Gibson's gurus: directors Mad Max adores

The outspoken star and Oscar-winning director, Mel Gibson, on the films that get him amped.

Since you appeared on the first cover of Total Film, 10 years ago, you've stepped back from being a movie star and started to tell your own stories.
Yeah, it's more interesting, it just is. And you really have a chance to express yourself this way, more so than if you're merely acting in something. Of course I'm not denigrating that experience - it's great and I loved it and I still do - but I just don't feel the same desire to do it as I did and this is far more fulfilling.

You've talked about your appreciation of John Ford. Orson Welles once said that while Howard Hawks was like great prose, Ford was poetry.
That was the other guy I was going to mention [Hawks]. You're right. I just remember The Searchers so well. Just some of the camera angles in it. Just on a guy's face and it's just a close up, but it's what he did with it, you know, and what he got his actor to do within it. The guy probably had no idea what he was doing (I don't know, maybe he did - John Wayne must have been pretty clever by then cos he'd been in a lot of films). Apparently Ford was a very mean guy, too. He was a little, cruel guy. I heard a story about Stanley Kubrick: he made a guy jump out a window once. I heard this story from a guy who worked on like four Stanley Kubrick pictures. Stanley just said, "Hi!" and the guy just went "Aaaahhh" and he jumped out of the window, he was so wound up! But, Kubrick, arguably one of the greats, you know? 2001 is still one of my faves. It just makes you weird, you know?

When I was about 19-years-old I went to see Barry Lyndon just in the local cinema, and paid my $1.25 student rate to go and watch it, and I ended up watching it about three times. Because I was just astounded by the whole world and image that he created there. It was fascinating. You had that kind of film with all the trappings of that period and one expected some kind of, I don't know, two-dimensional thing, but there was all this stuff going on outside of it that was really surprising. A Clockwork Orange is great. That was some bold filmmaking. For that time. It's still hard. You can't even watch it. How the hell did he get away with it?

Another guy I really like was John Boorman. I thought Deliverance was perfect. It was just a fucking weird nightmare odyssey. It explored primal fears in a way that I didn't think was possible. I've tried to explore every primal fear I could think of in Apocalypto - but that was like, man, it was the "Squeal like a pig!". Come on, hillbillies! [laughs] That was, like, really frightening. That was the epitome of a true horror movie; that really made you horrified. I was like 17 or 18 when I saw it. See, during the '70s it was just a great era for films. It was just amazing cos they just took a whole other step. You had guys like Coppola and the Dog Day Afternoon guy, who was it, [Sidney] Lumet. Lumet's films were amazing.

But he was working before that, too, in the 60s and I'd be watching films late at night, I didn't know he had directed them, I'd just be watching these films and all of a sudden it'd be like 3 in the morning and I'd be thinking there's this black and white movie and oh it's got Sean Connery in it and it's like, I'm like, fuck, and it was really interesting, everything about it was really interesting and you think who directed it and you go and look it up and you find out it was Sidney Lumet and it just kind of surprises you. Howard Hawks surprises you, too. Because he did some really interesting stuff. He sort of spanned an era, too, and was part of a big change in films. Didn't he go from the 40s through to the 60s? Like The Thing? Did he do Invasion Of The Body Snatchers? No, no, that was somebody else; that was Don Siegel. There's another cool director, you know, he did like Dirty Harry and stuff like that. The best film! Charley Varrick! You've got to fuckin' see that! It's a great fuckin' movie. You can watch that again and again and again. And it was made in 1972 or something. And then there's Peckinpah, you know, like The Getaway and The Wild Bunch - they were great movies.

The Wild Bunch feels like the death of everything.
When they're walking down the street.

You feel like you're going with them, again.
I know. That's good. That's cool. That little Mexican song he had going. And John Frankenheimer. I mean, these are the greats. And he did a film that I really dug called The Train. Did you ever see that?

Is that the Jon Voight one?
No. Burt Lancaster.

Oh yeah, World War Two movie!
Yeah, he's like an engine driver in France. Fucking killer film! All these guys. Amazing to watch. Roman Polanski. Chinatown! Fucking great movie. Polanski did a version of Macbeth back in the '70s that I really dug. It was really enlightening.

There is a lot of blood in that movie.
Yeah. It's a bloodbath. A lot of heads rolling and shit. Fuckin' cool. But all those directors - you can pinpoint the ones that you really clicked with, that got to you in a visceral and emotional way with their rhythms and stuff like that. All of those guys certainly did. Real talents. So, probably subconsciously I'm stealing from all of them. Well, they stole it from somewhere too, you know. Otto Preminger or [adopts German accent] Eric von Stroheim. Billy Wilder. He was another one: fucking great. One of my favourites, I can still watch it, is that one with the aging actress and the young writer. With the dead monkey. Sunset Boulevard. That is amazing.

The way LA just kind of chews him up and spits him out.
Oh yeah. [laughs] Tortured by Tinsel Town!

What about contemporary filmmakers?
Is Chris Nolan a Brit? I think he's very clever. I went to see his movie Memento and I was like, "Wow!" It's a pretty complex thing to get a handle on. And then he did that Batman movie, but it was good! And it's not easy to make those things good, especially when it's been done and done and done. I gotta check out The Prestige. I like him. I met him. I think he's really talented. So my admiration goes from everyone back to DW Griffith up to Chris Nolan. There are so many good filmmakers around, but I really dug the '70s, man.

 

For Total Film's full interview with Mel Gibson, where he discusses everything from hard drinking to his latest actioner, Apocalypto, buy the latest issue - on sale Thursday 21 December.