was that a new beginning for you?

MEL: I thought it was great and I did that on The Passion and Braveheart, too. But I find that I'm beginning to refine some techniques in film acting and I think with the more fledgling performers, the more I learn from it, actually. I was truly proud of this group. I think they did a bang-up job. They were magnificent and they came knowing not much. I think that after eight months they learned a trick or two, but learned about themselves as well. I felt like a proud father pushing my kid off on a bicycle or something. It was great to see Rudy [Youngblood] blossom. He was so awkward when he first got in front of a camera and he didn't know the front end from the back end, saying, "Oh, I'm nervous. What do I do?" I said, "The first thing you do is relax and breathe." He picked up on it really quick. He's a smart guy.

UGO: How is Mel Gibson the storyteller different today because of Apocalypto?

MEL: I don't know. I'm not sure I can answer that question, specifically. I know every experience you have changes you. It was really hard. I was really bankrupt when I finished. I mean, I poured everything into it, so you're a bunch of raw nerve endings and a tired cross-wired brain. I think I have to just take a little time and I'm inclined to want to be busy all of the time. Actually stopping, hey, the notes between the music are as important as the music itself, so I have to back off and reevaluate things. In fact, have a new beginning.

UGO: How has controversy helped you become a better filmmaker?

MEL: Boy. Nobody wants controversy. I mean, I don't. Really! It seems to follow me and maybe I have foot-in-mouth disease. I tend to stick my foot in my mouth. It's exacerbated if you're inebriated and it's not the ideal in that we're taught to think before you speak. But if you're thinking on a few tequilas, it's not too good. Look, if you put something out in the marketplace, people talk about it and it causes debate, I think that's a good thing. If a piece of art shakes things up, it's a good thing. It asks people to take a stand somewhere and evaluate themselves in relation to it. If you can do that and at the same time entertain people, I think it's a great medium and you can change things. I can't tell you the amount of people that have come up and talked about The Passion and they say it changed their lives, and they're being serious. Or something like Braveheart, which the greatest thing that it did was achieve autonomy of government in Scotland all of a sudden, and it was directly related to it. This, I don't know what it's going to achieve, but I think good art actually leaves a mark somewhere. I'm hoping that this does, too. I'm not quite sure what it'll be.

UGO: Your films have been huge undertakings and you've gone through a lot in the last few years. Has any of it changed the way you look at choosing projects?

MEL: I think when one evolves all the way along, as I say, every day is a new beginning. Every day is an Apocalypto. You wake up, start breathing and you move on, and you think, "Well, I made a lot of mistakes yesterday, let's see if I can rectify the situation today." Of course, you make different ones, but you can't stop trying. I think your tastes change, you get hungry for another avenue, and you want to explore something thoroughly before you let go of it. I think I've done that with the mythic growth through pain stories. I really would like to do something that's just funny, but funny isn't funny unless there's some sad with it.

Interview number FOUR:

Source: Evan Jacobs
Thursday, December 14th, 2006

We go one-one-one with the director to discuss America's #1 Film, the origins of Braveheart, and what's up next.

With a recent Golden Globe Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and the No.1 position at the top of the box office last weekend, Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is proving to be a force of nature.

Apocalypto is a heart stopping mythic action-adventure set against the turbulent end times of the once great Mayan civilization. When his idyllic existence is brutally disrupted by a violent invading force, a man is taken on a perilous journey to a world ruled by fear and oppression where a harrowing end awaits him. Through a twist of fate and spurred by the power of his love for his woman and his family he will make a desperate break to return home and to ultimately save his way of life.

We recently got to sit down with Mel Gibson to discuss the success of the film, what it took to bring it to the screen, and what he plans to do next.

What's it like to have the No. 1 movie in the country?

Mel Gibson: It's great, you know. It is what it is. You can't do better than the number one.

What for you was the most difficult part of making Apocalypto?

Mel Gibson: Everything was difficult. From working with a different kind of camera, which I am fan of now, the Genesis, which is digital. To contending with the environment, to contending with the speed of the film, which required very specific and difficult camera moves. And performers who were required to move in the shots that were moving. (Laughs) And then get performances out of them at the same time.

Did you have any fear of following up The Passion of the Christ due to it's enormous success?

Mel Gibson: No, I didn't. This was simply, I thought, a compelling story; a thriller. A chase and a love story, really. There were scenes of good and evil; mythic in structure. With a little charm to it and also with a lot of darkness. I just got involved in doing it. I love telling stories so that passion carries you through, you know?

