Mel Saint or Sinner? MEL GIBSON Drew on His Devout Beliefs to Make His Film on Jesus Christ - but a New TV Documentary about His Hellraising, Womanising Past Shows He Can't Exactly Cast the First Stone. by MOIRA PETTY
Byline: MOIRA PETTY
Mel Gibson would surely have been the boy least likely to succeed out of his group of 17-year-old school leavers.
He smoked, played truant and was constantly up before the head of his boys' Catholic school near Sydney for breaking the rules. The American immigrant was an outsider and his accent was mocked.
Years later, even after his film career had taken off, Mel succumbed to insecurity and took refuge in alcohol. In 1984, filming Mrs Soffel with Diane Keaton, he didn't arrive on set until he had downed five bottles of beer; then he became addicted to drugs and had extramarital affairs, too. Gibson, a fantasy figure for women around the world and the apparently easygoing family man, was so low that he considered suicide.
Today, he is Hollywood's most powerful and possibly richest man. After backing The Passion Of The Christ with [pounds sterling]15 million of his own cash, Gibson's film - with its graphic, blood-soaked depiction of the tortured hours leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has become one of the highest grossing movies of all time. As well as attracting standard blockbuster audiences, entire church congregations booked screenings. Here, a recent poll of 205 Anglican clergy voted it their favourite film with a religious theme (even though one of them concluded that going to see it was like 'a trip to the butcher's').
Box-office takings have exceeded [pounds sterling]400 million, and video and DVD sales are huge and will hardly diminish, reflecting the eternal fascination with Christianity. Crucially, these vast profits go to the one man whose faith saw the project through when Hollywood laughed in his face. It all means that The Passion has made Gibson more money than any actor or director has made from a single film ever.
Now, a new TV documentary has charted this unstoppable success, garnering fascinating insights into the man. Its conclusion is that, in going from delinquent youth to Hollywood's most powerful player via a host of personal problems, The Passion has been his salvation and the instrument with which he can shape the film industry. As film critic Richard Roeper says in the programme, True Hollywood Story: Mel Gibson, 'The financial windfall this man is going to realise from The Passion makes it possible for him to do anything he wants.' In a more pointed link between the movie and Gibson's own redemption, Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, reveals, 'Mel was going through a tough time in his life. He reached a point
where he moved away from his faith. He was drawn to the passion and death of Christ - and said the wounds of Christ healed his wounds.' Yet, as the programme reveals, Gibson's journey to vast wealth and influence would never have happened without some spectacularly fortunate interventions from those around him. Gibson, named Mel Columcille Gerard after three Catholic saints, was brought up in a large family by his devoted Christian parents, Hutton and Ann. Hutton, now 86, was a traditional Catholic who rebelled against the modernisations by the Vatican in the 1960s when the Latin mass was dropped, services were made less formal and eating meat on Fridays was allowed. Hutton says, 'I've made Mel the same kind of Catholic I am because it is the greatest benefit anyone can have. It gives you the lifelong satisfaction of being right.' Hutton worked as the man who operated the brake lever on trains on the New York Central Railroad, but his salary was barely enough to feed the family, who were dressed in hand-me-downs.
In 1964, Hutton fell as he was boarding his train and severely damaged his spine. His employers denied liability, so he sued them. To save money, he moved the family to a rundown house, where they faced eviction.
According to Mel's Aunt Kathleen, the family were practically starving.
Then Hutton went on a TV quiz show and won [pounds sterling]14,000, which kept them going until the railroad paid compensation of [pounds sterling]85,000. …