In the arena of feature films, there are few actors left on the contemporary movie scene with instant name recognition, staying power, consistency, and deserving of instant respect. The star system that once nurtured well-recognized actors for a lifelong career has largely vanished, replaced by flavor-of-the-month personalities, or at most, actors who flourish for a few years due to overhype, despite their lackluster performances on-screen and off. There are also few left who are solid family men promoting family values. There are even few who are Catholic. One such actor, even superstar in the classic mold of dependable leading man, both on film and in real life today is Mel Columcille Gibson.
He was born in Peekskill, New York on January 3, 1956.
His father - Hutton Gibson - was a brakeman for the New York Central Railroad who, being a conscientious Catholic and against killing of any kind, moved his wife and eleven children to Sydney, Australia when Gibson was twelve primarily to save his sons from being drafted and being forced to kill. Shortly after arriving down under, young Mel was confirmed, taking the confirmation name Gerard. It was in Sydney that he graduated from Catholic High School with an interest in becoming a chef and later a journalist. However, his sister saw another potential for brother Mel and enrolled him at the National Institute for Dramatic Art at the University of New South Wales. After graduating, Gibson joined the State Theatre Company of South Australia where he fine-tuned his acting by appearing in a number of classical and contemporary productions.
It was there that famous Australian director George Miller discovered him after seeing him in his first feature film "Summer City", an Australian surfing movie and then as a handsome, retarded young man in another Australian flick "Tim." He earned a best actor award and the Australian "Sammy" for his performance in the latter film. The magnetism Mel exuded on the silver screen convinced Miller to cast him for the lead in his cult-classic post-apocalyptic action movie "Mad Max." The 1980 movie became the highest-grossing Australian movie in history. The film's success led to the even more popular sequel "Road Warrior," which was released in the U.S. in 1982 and sealed his fame as a rugged, handsome actor who fought the forces of evil and won. It would become his trademark for the next two decades; a formula in which his character fights the good fight, a rare theme in today's thematic portrayals where evil is rewarded and good is punished.
Soon after "Road Warrior," Gibson won the Best Actor award from the Aussie Film Institute for his starring performance in director Peter Weir's World War I epic "Gallipoli." Gibson went on to star in "The year of Living Dangerously" whose character is caught up in the middle of an Indonesian revolution.
Some thought it a mistake for Gibson to play a suicidal and loopy cop in the 1987 movie "Lethal Weapon." But, as usual, his character "pulls it all together" when faced with fending off the bad guys. The mega-hit resulted in three sequels with co-star Danny Glover. Gibson's classic training from his youth on stage in the successful 1990 film "Hamlet," under the direction of Franco Zeffirelli, director of the epic mini-series and filmworld's most accurate portrayal of "Christ Jesus of Nazareth."
And, while Hollywood has largely failed in recapturing classic TV shows in souped-up Hollywood revisions, Mel Gibson was so successful in the movie version of "Maverick" that it earned over $100 million in 1984. Gibson's most ambitious project was 1996's "Braveheart," in which he not only acted, but directed as well. The ambitious movie followed the life of the famed 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace who united the feuding clans of Scotland to resist the invasions of the tyrannical King Edward I. The exhaustive and intense schedule payed off by winning five Academy Awards.
Gibson will emerge again this year in the much anticipated movie "The Patriot" as well as playing the respected CBS correspondent George Polk; a courageous journalist who faced death while investigating Greek Foreign Minister Constantine Tsaldaris in 1948.
But, if you ask Gibson what his favorite role is; without hesitation he will answer "Dad". Maintaining the solid values of his Catholic upbringing, Gibson and his wife Robyn Moore have been married for two decades. "People ask me to list my greatest accomplishments" says Gibson, who continues "What I'm proudest of is my kids." Make that six kids: Hannah, Edward, Christopher, William, Louis, Milo and with a new arrival in April makes seven. Raising a family is Gibson's first priority; making movies is secondary. Speaking of his wife, "We're a team ...we're a united front, which makes it a lot easier because there's an unequal ratio of kids to grown-ups in this house."
Many have proclaimed that Gibson plays it pretty straight; in a refreshing twist, he seems to take his family more serious than his movies. He has been able to stay above the Hollywood glamor and tinsel, emphasizing his Catholic roots in choice of films and his personal life. It is a personal life that he protects feverishly.
His soul mate and spouse Robyn is his partner and best friend and, like her husband, has her feet solidly on the ground. And Mel is not one to hide behind the ruggedly handsome features God gifted him with. Because he can empathize with those afflicted with mental or physical ailments, he has not been afraid to take on those roles, always giving a noble performance on behalf of the person he is portraying. This was evident from his first film "Tim" to his masterful "The Man Without A Face," which marked his directorial debut, as well as "Conspiracy Theory" and many other films where he exuded depth through three dimensional characters that almost always conveyed dignity of the human being, even in his wildly popular, yet violent and commercial films such as the "Lethal Weapon" series. His greatest acting and directing achievement was, of course, "Braveheart."
He has made it known that from an early age he suffered from being manic depressive, but through his strong faith and appropriate medicines he has been able to overcome these shortcomings to attain the heights of stardom. But, as evidence from his action off the screen, he realizes the real heights are his and his family's ultimate goal - that of Heaven and he's not willing to jeopardize those objectives by falling into the Hollywood glitz trap which so many have. Too bad that is the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to the dysfunctional lifestyle of most Hollywood personalities. But for Mel Gibson there is a higher source he must answer to and he wants to be ready when God calls "Action!" and, through his life here on earth, assure that he and his family won't end up on the "cutting-room floor" below!
For past articles in FOCUS, see FOCUS ARCHIVES