UPDATE, 3 PM: Mel Gibson just pleaded no contest to one count in Los Angeles court, meaning he legally doesn’t admit guilt. The deal calls for no jail time but 36 months of probation.
1:15 PM: In one week’s time, Mel Gibson’s comeback movie The Beaver, directed by his longtime pal Jodie Foster, is set to premiere at Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival. It is only the second major film that Gibson has starred in since 2002 because of Hollywood’s reluctance to hire him in even small roles out of fear that the public may not forgive his recent years of personal turmoil. But that may all be behind him now no matter whether showbiz thinks he’s a scumbag. Prosecutors charged the actor-director today only with misdemeanor battery, not the felony or jail time which some media outlets had predicted, after more than an 8-month investigation into a verbal and physical fight he had with his then Russian girlfriend at his Malibu home that included racist and misogynist rantings. Gibson is supposed to appear in court later today and accept a plea agreement to resolve the case. His attorney had said it was Gibson’s decision not to fight the charges he “willfully and unlawfully” used force and violence against Oksana Grigorieva and not to pursue charges against her for allegedly trying to extort him. As for his 2006 arrest for drunken driving that included his now-infamous anti-Semitic ranting, that conviction has been expunged from his record.
I do believe that Hollywood is ready to “forgive” Mel for his recent past, or at least forget it. The movie industry still values him as a director after the successes of his original films The Passion Of The Christ and Apocalypto. But his acting career has almost completely stalled since 2002 and reached its nadir when he lost a cameo in The Hangover II because of cast and crew objections. Some feel, if he’s lucky, he may come out of this as a character actor given his age. However, at the recent European Film Market in Berlin, the Gibson-produced and -starring and co-written indie How I Spent My Summer Vacation was so well received that its remaining territories quickly sold and the international distributor Icon UK Group, who’d already invested in the summer release, was pleased with the end result of deals for Germany, Italy, France, Benelux, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Greece, Switzerland, Portugal, Turkey, South Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. A domestic distribution deal is still pending though imminent with Gibson’s own Icon Productions handling the U.S., UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Also breathing a sigh of relief that Gibson wasn’t charged with a felony or serving jail time and has now put this legal problem behind him is Summit Entertainment, which scheduled May to release its long-delayed dramedy The Beaver.
As for Hollywood denizens, some of whom have spoken publicly and privately that they would never hire Gibson for their pictures, I found that hardline attitudes softened after the recent memorial for the late agent Ed Limato when his longtime client Gibson got up to speak. In the words of one attendee: “Mel did himself a lot of favors. He reminded the industry he’s not this monster nobody knows. He’s the guy they loved for 35 years. It was Mel being Mel.” Following other Limato clients like Denzel Washington, Michelle Pfeiffer and Richard Gere, Gibson made a speech that was very funny and self-deprecating, with each story ending with a big laugh and applause from the crowd.