"Mr. Gibson," I said as I shook hands with the dashing, young Lethal Weapon star with the piercing blue eyes. "I am thrilled that you've chosen me as your publicist. I swear, your image is in good hands, Mr. Gibson."
"Please, call me Mel. And that's all great to hear, Daniel," Mel Gibson said. "I really enjoy what your public relations firm has done, and I think this will be a wonderful relationship. I hope you're up for the challenge of making me seem decent to the public."
"All due respect, Mel, but that's no challenge at all. You've got Leading Man written all over you. You're a huge star, you've done brilliant work already and you've got a great career ahead of yourself. You've given me the easiest job in the world. Just don't go saying anything stupid and we won't have a problem, right?"
"Oh, I won't. What am I, Irish?"
"Ahhah, alright, I'm needed on set now. Talk to you soon!" He flashed a grin and quickly exited. He knew my name was O'Brien, it was clearly a joke. Nothing to be worried about. I had the successful, talented and devilishly charming Mel Gibson as my client. Like he said, this was the start of a wonderful relationship.
I called up Mel as soon as the December issue of El Pais hit my desk.
DOB: Hey, Mel, it's me. Quick question: What, uh…the hell?
MEL: Is this about the gay thing?
DOB: It is about the gay thing. You were asked what you thought of homosexuals, and that is what you came up with?
MEL: Hey, I was just talking. Just talking, and pointing at my butt a little bit. Is that a crime? Should I pretend I didn't say those things? Pretend I didn't point at my butt and talk about poop in an interview? Really, I'm shocked it's even gotten this attention, I was just talking.
DOB: Hey, your beliefs are your beliefs, and whether or not I agree with what you think about homosexuality or, in a larger sense, the delicate and beautiful art of anal sex, the fact is, you feel the way you feel. That's you. It's not my place to tell you what's right. But you've got to know that you're a superstar, Mel. Everything you say will be held up and judged by the public, that's just the awful way entertainment journalism works. You're the same guy you've always been, but your words carry more weight now, so they'll be held up to more scrutiny, because you influence people.
MEL: So what do I do?
DOB: You're a young enough guy. For now, I'd say just toss it up to youthful ignorance. If you apologize outright, everyone will know it's a PR move. You were just speaking your mind, shooting from the hip, as it is your right to do. And you don't want to hurt any gay people, right? You're not trying to get rid of them; it's just not your thing. You were just asked a question and you answered honestly.
MEL: Very 'straight-shooter,' I like it, sounds good.
DOB: Yes. Stand your ground BUT, be respectful when you do so. Don't just be a bully about your point of view, it's a turn off.
MEL: You got it.
Oh, Jesus. Four years after I'd thought we put the whole mess behind us, Mel goes and does a foolish Playboyinterview that sets us back.
DOB: Mel? Dan here. How are things?
MEL: Couldn't be better.
DOB: I'll disagree.
DOB: Just saw the new Playboy, Mel, and I gotta say this is pretty far from the whole "be respectful" thing we talked about. Remember? When we talked about it?
MEL: I remember some of that conversation. Yikes, my memory's got more leaks than a Polish submarine. Or, for that matter, a Polish person's brain. And the thing about their womenfolk is that-
DOB: Whoa! Whoa, no. None of that. Try saying… plenty of things that aren't that whenever people talk to you about this Playboy thing which, sure as you're born, they will.
MEL: What do I say?
DOB: Right now? Absolutely nothing. Lay low for a while. In a few years, do some charity work with GLAAD to show that you're not an intolerant or hateful person. And, in general, just… just don't talk about homosexuals, really, ever again. You're just not good at it.
MEL: Got it. So Polish women, though, their vaginas have these feelers that move independent of their-
DOB: Hangin' up now Mel.
The man was certainly making me work for my paycheck, but it could have been worse. And to be honest, the scandals weren't really impacting his box office scores or anything like that. As long as he didn't do anything else that was too stupid, we would be fine. Smooth sailing for the rest of his and my career.
DOB: Really wish you hadn't said that, Mel.
MEL: Which part?
DOB: I don't know, man, pick one. There's not one second of this whole affair that looks good for you. I mean, what the hell? You blamed Jews for every war, you called a cop 'Sugar Tits?' Where is any of this even coming from? I'm trying to support you as your publicist, but man you are not making it easy.
MEL: Easy. That reminds me of a joke about Italians. So these two shitheads walk into a grease factory-
DOB: You know I'm part Italian, right?
MEL: Yeah? Huh. Weird. I guess I just didn't notice your brightly-colored throat dewlap. Must've been hidden in your scales.
DOB:That's not even racist! You're bad at being racist! Which is just insane, because that's all you do. What were you even thinking when they pulled you over?
MEL: I was thinking that you said I can't say anything about gay people anymore.
DOB:… You're learning. That's actually encouraging.
MEL: And that the arresting lady-officer's tits were sugary.
DOB: Less so.
MEL: Honestly, Dan, what should I do? You're my publicist, what do the people want from me?
DOB: Okay… Okay, this isn't… completely unsalvageable. It's bad, but not as bad as it could be. It just means that you'll have to do some kind of rehab.
MEL: For what? I'm not the one that's Jewish.
DOB:Wow, worst thing you've said so far. And it doesn't matter what you go into rehab for. Honestly, the public just needs to see you go in there and come out the other side looking clean and saying "I'm sorry and I've learned my lesson."
