Earlier this week, I got to do what I always considered one of my bucket list interviews – Mel Gibson. As a child of the eighties, I watched his movies repeatedly. The Lethal Weapon series, the Mad Max movies, Braveheart, and even stuff like Forever Young and Bird on a Wire were constantly on in my household. Gibson was the man, and I’m still a massive fan of his, so when I got the opportunity to speak to him about a new movie he’s in called Bandit (read my review), in which he plays the mobbed-up mentor of Josh Duhamel’s Gilbert Galvan, a real-life bank-robber from Canada, I leapt at the chance.
Over the last few days, we teased his thoughts on Lethal Weapon 5 and his story about almost playing James Bond, but now, without further delay, is the whole interview:
I liked Bandit. It’s a rare, character-driven caper. I haven’t seen a movie like this in a while. Tell me a little about what made you want to sign on to do this, as it’s actually a pretty famous story here.
Are you from Canada?
Yeah, I’m in Montreal, actually.
Oh, my goodness – how about that! I figure you would have had to talk for another five minutes or so before I’d figure it out. (The film) is kind of tragic in a way. But he was very clever. The art of deception from this guy, he was amazing. The fact that he could disguise himself and then go rip off three or four banks a day, using (laughs) frequent flyer miles. It’s crazy. And when you look at that and how easy it was back then. What, was it in the nineties?
Yeah, the mid-eighties. I can’t even remember. But I found it really interesting, that character really interested me and I liked the way the script was laid out and how he made it kind of a morality tale in a way. Those are always good, but at the same time I think we’re allowed to have a little fun with it. And I mean this guy…what a weird, bizarre occupation he chose, and he was good at it!
Yeah, kind of a genius in his own way. I thought Josh Duhamel was amazing in it, and people open pigeonhole him based on the types of movies he makes. Looking back at your own career, it took you directing your own films, specifically The Man Without A Face, before you were able to branch out beyond being a leading man. Do you agree people get stuck in a kind of role.
Well, especially if they’ve managed to excel in that type of archetype. If somebody scores a few points and people dig it, it’s kind of inescapable at some point. You make your bed and lie in it. Poor old Sean Connery couldn’t get away from James Bond for three decades. And then he started doing other stuff, like The Untouchables, and you realize, wow, there’s more to this guy than I thought. I got offered the James Bond movies when I was like twenty-six, which is like forty years ago, okay? And they said, hey, we want you to be the next James Bond. And I thought about it; I was in Australia, I was working with Peter Weir. And I did think about it, and I sort of turned it down – for that reason. Because I thought, look what happened to poor Sean, he got stuck there for like three decades.
Were you working on Gallipoli?
No, I think we were working on The Year of Living Dangerously…
Oh man, those movies are two masterpieces as far as I’m concerned.
That’s Peter. He’s one of those rare talents…
I want to talk a bit about the director Allan Ungar. I met him at TIFF and enjoyed talking to him. He’s clearly very passionate. When you see a guy with that kind of passion as a director yourself, does it make it easier for you as an actor to rally behind them to a certain extent?
Oh absolutely. And the guy was very into it and gave it every bit of effort that he could. And it’s not the same now, directing. It’s a hard game. Nobody has any time anymore. They give you a few days to get your shots. It’s a vastly different game. The luxuries are gone. So Allan, hats off, was able to get a handle on this in record time. Eighteen days or something.
Wow, really? You can’t tell.
Yeah, that’s the beauty of it. You look at something like it (Bandit) and you can’t tell that it was fast. Everyone, particularly Allan, but also Josh, comes ready. I mean you just say “action Josh” and off he goes. You just do two or three takes and you’re outta there. And working with him was a blast too. He’s a great guy actually. I really dug the experience. I’d see him in this and that but actually working with him, he was a super guy.
That’s cool to hear. There’a bit where you riff on Boy George that really made me laugh.
Well, that guy, Tommy, he was a real guy. He wore a lot of jewellery, he used to punch people out. If you look at pictures of him, he’s kind of chubby…
But there’s a vividness in the eyes…
Yeah, he’s a tough customer this guy. He used to tune people up. Because he was running a strip joint and if anyone got fresh with the girls, he’d have to go and tune them up, so he was well-equipped. And pretty handy. Had a bunch of rings and stuff, used to leave imprints on people I guess.
I’d watch a movie about Tommy.
Yeah, and he was fencing jewels. I think he got away with stuff because he turned on the guy in the end, but when faced with prison, what do you do?
Well, it’s a business, I guess.
I run a column on JoBlo called The Best Movie You Never Saw. One of yours I really like is called Get the Gringo. You have this amazing prison set in the movie that I loved. Do you have any memories of that you’d care to share? Especially the way it was released – pretty cutting edge for the time (simultaneous theatrical and VOD) but now its normal.
I really dug that film. I sat in my kitchen with the director and the producer and we wrote the script in my kitchen making burritos. I said, I want to find a prison. I started to research Mexican prisons, and people watch the film and go, ‘oh, they’re making this up.’ But that’s how that stuff works! It’s really like that. It’s really like what you see in the film. There’s no bullshit in it. That’s the crazy thing about it – I couldn’t believe the prisons in Mexico and how they’re run. Not the federal ones, but the smaller ones. We found a real prison that was gonna be closed because the human rights people got in and said, you can’t keep people in here, it’s pretty crummy, and we thought – this is perfect! Before you knock it down or clean it up, let use it. So we moved in there, and shot inside the real prison. And we hired many extras and stuff from the town and they’d come in and say, wow, it’s great being back here again and they’re show you where their cell was or what part of the prison they used to live in. It was overcrowded. But yeah I thought that film was a little gem…
I tried doing a homage to a style of film that’s gone. I wanted to sort of do like a seventies-type film.
Yeah, I’m a Don Siegel fan. It felt like your Don Siegel film.
Yeah, I love Don Siegel. And I liked all the little voiceovers, and the characters, and the fact that it was half Spanish and half English – it didn’t seem to matter. I think it was really cool. And Mexico has a huge pool af acting talent, and the crews down there are crazy and great. So we just went inside the prison and knocked it over. That’s one of my little favorites, because it’s not that widely seen.
It’s kind of become a cult movie of the years for action fans.
Oh sure, yeah. And it was down and dirty, and some of the scenes in it – I mean organ donations in prison? This kind of stuff happens. Like in China apparently you can get livers and kidneys and all kinds of stuff, so it’s not crazy organ harvesting in prison.
I’m a critic at the site and Apocalypto and Hacksaw Ridge with both 10/10’s for me.
Oh thanks. I do like a bit of kinetic energy.
One last question, I have to ask about the status of Lethal Weapon 5.
It’s in the works, you know? It’s one of those things whereby it’s a no-brainer if you ask me. I’ve worked on the screenplay, which, of course, was started by Donner (the late Richard Donner)…and of course, he and a guy had a pretty good template going. Donner, of course, passed away. And then I sat in and we kind of finished up the script and I had a blast working with Richard Wenk- the writer. You know, it’s a pretty good document. I dig it a lot. I think what’s held it up is that at Warners, they’re changing hats over there…you know…this guy got fired, and this guy took over and Discovery and all that stuff. You get lost in the shuffle sometimes as they try and regroup and sort themselves out. It’ll come. I’m not quite sure when but it’ll happen.
We loved Richard Donner at the site. One of the best directors…
He was the greatest. I loved that guy. I worked with him six times and he was just…a joy. He was the best.
Bandit is in theatres and on VOD now!