Roger Ebert Home

'Payback' time for Mel Gibson

Thirteen things I learned while talking with Mel Gibson, star of "Payback," the No. 1 movie at the box office: When he prepared to play Porter, the anti-hero of "Payback," he thought of a fence post with splinters: No problem, unless you rub him the wrong way.

"Although Porter is morally reprehensible, he fulfills all of the classic elements of the mythic hero. He does all of those beats, except he's anti: He does them in a bad way." The movie was shot in Chicago, but not so you'd notice. "Maybe if you're a native you'll recognize the street signs, but you don't see skyscrapers and it's more like a generic older urban gritty city." The look of the film is dark, with blue-greens and a lot of shadows: "We wanted it down and dirty. I mean, even the film process. If it looked too bright, they would actually do something to bring it down a little bit. The bleach bypass process, it's called.

"The colors are muted and the contrasts are more contrasty. In our dreams, we thought of shooting in 16-mm. black and white and blowing it up to 35 so it was really grainy, and then we'd actually put scratches on the negative. But that's just not such a good idea - especially for the overseas market."

He is not known for his wardrobe. "My whole approach to wardrobe is, throw it in a suitcase and make sure they don't press it, for Pete's sake, so I can try to display some rumpled charm. Actually, I'm just a pig. I've got coffee stains on my pants. I think they're coffee stains, anyway." "I'm as vain as the next guy. I have a facade on right now. But you can't see it, because it's reality-based."

He has six children and his wife is expecting their seventh.

"I'd be lost without this woman. She does everything for me. But I like to get involved with the bonding and the changing of diapers. I figure if I change theirs today, they'll change mine in 20 or 30 years." He's been hearing rumors that he'll make another "Mad Max" movie, "but Kevin Costner already made all those movies, didn't he? Jeez, what a bitchy thing to say!"

His Australian accent in the original "Mad Max" was dubbed by producers afraid that American audiences wouldn't understand him. "I got dubbed by some Utah cowboy. I saw a reel of it and it sounds like a gladiator movie. Romans - run!"

He likes making action pictures: "Film is built for kinetic movement and crash and burn. It's a great tool for spectacles. But if it's not rooted to something a little higher, you're just kicking your butt around the corner. You can only take so much of that. You have to have some sort of foundation to explode from."

The movie's payoff is a double cross involving a telephone, and "I cooked that up after it was already shot. The movie didn't have a conclusion. It's the producer's job to work on that stuff and get it to happen. I was the producer. We reshot some stuff for two weeks. Bang!"

The film's original director, Brian Helgeland, didn't approve of the changes: "There was all this weird stuff going around about how Brian was fired from the picture, but that's not so. He opted not to do the reshoots. He was busy, and he felt he was compromising his artistic integrity to change a frame. And you have to respect him for sticking by his guns. But, hey, I have no problem with artistic integrity.

"I'll just walk right around it. I have people to answer to. Studios who give you all that money to work with." In the movie, he comes closer than anyone since James Bond to losing that part of the anatomy that the action hero most requires: "And then it's goodbye, low angle."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

We Grown Now
Blood for Dust
Dusk for a Hitman
Stress Positions
Hard Miles


comments powered by Disqus