His skin is less pasty. His blue eyes shine a little brighter. Today, on a breezy afternoon in late November, Mel Gibson is looking a lot more like his old megastar self than he did six weeks earlier, when he went on the air with Diane Sawyer to apologize for the most disastrous performance of his career — the one involving a DUI bust and some anti-Semitic ramblings on a highway near his home in Malibu. ”Well, you know,” he notes of that puffy-looking appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America, as he swivels in an office chair at his company, Icon Productions, in Santa Monica, ”the camera does add 10 pounds.”
Gibson has a few more pounds yet to shed — the one or two tons weighing on his shoulders, to be specific. He’s still explaining himself to friends and colleagues, and still hoping that his slurs (such as the one about Jews starting all wars) won’t cause too much havoc at the box office when his new movie, Apocalypto, opens on Dec. 8. Unlike his last film, The Passion of the Christ, the 2004 Crucifixion saga that set off a storm of protests from Jewish leaders (and ended up grossing $370 million domestically), this one wasn’t supposed to be controversial. Apart from the fact that the cast is entirely unknown and the dialogue is in the Mayan dialect of Yucatec, Apocalypto is a return to form for Gibson — an action movie filled with over-the-top stunts and breathtaking violence. Early on, a peaceful Mayan village is brutally razed by a band of warriors looking for victims to sacrifice to the sun god. A young father named Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) manages to hide his pregnant wife and son before being enslaved. After an escape the gods themselves seem to have engineered, Jaguar hurtles back through the forest in a darkly thrilling race to save his family. All the while, he’s pursued by the most ferocious of his enemies. How Apocalypto fares at the box office will be seen as a measure of how much damage Gibson has done to his career, though, in fairness, the subtitles could scare more people off than anything the director said during his run-in with the police. In the following pages, EW asks the 50-year-old movie star-turned-director-turned-headline magnet about everything from anti-Semitism to the end of the world as we know it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Of all the subjects to make a movie about, why the Mayans?
MEL GIBSON: If I went to the cinema, what would I want to see? That’s where I always start. You’re always looking to do something you have a thirst to see in your own heart and mind. And there has always been this shroud of mystery about the Mayan civilization. I went down to the Mirador Basin and saw the pyramids and they’re so enormous you can’t get your head around it. One of them is the biggest pyramid in the world, bigger than the ones in Egypt. They’re 3,000 years old and they’ve got jungle stuff growing out of them, but they’re intact. They’re just there. The Mayans just left — but why? That’s a massive question mark.
Apocalypto is an action movie, but it’s got a political point. It’s about a dying civilization — a great culture destroyed by fear and corruption. A lot of people are going to wonder if it’s a metaphor for our own society.
We’re all afraid. That’s something I’ve been finding out more recently — how racked by fear we are as a society. It all comes back to that. If you watch the news you’re going to be terrified. That little banner that runs along the bottom of the screen — today we’re in a state of red alert, with a 98 percent chance of being bombed to the s— house. That’s an exaggeration — we’re in a state of orange now — but you’ve got to wonder where this information is coming from. If I’m watching a video of Osama bin Laden looking through a rifle, how do I know he’s not just some shoe salesman they told could be in a movie? You know what I mean? There’s no way to verify it. Nobody has provided me with a good reason why we’re sending our troops to all these places. I don’t know how it jumped from Afghanistan to Iraq. I don’t get any of this stuff.
NEXT PAGE: Is Apocalypto a ”liberal” film?