Despicable Mel, Scene Three

mel gibson and ex wife getty Despicable Mel, Scene Three

Audiences everywhere are ranting about Despicable Mel: the unraveling of an actor whose career as an entertainer seems like it ought to be kaput.

In the past two weeks, the Aussie-born Mel Gibson has supplemented past anti-Semitic outbursts with leaked recordings that use the N-word (in an especially off-putting reference to rape) and what sounds like a death threat to the mother of his 8-month-old daughter. “I’ll put you in a f—— rose garden. You understand that?” Mr. Gibson is purportedly recorded telling ex-girlfriend Oskana Grigorieva, “because I’m capable of it.” 

After the first recording was leaked to RadarOnline, the actor was fired by the talent agency William Morris Endeavor. 

Mel Gibson has set off a fascinating discussion in Hollywood about how awful you have to behave in this town for your career to be really, truly over.

Setting aside how reprehensible Mr. Gibson sounds-even with the caveats that he has battled alcoholism and by some reports was caught unawares by mini-microphones hidden in diamond earnings-his antics have set off a fascinating discussion in Hollywood about how awful you have to behave in this town for your career to be really, truly over. Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times brilliantly terms it a great example of Hollywood’s “situational ethics,” and Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter notes that other stars, like Charlie Sheen, have been forgiven for their transgressions. Mr. Gibson has a couple of films in production, but his latest work, the thriller The Edge of Darkness, came and went quietly. The town actually respects some public self-destruction (à la Robert Downey Jr. or Anne Heche). Actor Danny Glover-Mr. Gibson’s co-star in all those Lethal Weapon flicks-has had no comment, but longtime friend Whoopi Goldberg defended him-sort of. “You can say he’s being a bonehead, but I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist having spent time with him in my house with my kids,” she told The View. “I don’t like what he’s done, make no mistake.”

It must be noted that just before his firing from William Morris, Mr. Gibson’s longtime agent there had passed away. Powerful agent Ari Emanuel had called for a boycott of Mr. Gibson’s work back in 2006 when reports of his making anti-Semitic slurs were first made public. And Mr. Emanuel ended up in charge of William Morris after merging his Endeavor firm with William Morris last year, but for whatever reason he held his powder on Mr. Gibson until the tape of him using the N-word emerged. Mr. Emanuel was either biding his time or giving him a second chance, but now Mr. Gibson is toxic and no other talent agency is going to touch him. 

It’s worth remembering that Mr. Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ generated plenty of controversy and stands as the highest-grossing independently financed film ever. And his directorial follow-up, Apocalypto, was released by Disney several months after Mr. Gibson had to apologize for the anti-Semitic and sexist slurs he made to police officers who pulled him over for a suspected DUI in Malibu. It’s cynical to say, but the inescapable reality is that as long as someone is bankable, they are tolerable and even possibly redeemable (a lesson that Lindsay Lohan ought to ponder right about now). While the current view is that Mr. Gibson is done as far as acting in other people’s films, he could still use his chops as a director through his Icon Productions.

It’s a funny business, though, and a lot can happen over time. While the L.A. Police Department was reportedly opening an investigation into Mr. Gibson for domestic violence, Swiss authorities were denying the extradition of accused underage sex offender and fugitive Roman Polanski. Even Mr. Polanski’s 13-year-old victim, now all grown up, has forgiven him, and his latest film, The Ghost Writer, was well received.

Other celebs have survived sex tapes and leaked recordings of mean and bullying behavior, but Despicable Mel is in a category of his own. What happens next is up to him. For starters, a little public contrition should not be hard to muster. After all, the guy does know how to act. 

rsiklos@observer.com