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NewCityNet War Is Mel

Talking about the lethal revolutionaries of "The Patriot"

By Ray Pride

JUNE 26, 2000:  Mr. Gibson needs a fag.

The pack rests on the table as we talk up "The Patriot." Thought you were quitting. Any luck? "A modicum of success. I'll stop every while, every six months. Y'know, six more months of life in the end. Six more months on the hose!"

"The Patriot," directed by Roland Emmerich from a script by "Saving Private Ryan"'s Robert Rodat, is a robust, powerful melodrama that blooms under Gibson's accustomed tortured presence. As with his best roles, he wears guilt well. Gibson inhabits Benjamin Martin (a composite of a number of Revolutionary War figures), a father of seven who has retired to his South Carolina farm, haunted by unspecified atrocities he may have committed during the French and Indian War. Gibson's haunted anguish is unmistakable. Martin argues against further tragedy, greater sins. He tries to shout down his eldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), who has the youth and ardor his father has outgrown, insisting that preserving his brood is the greater patriotism. But several shocking acts of violence by the redcoats -- both against the revolutionaries and Martin's own family -- bring him to the front of the fray.

Emmerich's approach is more lyrical than Gibson's in "Braveheart." Gibson's passions are abundantly showcased and the period battle scenes have a spectacular sweep not seen since "Barry Lyndon." Emmerich and Dean Devlin's films are immensely scaled, yet they allow truly intense personal moments to take center stage. Is it rare to find large-scale films that have room for characters to be human beings? "Well, that's a large-scale film that works, if you ask me," Gibson says. "I've seen them where there's no touch of humanity at all. They're boring; you don't care how many butts Steve Seagal kicks. It's just no emotional involvement."

A genuinely shocking and thrilling moment comes when Martin must make the choice to ordain his sons to take up arms against those who would kill them. Would the 44-year-old father of seven allow his kids to do that? "Yeah." Tap tap tap goes his lighter on the table. When? "Self-defense. Of course." A pause. "I've taken them to a shooting range."

But what about a horrific situation like in "The Patriot"? "Self-defense. You take care of yourself. But I sure as shit hope it never comes to that. It would be horrible. But that's the dilemma this man has. That's horror for that man to do that. He's in a very desperate situation, he needs help, and he realizes very quickly that the course of action he's taken is completely wrong. He's got one dead and one about to be dead, and he's, 'Fuck this, y'know.' OK, this is how you shoot people.' Take care of your own."

Martin's worst fears come true at the end of that scene, where we--and his children--get a glimpse of why the past haunts him. Is it scary to be that emotionally exposed? "I dunno. I'm a clown, y'know. You better turn it on." It's such a killing rage. Gibson laughs, splutters, coughs. "Yeah, it looks really bad, but they edited it together. That took like a week and a half and it's all really studied."

Gibson, however, can calm down. "When I was finished with a film, I used to be all weirded out, I'd be like the guy who came back from the war and he was all weird, y'know. It was just a waste of energy. So I choose not to get weird. It's a nice feeling, not being in a state of flux. To actually sit down and go, 'Let's see, where's the sports page?' I want to go places. I want to travel, see things I haven't seen before they all crumble, before somebody presses the button. Play golf, y'know. Get the swing down. I really love golf and I suck. I want to get really good at it. It's like 'Pets That Misbehave.' You see those things?" He taps the lighter, end-to-end, on the table a few times. "It was like I was starting to chew the curtains."

Giving up fear? "Yes. That's perfect. You cease to worry. And you know, OK, I gotta go out and like do something here, but it's gotta be real. Then, even if it's not real, and you're not feeling you can do it, at least fake it so it looks real. And y'know, big human things. To face things that are real, like, say, loss of a child? What is the truth of that moment? You can't wind yourself up about that stuff, so I just horse around until the point when they say action." Tap tap tap.

Does having a family help you let yourself age on screen? He laughs. "Oh, absolutely. My own family?" The whole sense of mortality. "Yep. I don't mind it. I like it. I'm getting into the forties in a big way. It's great. They'll be over soon!"


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