Considering the breadth of material that this film covers, how long did it take to put the screenplay together?

Mel Gibson: Well, the first thing you have to do is entertain. The second is to educate and the third thing is to lift people up to a higher plane in a mythical sense; or even a spiritual plane. However, when you tell a story you're trying to effect those areas in people. With this, it wasn't just something that fell out on paper. It was really telling and retelling... I told it verbally, maybe 50 times, and every time you tell it it changes, until the point when you start recording it. My co-writer and I were swapping off ideas... next thing you know, you feel like you have to get it on paper while it's still happening. Then the enormous amount of research comes in, you've made a story up as close to the real deal, then you start looking at the history... what did the Mayan's believe? And it informs what you have there.

Then it changes again with research. Historical, eye witness accounts... all these things come into play. The reading and evidence that's been left around. Also, hypothesis as well! Nobody knows the whole story it's still kind of shrouded in mystery but you can have a pretty good hypothesis about why some place was maybe on the wane.

Do you always go through that same "talking it through" process each time you write a screenplay?

Mel Gibson: Absolutely. One always does that, for example Randy Wallace wrote a script, Braveheart, I looked at it and I sort of liked something about it but I passed on it. It was about two years later, I was in my trailer and someone said, "You ever read anything you like? What do you think you'll do next?" I said, "I don't know, I kinda read a script I really dug once." And I started talking, before I knew it two hours had passed and I described the whole story with shots and everything. It was like my feet left the ground. He said, "You gotta do that!" So I went back and got Randy's script and I'd had a vision of it. It was like he provided me with a really strong screenplay and I saw this vision in my head all of the sudden. After two years since I read it.

It was very interesting that it left that impression on me. It was more interesting still that I was getting into it. It comes to you in different ways and it's never quite the same anytime, you know?

It's like you were saying, there was something about it that kept you thinking about it all that time after.

Mel Gibson: Yeah, I used to lay in bed at night and reconstruct some of the scenes he had in there. I'd lay there and think about shot lists, and I didn't realize what I was doing. It was almost subconscious. It was very odd because I never thought, "I'm gonna direct it or anything." I used to just visualize it... never thinking that I would do it myself. Then I thought, "Hell, I'm thinking all this stuff, why don't I try and do it?" The same with Passion, you know? It was like a very vivid kind of mind's eye. The same with this, you know? And this was, in a sense, even more pure because it wasn't written down anywhere. All of it came from the imagination and the collaboration with my co-writer Farhad Safinia.

What is it about period films that attracts you to them as a director? Has this always been a passion of yours?

Mel Gibson: Good stories are. I think there's something about going to a time and place that you haven't been before; in a real and visceral way. That really excites me. My job as the director is to instill the piece with a gritty voracity that transports the viewer. I find that doing things in the foreign language helps there. I don't think I'll always do that. I might try something in English. Maybe something contemporary.

Once you began the production, you're shooting in the jungle, you're trying to pull off these epic shots, did ever feel like Jaguar Paw just trying to get this movie done? Just trying to get home?

Mel Gibson: Absolutely. Put it this way, we had a four month shooting schedule and it took me eight months. That says something about the degree of difficulty, because it had to be kind of what I visualized or you had to keep going for it. We kept going for it and we got it. That takes a lot of time and effort. The performances are excellent in the film and I'm so proud to say, that a lot of these guys, it was their fledging effort. The majority of them had never been in front of a camera before. Including the main character, the protagonist.

As an actor had you always had it in your mind to enter the director's chair?

Mel Gibson: I didn't have that plan. What I had been doing, without realizing it, was paying a tremendous amount of attention to the directing process. I wanted to understand what it was they were doing so that I could help them with it. Where could I fit in? What were they doing that I had to allow for? If they were telling the story with the shot, what level did I have to come in at to not overdo it, but to enhance it or work in harmony with it. I made it my business to keep asking them questions all the time. I understood what it was I was involved in. Gradually, I just began to learn the language of film, lenses, and moves and all these things.

Then I would go see the results of all this and be kind of impressed by it, or... it was a subconscious thing. Until one day I just said, "Why don't I do it myself? I think I can." I was about 37 years old and I said, "I'm gonna try this."

They say experience is what you get looking for something else.

