SIGNS - Q&A with Mel Gibson
It's a film that has faith at its core. Since clearly you are a man of great faith, I wondered whether this helped you when you were getting under the skin of the character?
MEL: I think these questions -- Is there something out there? Is there something greater than me? - are something that most of us have grappled with at some time or other, and I think that's kind of the universality of the theme of this film. I think most people will relate to it on that level, whether they accept or reject... it's interesting, and to couple that with the strange, sometimes inexplicable phenomena of crop circles. It really is a story about faith, though, and not so much about Martians.
Some of the most emotional scenes in the film, the parental scenes, and your character with his brother... made we wonder whether as a father you were drawing on your own feelings for your offspring and reflecting them in the role?
MEL: Not at all. I can't stand my kids [laughs]... You bring your own experience into play as much as possible, if you're trying to emulate some modicum of truth, you'll dig in there and try and get a grain of it now and then. I can't specifically say how, but I'm sure on some level it all comes into play.
Do you believe in God?
MEL: I do believe in God. Hey, look, there better be something greater than me out there or we're all in trouble. If I'm God, we're all in trouble. So I do. And if there is no God, why am I here? Why am I not invading other countries and ruling the world? What's to stop me if there's nothing to say I can't?
I was wondering if you still have your ranch in Montana and if you were able to transfer some of the experiences that you had there into your role as a farmer in Signs?
MEL: Yeah, I do, I've got the place up there... there's some crops they grow but it's mostly cattle munching the ground. To transfer it, nah, this guy wasn't much of a farmer really. He never really got out there. You never saw him working on a tractor or anything. Maybe he was renting the land, I don't know...
I was wondering if ever in your life you have seriously doubted your faith and belief?
MEL: Oh, yeah, sometimes you just wonder -- What's the point? What's the point? -- because nothing's ever going to go to plan, is it, ever? But that's the mistake. That's really a lack of humility. You have to be prepared to think that most of it's out of your hands anyway, and prepare to yield it. That's where humility starts, I guess. I'm not very good at humility. I have a struggle there. I don't think I ever had a crisis in faith really. I was raised in a certain way. I walked away from it for a long time... from about 17 to 35. That's a good 18 years of sort of wandering in the wasteland kind of thing. But eventually you mature and you start pondering these questions. I came back to some of that stuff.
In the movie the fright is coming from above, last September we saw it could come from our backyard. Do you think indeed the human race is at risk or do you think on the contrary it's better to believe that there is hope and that we are coming together as a planet?
MEL: One always has to have hope. It would be pointless to not have it. We're in dire straights as far as all this aggressive stuff goes overseas. I'd like to see it evaporate and go away, I'm sure everyone would, even the people involved in it would, except they're too full of hatred to let it go. Unfortunately, I think it's gonna drag us all in. And people are gonna have to choose sides somewhere along the line, and it's gonna get ugly. I'm not very optimistic about it, but I'm hopeful that some kind of resolve, peaceful resolve will get reached.
As a father you're used to teaching your children, but what have you learned from Rory and from Abigail by making this movie?
MEL: The amazing thing about watching and working with children is the simplicity with which they approach what they do and execute it very well. It's a lesson that we should all take from it, that we should kind of stay as children in a sense creatively because there are far less complicated obstacles on them. As you become an adult, the cares and all the evolutionary scars of life get on you, there's just a lot of garbage that you have to strip away in order to get back to that sort of simplicity that they simply don't have. They're working on their own case. I recognise that when I'm working with very young performers and I'm kind of jealous of it, the fact that they don't have to eradicate a lot of baggage and just a lot of stuff. They don't have to strip it all down, they're just ready to go. And they just walk up to it honestly and innocently, whereas we all second-guess and get all-adult with it and it's kind of a stumbling block sometimes.
In a previous interview you mentioned that working with director M. Night Shyamalan was like learning how to act again. Can you please elaborate on that?
MEL: As an actor what you're always trying to do is be totally self-aware of exactly what it is that you do. And I have a pretty keen sense of that stuff. But you can never be truly one hundred percent objective as someone that's watching you. And he was the most keen observer I think I've ever run into. He didn't miss anything. He would see every single thing. He would get right down to -- hey, your nostril moved, and stuff like that... And I'd say, So? And he'd say, Well, it gave the wrong message. Stuff like that. It was really interesting that somebody took the time to watch so closely because he really cared. I'm not saying that other directors don't care, it's just that I've never been exposed to such a meticulous viewing, like he really had me under a microscope and he was making very fine little adjustments. It was altogether at a very different kind of level that I've worked with directors before, that's all. So it was just very helpful that he was making me aware of things. In a sense that's what I'm after, another lesson in self-awareness.
Do you believe in destiny, that life is pre-destined in a way, that you became an actor, so to speak?
MEL: Yeah, you're supposed to be where you end up somehow. I'm a big believer in pre-ordination, I don't think there's a lot of happy circumstance coincidence. It may seem that way, it appears to be that way, and to us it is, but I don't think we're calling the shots, so you're gonna end up where you're gonna end up. You can get into a whole metaphysical debate about that kind of stuff... and come at it from the other side and tie your brain in knots. On its face value I'd have to go with that. I'm in the A-category or whatever that guy talks about in the film.
Time magazine defined the director of this movie as the next Steven Spielberg, which is a great compliment. As a director yourself how did you find the experience of working with him?
MEL: Oh, we talked endlessly about every scene. He's amazing. One of the earmarks of a really great director is his ability to communicate, and he communicates very well and gets his meaning across... because it's his vision, he's lived with it, he thought it up, he conceived it, he wrote it and then constructed the shots long before he ever sent me the screenplay. So he had a very clear and specific vision of what he wanted to do, and he does it very well. Whatever I didn't understand about where he was coming from, he let me know. As far as him being the next Spielberg, there's only one Spielberg. You can't be Spielberg, Spielberg is Spielberg, that's all there is to it. And he's great. But Night is Shyamalan and there's no other Shyamalan either. And they'll be saying in ten years... the next Shyamalan... The thing is an insult to either man, I think, because they're simply individual and they're both achieving excellence from an entirely different perspective.
What is your take on crop circles? Do you think aliens are out there trying to make contact or is it all a hoax?
MEL: Nah, I think if they wanted to make contact they simply would -- drop in for a cup of tea. I'm sceptical when it comes to these things. I think it's probably an elaborate hoax, but some of them do seem a little complicated, they're very intricate designs and so forth and so seem unexplainable as far as how they got there overnight by a bunch of hoons in a truck, geometrically perfect from the air and all that stuff. I'm not gonna rule out the possibility that there's some kind of force that's not easily explained at work here, but I tend to remain a sceptic as far as that sort of stuff goes.
Are you going to take a break from acting to concentrate on directing? You've been talking about it for a long time.
MEL: Oh yeah, I'm gonna direct something. Necessarily you have to. There's two or three years of your life when you're directing something where you're not gonna have time to do anything else, so that would come into play. I'm about to take off and direct something soon.
Will you star in it?
MEL: I'm not in it, no, I'm not in it. I found a shingle that says I CAN DIRECT SOMETHING AND NOT HAVE TO BE IN IT.
Question and Answer Text Copyright Buena Vista International.