LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – The death of Mel Gibson’s career has been greatly exaggerated.
Sure, a fresh wave of obituaries was to be expected in the wake of a string of contretemps that jolted even the most jaded observers of our scandal-saturated mediasphere.
At the end of a week that saw a new low in the never-ending tailspin that is the life of Lindsay Lohan, Gibson’s misdeeds seem to have dug him a level of hell so low that there’s no coming back.
But even as battered and broken as his exquisitely tortured Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” Gibson will rise again.
In an industry where the newly freed Roman Polanski has his share of prominent, vocal supporters and in a country that loves nothing more than restoring public figures to the pedestals from which they fell, count on a Gibson comeback.
It’s not going to happen anytime soon, of course. That would be unseemly in the state of high dudgeon Hollywood currently finds itself. William Morris Endeavor Entertainment’s decision to drop Gibson as a client ensures no one will touch him with a 10-foot pole, as one studio chief put it.
But in time, those doors will open again. Maybe doors not as gilded as WME’s, but doors just the same. Because for every principled power broker like Ari Emanuel, there will be five others who will eventually extend themselves not in gracious appreciation of human frailty, but because there is money to be made.
Not that Gibson even needs the Hollywood machine to get back on his feet. Let’s not forget he is not just an actor, but an auteur and mogul who already proved with “Passion” he is capable of succeeding quite brilliantly outside the system.
But whether he soldiers on by himself or with help from Hollywood, it’s the public that will ultimately determine Gibson’s prospects. And while in the heat of his latest controversies that seems improbable, taking a long view of celebrity history provides ample evidence that just isn’t the case.
Is any famous individual’s career ever truly over? No one is done; “done” is just another way of saying the comeback hasn’t started yet.
Tiger Woods is back on the tour. Charlie Sheen got a raise. Eliot Spitzer is getting a show on CNN. The list goes on, and what’s more, the duration from disgrace to saving face seems to be shrinking.
Of course, none of these gentlemen had their misdeeds recorded, which tends to amplify the impact. But even that is surmountable. Christian Bale still works even though his on-set tirade probably made everyone in Hollywood think twice about hiring him.
And let’s not forget that another distasteful phone recording made in the heat of a bitter custody dispute — between Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger — yielded a voicemail of a father calling his daughter a pig. But three years later, Baldwin was co-hosting the Oscars.
Of course, Gibson may be guilty of much more than Baldwin. But he will eventually return to mainstream film not in spite of all that, but because of it. Both the industry and our media culture love a redemption story, and the lower Gibson sinks, the more dramatic his third act is going to be.
Does that mean we’re excusing his misdeeds? Gibson’s story will likely give us the same conscience-lifting out he provided us when he first got into trouble in 2006: alcoholism. Whether substance abuse of any kind is truly a problem for Gibson or not, admitting to addiction will offer absolution. Domestic violence and racism can be chalked up to “sickness.” All those repeat offenses? Those become “relapses.”
If Gibson’s camp can frame his story as the plight of addiction, then comes forgiveness, or more likely, forgetting. As bad as things look now for Gibson, in time his misdeeds will fade into the rich tapestry of misbehavior woven by the pantheon of American celebrities. Given the frequency with which celebrity scandal is reported, you cannot underestimate how numb the public is to all of this.
All we ask of our fallen stars is that they do a TV interview or two that allows us to watch them squirm. Just look at another star tainted by accusations of domestic violence, Chris Brown. He’s made repeated, often awkward attempts to worm his way back into the hearts of his fans, and he inches closer every time.
The movies Gibson has already made, “The Beaver” and “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” may gather dust before a distributor will touch them, but is it out of the question that they will make it to theaters? The moral decency that keeps them on the shelf in the short term will curdle into marketable curiosity in the long term.
Then maybe Gibson will take small parts in films that remind us of how terrific an actor he was. Or self-finance a film that reminds he wasn’t too shabby behind the camera, either. When your career has reached the heights that Gibson’s has, there’s no depths so low from which he can’t bounce back.
Tarnished? Gibson will be forever. Finished? Don’t bet on it.