Mel Gibson: Well, I have these visions in my mind of what I want to see. Very specific images, whether it's low angles or fast, what I want to see to make this story work. Then I try and shoot it. Nine times out of ten you'll get it. Ten percent of the time you'll get better than what you imagined. Sometimes you won't come up to the mark. On the mean, you can pretty much get whatever you imagine.

What do you have coming up next? Might we see you in front of the camera again?

Mel Gibson: I have no idea. I think I might take a little time and refocus and work on myself a little bit. See if I can't maybe help some other people along the way. I have a company here and there's always something going on. Films releasing soon, more films in the new year, these things are all important. There are other people who are doing really good work that I admire. I want to see them have a shot. It's about spreading knowledge.

My assistant, who became the co-writer, co-producer of this film... I can't wait to see what he does. Give him a camera and say, Go! He'll eat it alive, he's gonna be fantastic.

Apocalypto is currently in theaters nationwide from Touchstone Pictures.

Interview FIVE:

Bundle of nerves

Mel Gibson has always been restless at interviews.

In the actor-director's first major press conference since his arrest last July for speeding and drunk driving -- when he reportedly screamed anti-Jewish slurs -- he seemed more tense and uncomfortable than usual. He picked up a hotel paper napkin in front of him, tossed it back on the table and picked it up again.

Toward the end of the interview to discuss his movie Apocalypto, which continues to make him a controversial figure because of the violent content, Mel had rolled and folded the poor napkin so many times that it had become a tiny roll of paper.

When he was asked how he was, Mel replied, "I'm good, I'm good." At the same time, he suddenly tilted his chair backward in an apparent slip, showing how uneasy he was. He was fastidiously dressed in suit and tie, his uniform these days as he made the rounds of media appearances. Looking like he has gained weight, Mel has settled into middle age (50 last January).

He does not miss acting -- he prefers directing now. !I am in front of the camera through somebody else," said the man who cut a virile, handsome presence in such movies as the Mad Max series and The Year of Living Dangerously, partly filmed in the Philippines.

The Oscar and Golden Globe Award-winning director for Braveheart is a brilliant filmmaker but critics decry his unrestrained penchant to show gore and violence. Some reviewers wrote that Apocalypto, set in the Mayan civilization, could have been the best action-adventure to come out of Hollywood this year -- if only Mel knew when to stop showing squirting blood, rolling heads, impalement, bludgeoning ... the list goes on. Several critics asserted that Apocalypto makes The Passion of the Christ, his previous movie which also ignited a lot of controversy but eventually earned a lot of money all over the world and made him a very rich man, seem like kiddie fare.

Odd jokes

IF YOU find something deep or thrillingly juvenile in his new movie, you are welcome to it, the New York-born, Australia-raised filmmaker said essentially. "You try and make them so that everyone gets something from it," he stated unabashedly. The movie topped the US box-office race last weekend.

As if to relieve his tension during the press con, Mel resorted to old jokes, which drew a lot of laughs but which some found inappropriate (one joke involved the f word). At one point he quipped, in response to an innocuous question (Tell us something that we don't know about you): "Perhaps you've noticed me shifting uncomfortably in my chair. I was circumcised 36 hours ago."

Keep in mind that imagery. Most of his answers below seemed humorous, and he smiled and laughed, but the man speaking them was a bundle of nerves.

Q: You shot this film in Mexico, you came home and you had an "incident." Where are you now after going through all that?

MG: I'm good, I!m good. You know, as balanced as I!m going to get -- which is just a little off center, I!d say (laughter). Life is a process of learning about yourself, others, and many things that perhaps you haven't contemplated before. We’re full of flaws, anxieties, fears. That's what this film is about -- the fears. It!s one horror -- even spiders crawling on that guy at one point. I feel good on the journey.

Q: You were in Mexico for a long time so we assume that you know it's a culture rich in proverbs. One of them is, "A child and a drunk always tell the truth." What do you think of that?

MG: That's patently false. A child is not very well-informed. A drunk is out of his right mind. He's insane. You're not operating in the right mind. You are literally affecting your brain cells with this stuff.

Q: You were honored by the Latin Business Association for this film. But the Los Angeles Times wrote that the association made a bad decision in giving you its Chairman's Visionary Award. What was your reaction?
(The critical piece, titled "Honoring El Mel," printed last Nov. 4, concluded: "It's one thing to acknowledge a work's artistic and cultural merits and quite another to proclaim Gibson a visionary, especially at a time when the immigration debate has reminded Latinos that virulent racism is only a few drinks away.)