MEL: How long should I stay in rehab?
DOB: A few months, enough time to give off the impression that you've learned something. And maybe… I mean, it couldn't hurt to maybe try to actually learn some lessons in there, instead of just going through the motions. I'd say rehab for alcohol and anger issues is a safe bet for you. Just keep your ears open, you never know what you might learn in there.
MEL: Is it true that Italians lay eggs?
DOB: Don't ever speak again.
I contemplated ending our partnership, but I stopped myself on the belief that, as delusional as he may have been, even Mel must have realized that he'd gone too far. He must've known that it was time to shut up for a long, long time. Plus, it wasn't like he could say anything worse.2010
"You have got to be fucking kidding-- Ugh, what am I going to do with you, Mel? You are not making my job easy. All of those things you said. To your girlfriend. The mother of your child. You said your girlfriend would get raped and it would be her fault? You threaten to burn her house down? It was all offensive on its own, and then you chose to make it racist, for no reason." For the first time since we'd met, I actually had Mel in my office. I felt like this might turn into one of those conversations where I needed to literally shake a person to try to get them to understand, and you can't really do that over the phone. Plus, I needed to see Mel face to face, so he could look me in the eye and try to explain the latest batch of awful things he'd said.
"In fairness," Mel said, "You're taking that quote out of context."
"Tell me how. Tell me what context could possibly make that combination of words okay."
"What I said to my ex-girlfriend was 'You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by -"
"Got it, that's plenty."
"You didn't let me finish."
"Didn't need to."
"All caught up over here, Mel, for Christ's sake."
Mel sighed deeply and looked down at his shoes.
"Don't take the Lord's name in vain, Daniel, it-"
"You are not allowed to talk about words, Mel Gibson. You're not, okay? You are the worst at words and you're no longer allowed to talk about or use them."
"Just tell me what to do, Dan. I've got a movie coming out soon, probably."
I thought about how this could be spun, how I could still salvage this career. It was doable, but did I want to? I didn't think so. There was something more important that I needed to do.
"You know what your problem is, Mel?" He nodded casually.
"The Jews, I suppose."
"No, it's- Why don't you sit down." Mel Gibson sat down on the floor of my office. His legs crossed, he looked up at me from the ground, like a kindergartener looking up at a teacher. He spit on the carpet and mumble-slurred something about Asian people trying to steal all of America's best dentists, like a drunk, racist kindergartener who was grossly misinformed regarding most established stereotypes. I loosened my tie and sat on the edge of my desk.
"I want you to listen carefully. Your problem isn't Jewish people. Or black people, or Atheists, or Mexicans or even Gypsies. Your problem is you're an asshole." The news hit him like a tornado of bricks. "A charming asshole, a funny asshole, sure, but, and here's where it gets disastrous, a rich and famous asshole. You're a powerful man, Mel. You're worth a lot of money and you make movies happen on giant screens which, in America, practically makes you royalty. There are a lot of great benefits for a man in your position, but a lot of downsides, too.
"See, it's different for normal people. There are checks and balances on our behavior. If you were just a regular guy, you'd have a nice little group of close friends, people you could trust. People who would support you, make you laugh and, when necessary, let you know if you were being an asshole. For example, if I started wearing a top hat regularly, or if I demanded that henceforth all of my friends refer to me only as 'Big Dan,' or if I did absolutely anything ironically, my friends wouldn't hesitate to point out what kind of an asshole I was being, (a modest sized one). Or if I called an officer of the law 'Sugar Tits' or threatened to burn down the house of the mother of my child. They'd call me an asshole without missing a beat. It's a good group to have. Everyone needs this group of people, but you don't have it. Because you're Mel Gibson."
Mel furrowed his brow. This lesson required absolutely all of his concentration.
"You're a famous person, surrounded by fawning admirers and nervous yes-men all day. Loads and loads of people hang around you, but none of them will tell you you're an asshole. You'll do something asshole-ish, and the only thing people will tell you is how to spin your behavior to get out of a bad situation. You've gone so long with no one calling you out on your asshole tendencies that it doesn't even register as a potential outcome to you anymore. The part of your brain that recognizes the possibility that you might be an asshole has withered and died. It's atrophied after years and years of neglect." It was clear a) that he thought that was an actual part of the brain and that b) he could physically see it if he rolled his eyes back far enough. His capacity for comprehending anymore of this conversation was diminishing.
"I've thrown a lot at you today, and I know this must come as a shock, because you've been surrounded by blind supporters your entire life. It is likely that you've never been told what an asshole you are, and I wouldn't be surprised if you found it impossible to believe. But it's true. You are a giant, narcissistic, asshole with an inflated sense of entitlement who thinks he can do whatever he wants because no one, in the last 40 years, has told him he couldn't." I put on my jacket and headed for the door. Mel was staring hard at the floor, trying as hard as he could to absorb all of this new and frightening information. I had a little bit more.
"Also I think you might be a crazy person. Like, a profoundly damaged person who needs very serious help. You look crazy, you have crazy person thoughts, and you say crazy things that crazy people say and that's… a bad thing."
"Not as bad as being Italian," he said, clearly hurt. "Try-tr- try not to eat any bees on the way to the pizza parlor!"
"Goodbye, Mel Gibson."
Daniel O'Brien is recently unemployed.