Mel Gibson & Heath Ledger debate whether to put another shrimp on the barbie

independence days

You’ve got a huge war you want to film, loads of battles, blood, guts and tons of courage are required. Who you gonna call? John Millar reckons there’s only one answer…

From Film Review August 2000

Mel Gibson has always had the right stuff, ever since as a fresh-faced youngster he grabbed our attention as that post-apocalyptic road warrior, Mad Max. Since then he’s practically cornered the market whenever Hollywood has needed an inspirational hero to persuade a nation to rise up against, and overcome, superior forces.

The 43-year-old American-born, Australian raised star did it in style, of course, as that legendary, wild-haired Scot William Wallace in Braveheart, a movie that was that much desired double whammy: a critical and commercial success.

Five years after Braveheart won five Oscars, Mel’s back on the freedom trail in the American War of Independence epic, The Patriot. This time it’s a stars-and-stripes battle against the English. And, once more, he portrays a reluctant hero.

In Braveheart, Wallace sought vengeance, for a nation and himself, after the cold-blooded murder of his bride. Now in The Patriot, Mel’s character, Benjamin Martin, a veteran of the French and Indian wars, has laid down his arms and become a lone voice advocating peaceful settlement with King George – until Redcoat brutality leads to the death of his 15-year-old son...

The movie also stars Heath Ledger from Ten Things I Hate About You, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson and Chris Cooper. Mel, who went with the rest of the cast into boot camp before filming started, to get prepared for the hand to hand fighting and 18th Century weapons, like the flintlock, acknowledges the rather obvious link between his latest big screen persona and William Wallace.

“You don’t have to go very far to realize that history quickly repeats itself,” says Mel. “Century by century, decade by decade, it’s different players, but the same story playing itself out, with all its ugliness and glories, all its victories and defeats.

“This kind of story has been told since people have been dwelling in caves and painting pictures. It’s that combination of the ordinary and the divine that inspires us and makes something really hit home for us, I think. Those are the kind of stories that I like.”

As villain-of-the-piece Jason Isaacs is very keen to point out, the main thing about Gibson – as he proves in a harrowing and heart rending sequence in The Patriot, when to revenge the killing of his son he goes berserk, killing about 20 Redcoats – is that he is an excellent screen actor.

“And that keeps on you on your toes,” says a smiling Jason. “The first time that you stand opposite someone like Mel it’s like being on a tennis court and someone has served the ball at 200mph right past you. It really raises your game.”

Image copyright: Columbia Tristar
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

Heath Ledger
on Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson

Heath Ledger, the hot young Australian actor who plays Mel’s elder son who defies his father and enlists to fight for independence, shares Jason Isaacs' views on working with such a big star. He was gobsmacked by the emotional intensity of Mel’s performance in that scene when he goes amuck with a tomahawk.

“It was awesome. After those takes you could just feel the energy. It was not hard for me to re-act off that scene.”

The 21-year-old actor, in London en route from Los Angeles to Prague, where he’s filming A Knight’s Tale, doesn’t try to hide the fact that, since he was a kid and saw him star in the World War I drama, Gallipoli, he has hero worshipped Mel Gibson.

“Mel is every Aussie’s hero,” says Heath. “The exciting thing about working with him because I knew that I had to lift my game. So I was a bit nervous, wondering if I could do it.

"But that’s not to suggest that he was giving this big performance and you had to be just as big. It was more or less about the fact that he was going to be giving a lot, feeding your performance and so, to honour that, you had to give him something to work with too.

"He certainly is not a selfish actor. I wanted him to get something from me because I knew I’d get a lot from him.”

Get the whole feature, with more from Gibson, Ledger and Isaacs, plus our review of THE PATRIOT, in the August 2000 issue of Film Review

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