MG: I don't read anything. It's all a bunch of horseshit anyway so why should I read it? Why should I have my mind tainted by it?

Q: If you could have a new beginning, what would you do?

MG: I'd get a new tailor (laughter). I don't know a new beginning. Everybody wants a new beginning. Everybody wants to know what he knows now and zip it back about 30 years and see if they could start again. Everybody wants that because we all make mistakes.

Director Mel

We continue excerpts of our interview with controversial director Mel Gibson, whose new film, Apocalypto, was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. While Apocalypto and Clint's "Letters from Iwo Jima" are American productions, these films are in a foreign language. So going by our rules, they ended up in the best foreign film race. This made an already tight race (where "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros" was in the running) even more competitive.

Q: Do you feel that you are being targeted? And how are you going to get out of it because people are not going to give you a lot of flexibility.

MG: I don't feel like I am being targeted. I think you're a target if you make yourself one or if you see yourself as a target so it's not an issue. I will do what I do and I don't have to depend on a whole lot of other people. I can just do it. It's all about perception. I'm not looking at the other guy over there. You got to take care of yourself. It's my side of the street I got to keep clean.

Q: So you don't feel the need to go out there and help change people's perception of you?

MG: You can't change people's perception of you. It's just going to be what it is so all you can do is just take care of your own stuff. You can't change anyone.

Q: While some critics are praising this movie as a powerful one, there are many who are saying it is extremely violent. What's you reaction to these comments?

MG: I don't think it's as violent as Braveheart. I think it's merciful (laughter). In Braveheart, there was a whole sequence at the end of the guy having his entrails ripped out and this one has less. You don't really see anything. You don't see a heart popping out of the chest or anything. It's a violent world so, of course, you have to tackle the subject. The amazing thing about that culture was that they were so sophisticated and so long ago. They knew about the constellations. They had a very intricate calendar. They had letters. They had libraries. You juxtapose that against some of the savagery. It was an odd dichotomy. You can't get away from the violent aspect of it, I think as their civilization began to sort of lose its feet a little bit. All the rot started to creep in.

Q: You really don't think it's that violent?

MG: I could have really gone to town when that kid gets it in the throat, right? But you saw it from about 80 yards away, okay? You didn't actually see a chest cavity with a hand going in. It's less violent than Braveheart. Everyone likes to beat up on me for this violence. People think it's more violent because I have fooled them into caring for the characters. When it matters, when it gives a shit, it seems more violent. If you're watching Jean-Claude-whatever his name is, you don't give a shit (laughter).
Or if you watch the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part IV," do you care about the pimply teenager on the meat hook? No. You don't know who he is so you're inclined not to care. You're just inclined to laugh at it.

Q: You seem to be fascinated with civilizations of the past. If you were to make a contemporary period movie, what should we expect?

MG: I'd end up burned at the stake if I made a contemporary movie. It would have to be some kind of light fare (laughter), with maybe a hangnail involvedthat's it for violence. Aaaggghhh (laughter)! I think the point is that history repeats itself or regurgitates itself and that other heroes and cultures are like mirrors for us. We're not so different from the Romans, Greeks or the Ottoman Empire.

Q: You have a large family (seven kids, most of them born in the 1980s). Your daughter just got married and your older sons must be in college. How are things like at home these days?

MG: Oh, fabulous. Things have to move on. It's like having a house full of young adults and fortunately, they like to hang around. They come back, which means I think we might have done something half right (laughter). They laugh, eat and scratch with us, which is good.

Q: And your thoughts of your daughter being married?

MG: Hey, if she's happy, I'm extremely happy.

Q: When you mess up, what is the romantic thing that you do to make up?

MG: Oh, it's usually a hair shirt in the backyard with a leash (laughter). No, it's okay. You just take those things as you come and play it by ear. Women, even one you've known for a great deal of time, are still a mystery. That's good in a way.

Q: It must have satisfied you that after all the drubbing that The Passion of the Christ got from the media, it was embraced around the world. Did your faith grow stronger as a result of that whole experience?

MG: Of course, I was happy. One likes to have his work watched, appreciated and debated on. They say that if your work doesn't create something of a stir, then it's probably not worth much. It's something that I had not foreseen, honestly, but it took me by surprise. So I was like, all right, let's see where it goes. I was gratified that it did well.

Q: And about your faith?

MG: That's a personal matter.

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Created January 3, 2005

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